People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 09

February 28, 2010



Presidential Poll Rebuffs ‘Orange Revolution’


Naresh ‘Nadeem’


GENERALLY dubbed as pro-Russian, former prime minister Viktor Fedorovich Yanukovich, has won the race in the second round of presidential elections in Ukraine, held on February 7, trouncing the incumbent prime minister Ms Yulia Volodimirivna Timoshenko by a margin of 3.48 per cent. Though the golden-braided lady for long refused to concede defeat --- she even threatened to move the Supreme Court from which the Orange camp got the necessary backing in 2004 --- she had had to finally yield, even while accusing the same Supreme Court of being partial. But the main reason was that leaders of even the countries which supported her five years ago, have given the indication that they cannot bet upon her. Of these, French president Nicolas Sarkozy was the first European Union leader to call Yanukovich's win a victory for Ukrainian democracy. His statement said, “the Ukrainian people have expressed their choice in the course of free, pluralist and democratic elections" (Reuter, February 12). Later on the same day, Associated Press reported, US president Barack Obama “wished Yanukoiych success and commended the Ukrainian people on the conduct of the vote.” Yanukovich received congratulatory messages from the UK prime minister Gordon Brown, NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, and several other quarters.

One of those to congratulate Yanukovich was Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, who had thrown his weight behind Timoshenko and sent hundreds of observers to eastern Ukraine, Yanukovych’s support base, mainly to spite the Russian Federation.

This was the fifth presidential election in Ukraine since it broke away from the USSR in 1991.




This virtually rules out a repeat of whatever happened in the country in 2004, in the name of an “Orange Revolution” which threw the same Yanukovich aside despite his victory. The free and fair character of the February 7 poll has been widely acknowledged. More than 3,100 observers from the UN, EU, OSCE etc, and from several NGOs, stationed in the country on the day, have certified it, and even the so-called Orange Revolution’s supporters admitted it. For example, Steven Pifer, former US ambassador to Kiev and now Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, has testified to the “free, fair and competitive” character of these polls.

Former president Leonid Danilovich Kuchma too did not see the possibility of a third round of voting: "During the election campaign in 2004 the decision about holding the third round was political and it will not be repeated. The 2004 decision was an exclusion from a rule." The reference is obviously to denial of office to Yanukovich despite his win in 2004. At that time, Vladimir Radyuhin (The Hindu, January 18) says, a “West-orchestrated orange revolution…… overturned Mr Yanukovich’s election victory” and placed Yushchenko in power.  

However, rumours are also circulating that Ms Timoshenko’s refusal to concede defeat was just a bargaining chip, and that the lady was harbouring the hope of getting nominated as Yanukovich’s prime minister.

On the other hand, the Yanukovich camp had planned to bring against her a confidence motion in case she did not resign. At present, the president-elect’s Party of Regions has 172 seats in 450-strong Verkhovna Rada (parliament) and could expect to get the support of 27 communist deputies and 20 from the parliament speaker Volodymir Lytvyn’s party. It means the no-trust motion could get through if seven members from the present coalition crossed over. Observers did not rule it out.




As for Timoshenko’s refusal to bow out, it is not a simple personal whim; she had friends working behind the curtains. First, her 45.47 per cent votes in the second round as against Yanukovich’s 48.95 per cent meant that she received support from a good chunk of other first-round candidates.

As we know, the February 7 runoff took place because none of the 18 candidates in the first round fray got 50 per cent or more of the popular votes. On January 17, while Yanukovich received 8,686,751 votes (35.32 per cent of the valid votes polled), Timoshenko bagged 6,159,829 or 25.05 per cent, thus lagging behind by more than 10 per cent.

It is thus clear that Ms Timoshenko was able to narrow the gap in the intervening three weeks and it is believed that, as several analysts had thought, she attracted the votes of some other candidates, including Viktor Andriyovich Yushchenko, who came to power in 2004. On January 17, Yushchenko came out a poor fifth, receiving only 1,341,539 or 5.45 per cent of the valid votes polled. It is a great fall from the 52 per cent votes he received in the repoll in 2004, and it is said that he has become a non-entity in the country’s politics for a long time to come.

Former central bank chief Sergiy Tigipko (13.06 per cent) and former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk (6.96 per cent) came third and fourth respectively.

These results were very close to the pre-election opinion polls, which were broadcast before January 2. (Ukrainian law prohibits opinion poll broadcasts in the 15 days preceding the polls.) Most of these opinion polls said Yanukovich might get 35 to 40 and Ms Timoshenko might get 20 to 25 per cent of the votes, while Yushchenko was likely to come fourth or fifth.   

However, the pollsters went wrong regarding the proportion of people who would come out to cast their votes. In view of the general apathy in the country, they had expected only about 50 per cent polling on January 17 while eventually it reached 70 per cent despite the harsh weather. As The Dawn (Pakistan) reported on January 18, “braving widespread cynicism with the political elite as much as freezing temperatures,” Ukrainians came out in large numbers to give vent to their “disenchantment.” The paper added, “With snowflakes falling in Kiev and the pavements treacherous with black ice, the winter weather reflected the bleak mood of voters five years after the Orange Revolution briefly raised hopes of a new era in Ukraine.”

Accusations and counter accusations of fraud by the two main contenders marked the first round polls; in contrast, the second round was fair overall.

As for the level of disenchantment with the political elite, as many as 540,942 (2.20 per cent) voters utilised on January 17 a provision in the law to vote against all the candidates. The figure jumped to twice (4.36 per cent) on February 7.




This brings us to the cause of the Orange camp’s rout in polls. It is known that widespread disillusionment with Leonid Kuchma’s regime --- he ruled the country from 1992 to January 2005, first as the prime minister and then as two-time president --- was what pushed the people to the Orange camp. Now no less widespread disillusionment has swept Yushchenko and Timoshenko aside.   

To be sure, the 2010 elections do not promise much of a change in basic policies. On January 17, Clifford J Levy wrote in New York Times: the “runoff, scheduled for February 7, is seen as a referendum on the Orange Revolution, which has mired Ukraine in political and economic upheaval for much of the past five years.” Many other commentators agreed. Taras Kuzio and Rakesh Sharma wrote in Global Post that the “Orange Revolution has grayed.” Yet, except for his pro-Russian leanings, Yanukovich’s poll platform was not basically different from Timoshenko’s or Yushchenko’s. When serving as the prime minister under Kuchma and then, briefly under Yushchenko in 2006-07, Yanukovich had a good time with the NATO too and sought to integrate the country’s economy with the western ones.

The main issues that figured in the poll process were the economy, health, housing, endemic corruption, excessive influence of financial oligarchs, Ukraine's membership of the NATO and CSTO, European integration, Ukraine-Russia relations, constitutional reforms, and the status of the Russian language. Of these, the first five dominated the polls as Ukraine is currently going through a severe economic crisis, evident from an estimated 14 to 15 per cent fall in GDP in 2009. To be sure, Ukrainian economy has never been in the pink since it separated from the Soviet Union, but the ongoing global crisis has particularly battered the citizens. Thus President Yushchenko’s rating nosedived in the last one year or so because “Many voters blame(d) him for failing to fend off the global financial crisis, which has hit Ukraine harder than almost any other country in Europe” (The News, Pakistan, January 18). The regime got notoriety also for its chronic failure to pay for the Russian gas in time, and this could have compounded the people’s woes many times over if only Russia had insisted on payments. 

In all, Reuter (February 12) reports, “the economy has been battered by a decline in the value of vital steel and chemicals exports that has hammered the hryvnia currency, slashed budget revenues and undermined the domestic banking system.”   

Internal bickering in the Orange coalition further paralysed the government, worsening the mismanagement of affairs and the country’s suffering. The president and the prime minister bitterly fought among themselves for most of the past five years over annual gas contracts and other things, leading to no confidence in the government twice. However, in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of February 11, 2009, Timoshenko admitted that her conflict with the president was “a political competition” and not an “ideological” fight. The conflict was in fact over power and pelf, and reached its height in 2006 when Yushchenko dismissed Timoshenko and nominated Yanukovich as the prime minister. Though the president restored her back to the position in 2007, the fight has mired the country in political instability, forcing two parliamentary elections in three years, with the threat of a third one narrowly averted. While it has battered the common people’s faith in state institutions, it has also badly damaged Ukraine’s image in the EU, presenting it as unable to guarantee the transit of gas in winter.

In this backdrop, Yushchenko naturally suffered a severe dent in his reputation and nobody believed the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc’s huge billboards and other ads proclaiming that “She Works!” Thus, Yanukovich’s victory was, to quote The Guardian (UK), “an extraordinary reversal of the dramatic events of 2004.”




These results assume significance in the backdrop of what happened in Ukraine, populated by 46 million souls.

As we know, in economic terms, Ukraine was once the second important republic of the Soviet Union and also the latter’s granary of wheat. After the USSR’s disintegration, moreover, Ukraine is home to some 15 million ethnic Russians, which is the largest concentration of Russians outside the Russian Federation, and these reside in an area contiguous to Russia. Ukraine’s agriculture and industry have a high degree of integration with Russia where hundreds of Ukrainian products find a readymade market. 

On the other hand, most of the Russian gas going to West Europe passes through Ukraine, giving the latter a large amount of badly needed money by way of transit charges, etc. Secondly, a good chunk of Russian exports to other western countries passes through the Black Sea that adjoins Ukraine. Ukraine is also a vital link in Russia’s infrastructural ties with West Europe, South East Europe and Caucasus.

Strategically speaking, Ukraine’s port of Sevastopol --- a warm-water port that we see as the main theatre of action in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace --- houses the Russian Federation’s Black Sea fleet. Two of the most important cities in Western Russia, Moscow and Volgograd, lie within 300 km of Ukraine’s frontiers.

It is thus that Ukraine and Russia need each other.

It was this symbiotic relationship which imperialism sought to destroy. Through the so-called Orange Revolution, most important among the couple of coloured ‘revolutions’ aka putsches, the West put into power Viktor Yushchenko who has been known for anti-Russian demagogy and sought to take the country straight into the NATO. This was evidently a move to encircle Russia, just like the US moves to get a foothold in as many of the Central Asian republics as possible. Needless to say, if only Yushchenko had succeeded in his mission, it would have brought the US led war alliance to the Russian Federation’s very doorstep.

Another important item in Yushchenko’s 2004 poll manifesto was to deprive Russia of its foothold in the Black Sea. Russia signed the current lease of Sevastopol port in 1997 and it is to expire in 2017. During his tenure, Yushkenko had given enough hint that, after returning to power, the Orange coalition would “review” the lease, and his meaning was not lost upon anyone. It is therefore no surprise that, in an interview to the Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24 on February 13, Yanukovich thought it necessary to allay the Russian concerns on this score. He said: “I don’t rule out the possibility that the Black Sea Fleet will remain after 2017,” and added that the issue “won’t be resolved in a way that damages Russia.” His point was unambiguous: “We’ll discuss this issue in the near future and find a solution.”

Yanukovich has also ruled out Ukraine joining the NATO. However, his plank of taking the country into the EU remains.

However, reports indicate that certain quarters were working off the view for what the Business Week called “a power-sharing agreement between the two sides, with Timoshenko staying on as premier,” adding that “investors would take (it) positively.” The paper admitted that such an arrangement would be “unstable and unlikely to hold up for more than six months,” but said this “would guarantee keeping the country’s International Monetary Fund agreement in place.”

The issue is the revival of an IMF bailout programme of 16.4 billion dollars. While the Ukrainian leadership thinks it is crucial for the country's finances, it was suspended last year because the country failed in the IMF’s ‘fiscal restraint’ test.

It seems the IMF is out to extract a price for its support. The Reuter report quoted Yuri Ruban, a political analyst, "In order to resume economic growth, we have to renew cooperation with the IMF but the Fund has a very simple position; they say: bring us the letter which has the signature of a fully empowered, fully authoritative president, prime minister and central bank.”

Thus, while the 2010 presidential election (which Global Post dubbed as “the least promising election” in Ukraine) has produced a dramatic result, insofar as it gave a rebuff to the “Orange Revolution,” the Ukrainians are not likely to see any major change in their life. One would, however, definitely like to see how the new president faces the various pulls and pushes, how he meets the challenges ahead, and how far he succeeds.

February 23, 2010