Yuliya turns up the temperature
With the final vote in Ukraine’s first presidential election since the Orange Revolution just a day or so away, Yuliya Tymoshenko
has turned up the political temperature. The provocation was Wednesday’s vote to change the
election law by supporters of her rival, Viktor Yanukovych. She went straight onto the attack, and claimed it meant “honest elections have come to an end”. She then threatened to call people out on the streets in a repeat of the Orange
To date, however,
it has been Yanukovych’s people on the streets (in temperatures as low as -20).
Even before the first round of the election, crowds of chanting supporters were
massed outside the main government and election buildings. A pop concert on the
eve of that first day, in St. Sofiya square, gathered several thousand more, organised like a US
Convention from all the regions of Ukraine. The implication was clear
– “we may be listening to music now, but we have the numbers”. The total number
of Party of Regions supporters in Kiev
was estimated at between 20,000 and 30,000.
Nobody knows if
Tymoshenko could match that. In any case, the demonstrations so far have been
mainly made up of party members and people paid to make up the numbers (with
rumours of football supporters in reserve). Some ordinary Ukrainians have
joined in, but they were not at the organisational core. Unlike the Orange
Revolution, any conflict on the streets this time would be part of the
post-election chess game, rather than a genuine popular uprising, even if it is made to appear like the latter (and journalists treat it as such).
The mechanics of this street-demo aspect of the election are intriguing. One reason why
Yanukovych’s supporters voted to dismiss Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko a
week ago is that he shares responsibility for public order. The other key
authority is Kiev’s
eccentric major Leonid Chernovetsky, widely assumed to be close to the Party of
Regions. President Yushchenko
has posted Interior Ministry Troops to guard the Central Election Commission
building (with questionable authority), but it seems increasingly clear he is
working with Yanukovych to stop Tymoshenko at any price.
In fact, one
scenario after Sunday’s vote is for Yushchenko to connive in a speedy
inauguration of Yanukovych in return for his Our Ukraine party playing a big
role in a new coalition government with the Party of Regions. Yanukovych could
even appoint a business-friendly centrist like Yuriy Yekhanurov as Prime
Minister, who previously held the job under Yushchenko in 2005-6. Another name
mentioned is Raïsa Bohatyrova, number two on the Party of Regions’ list at the
last parliamentary elections, but who defected to become Secretary of the
National Security Council under Yushchenko. Unfortunately, there are plenty of
sharks in the Party of Regions who also want the job.
Tymoshenko has legitimate reasons to complain. But she also
seems to be using the spectre of mass fraud to mobilise her supporters, and to
prepare a legal case if she loses by a narrow margin.
This places the international community in a bind. Ukraine is not Russia – Ukrainians care about
their international standing and a new President elected by subterfuge would not
have much power after a Pyrrhic victory.
But the international community is forced to wait and see if
there is any mass breach of due process. A lot rests on the judgement of the
election monitors from OSCE-ODIHR. They have to tread through a minefield of
several as yet unexploded bombs: they must be precise about the level and
nature of fraud, but avoid giving ammunition to a highly politicised complaints
process; if they are too passive they will be unable to forestall a
jump-inauguration process, if they are too active they may help derail an
election that for all its faults was basically free and fair.
Once again, the winning margin is the thing to watch. Campaigning is not allowed on Saturday, so I’ll be waiting for the first signs of the way the wind is blowing on Sunday before the next post.
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