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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES JOINT SESSION OF U.S. CONGRESS. In his address to a joint session of Congress on 6 April, Viktor Yushchenko promised to bring the rule of law back to Ukraine, punish those who were leading Ukraine to a split after the December 2004 election, and punish the killers and those "who ordered the killing" of Heorhiy Gongadze, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko asked that Congress expedite the lifting of Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions on Ukraine and help the country enter the World Trade Organization and NATO. "We do not want any more walls dividing Europe, and I'm certain that neither do you," Yushchenko said, evoking memories of U.S. President Ronald Reagan when he challenged the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall. RK
HEAD OF UKRAINIAN REGIONAL COUNCIL DETAINED. Borys Kolesnykov, head of the Donetsk Oblast Council, was detained on 6 April by the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office and held, a Prosecutor-General's Office spokesperson told Interfax. Kolesnykov had been summoned for questioning in conjunction with an investigation on calls for separatism in the region after the presidential elections of November-December 2004. However, according to the spokesperson, Kolesnykov was being held on criminal charges of extortion. Kolesnykov was one of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's most prominent supporters, and his arrest immediately evoked protests from the Donetsk branch of the Party of the Regions and from Yanukovych himself, who told Interfax that the arrest was "politically motivated." According to Ukrainian law, prosecutors can detain a suspect for 72 hours without filing any formal charges. RK
Following the revolutionary events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, any election in the ex-Soviet republics is now regarded as a potential crisis of government power.
The 4 April presidential election by the Moldovan parliament was also viewed in this manner. But it was only the much-speculated inability of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) to garner a constitutional majority for their presidential candidate in the aftermath of last month's parliamentary elections that fashioned the appearance of such a crisis. In addition, the opposition's initially firm goal to boycott the presidential vote in parliament concerned incumbent President Vladimir Voronin, the PCM chief, and his intention to seek reelection. It took a second ballot to decide the fate of the man who has dominated Moldovan politics the past four years and steered his party to a repeat electoral victory, increasing its political significance.
The period between the two votes was characterized by the communists' intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering to secure the remaining five votes among the opposition for Voronin's reelection. An obvious target for possible defectors was the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD). Lacking a political identity and a strong leader capable of uniting a heterogeneous coalition like the BMD, many analysts predicted its eventual downfall due to internal strife and pressure from the communists. Hardly anyone, however, envisaged it would be so swift. The BMD split just two weeks after the 6 March parliamentary elections.
At the inaugural session of the newly-elected parliament on 24 March, Democratic Party (PD) leader Dumitru Diakov announced his party's withdrawal from the BMD coalition and the formation of a separation faction comprising eight deputies. While Diakov referred to advancing the PD's social-democratic identity in the legislature as a reason for his departure, the real intent was switching to Voronin's camp. The votes of the PD faction were reflected in the selection of PCM's candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker, Marian Lupu. Lupu received 65 votes (nine more than the communists' 56 mandates), although a simple majority of 52 votes would have sufficed.
The selection of the parliamentary speaker was seen as a rehearsal for the presidential vote. It showed that co-opting opposition deputies did not represent a goal in itself for the communists. Rather, it was used as a means to enhance the legitimacy of the country's top politicians nominated by the PCM. A young, highly educated and nonpartisan member of the communist faction, Lupu embodies leadership and professional qualities likely to amass support from the opposition. He even managed to gain passage of a declaration emphasizing all-factions' commitment to European integration and resolution of the Transdniester conflict, among other important policy objectives, shortly after his election.
The communists cleared another hurdle when they nominated a necessary alternative candidate shortly before the 29 March deadline. In order to have a valid vote, Moldovan legislation provides for the participation of at least two contenders proposed by factions of no less than 15 deputies. Since Diakov's and Iurie Rosca's PPCD (Popular Party Christian Democratic) factions fall short of the required minimum and the BMD refused to put forward one of their own, Gheorghe Duca was registered to face Voronin. A former environment minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and currently the president of the Academy of Sciences, Duca was a spurious choice intended only to secure Voronin's victory.
As the voting day drew closer it looked like even the defiant BMD faction (26 remaining deputies) would take part in the voting. However, their conditions, such as Moldova's immediate exit from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniester, were not only unrealistic but also unacceptable to many members of Voronin's party. They most likely were a provocation, as many conditions ran counter to the BMD's electoral pledges to maintain close ties with Russia. Also seen as provocative was the authorization by BMD leader Serafim Urechean, the Chisinau mayor, for a rally of Transdniester war veterans on election day. The veterans planned to disrupt the voting by blocking the entrance to parliament by opposition deputies suspected of conspiring with the PCM. Worried of having a possible Kyrgyz scenario with protesters in front of parliament, Urechean decided to revoke the approval for the rally the day before.
The vote was an overwhelming victory for Voronin: an absolute majority, 75 deputies representing the PCM, PD, and PPCD factions, as well as three members of Oleg Serebrian's Social Liberal Party (PSL) -- formally still part of the BMD -- supported Voronin's candidacy. He managed to forge a pro-Western alliance behind his commitment to firmly keep Moldova on the path of European integration during his second term. More importantly, this mandate carries more legitimacy as he was supported only by communist deputies in 2001.
Voronin also pledged to introduce a constitutional amendment that would exclude the possibility of a party leader also serving as president. During his first term, Voronin effectively exploited a legislative loophole following the switch to a parliamentary democracy in June 2000 and successfully combined the two positions. His "electoral dictatorship" often elicited vehement criticism for excessive partisanship and an inability to fairly arbitrate political battles -- an important role for a head of state in a parliamentary democracy.
The BMD, however, proved incapable of managing the challenges of disintegration. Following Diakov's departure the PSL deputies split from the BMD over a dispute on returning to the coalition's original name, the Our Moldova Alliance, which was decided by a majority on 2 April. In fact, the BMD ceased to exist, thus confirming the political unsustainability of electoral alliances in Moldova and underscoring the place of strong political parties instead. The need of a center-right party, for instance, is crucial for effectively competing against the communists in the 2009 elections.
Voronin's reelection is equally significant for his ability to keep Moldovan electoral politics within normal confines. Extraordinary politics that characterized peaceful (Ukraine, Georgia) and semi-violent (Kyrgyzstan) mass protests was, to Voronin's credit, avoided in Moldova. His timely decision to distance Chisinau from Moscow and join the club of regional revolutionaries may be seen by other leaders in the post-Soviet space as necessary for staying in power.