MOSCOW, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Ukrainians will elect a new parliament in March and one-time prime minister and former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych heads the political party leading the polls.
The "Orange Revolution" that delivered Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency is in disarray, and has given Yanukovych an election platform full of irony: Campaigning against the corruption and incompetence of the ruling elite.
According to a recent public opinion poll conducted by the Razumkov Center, Yanukovych's Party of the Regions tops voter preference for the slated March 26 parliamentary election with 17.5 percent. The People's Union-Our Ukraine electoral bloc that includes Yushchenko as its honorary chairman is second with 13.5 percent and the Batkivshchina (Fatherland) Party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko close behind at 12.4 percent.
Ukraine's other parties represented in parliament -- Communist Party of Ukraine, the Socialist Party of Ukraine and the People's Party of speaker of parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn -- polled above the necessary 3 percent to wins seats in the next legislature. Other polls put the blocs that support Yushchenko and Tymoshenko in a dead heat or the latter slightly ahead.
Topping the polls and connecting with the electorate have never been as important for Ukraine's political parties. As part of the behind closed-doors negotiations during last December's "Orange Revolution," Ukraine will, as of Jan. 1, change from being a semi-presidential political system to one dominated by a parliamentary-presidential form of government. With Yushchenko and Tymoshenko now political opponents, Yanukovych seeks to take advantage of the split in the "orange" coalition.
Parliament will determine who occupies government ministries and who will be prime minister -- currently decisions made by the president. The parliament also may be able to force the president to hand over many of the powers that have slowly fallen to the presidency over the years, though they legally belong to parliament or the prime minister. There should be no doubt that that Yanukovych and his allies have been patiently waiting for these changes
New parliamentary rules mandate the party that garners the most votes will have the right to determine who will be named prime minister. This may or may not happen if Yanukovych's Party of the Regions wins the largest number of votes. Irrespective of the rule, Yanukovych is angling to make a political come back with popular support.
In September, Yushchenko fired the entire Cabinet, replacing Prime Minister Tymoshenko and his former comrade-in-arms with Dnipropetrovs'k Gov. Yuri Yekhanurov. Yushchenko's government had been severely criticized for not addressing what the "Orange Revolution" was supposed to end: Endemic corruption and political favoritism. Yushchenko's chief of staff, Olexander Zinchenko, who resigned and initiated the Cabinet shake-up, has accused national security secretary Petro Poroshenko of bribery, media intrusion and obstructing the justice system. Poroshenko resigned, but remains a political insider Yushchenko appears unwilling or unable to shake-off. This is Yushchenko's biggest problem, Tymoshenko's issue to manipulate and Yanukovych's very passive message to tell voters, "I told you so."
Yushchenko has shown himself to be an indecisive and incoherent politician. Kiev's voters would probably consider his greatest accomplishment to be ridding the city of its corrupt traffic cops, but that was not what the "Orange Revolution" was all about. The "Orange Revolution" was originally about Ukrainians demanding something be done about the country's worst malady -- corruption in the political elite as the result of a few oligarchs controlling the economy and state.
When she was prime minister, Tymoshenko played the anti-corruption and nationalist card to the detriment of the economy. Her calls to revisit thousands of privatization deals of state assets scared off foreign investors and the dramatic increase of social payments stoked inflation. During Tymoshenko's tenure in office, Ukraine's GDP annual growth nose-dived from 12 percent to 4 percent.
Yanukovych is sitting pretty and has good reason to do so. Waiting on the sidelines and watching the former opposition -- now divided -- appeal to the electorate, Yanukovych is slowly consolidating his support as the leader of the Regions of Ukraine party. He was partially rehabilitated when Tymoshenko's government was dismissed and his September "Memorandum of Understanding" with Yushchenko returned him to public eye in a positive way and damaged Yushchenko's reputation among his core supporters. Accusing both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko of running a lawless government, many Ukrainians disappointed with the "Orange Revolution" appear to be listening.
Peter Lavelle is a Moscow-based analyst.