A Marriage of Convenience

None of the parties that contested last month’s election in Ukraine can be entirely satisfied with the result. Viktor Yanukovych would seem to have the most cause for celebration. His Party of the Regions came away with 32.12 percent, outstripping its rivals by a wide margin. The party failed to win a majority, however, and received a far smaller share of the vote than Yanukovych did when he lost the presidential election to Viktor Yushchenko in 2004. All of the party’s allies fell short of the 3 per cent barrier to enter parliament. In other words, the success of Yanukovych’s party was bought at the price of consigning the other members of the so-called Blue coalition to oblivion.

The Orange camp didn’t have much to cheer about either. Taken together, the members of the Orange coalition won the day, but by the time the election rolled around the coalition had long since ceased to exist. Former allies in the Orange Revolution split into rival groups and advanced incompatible programs. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc received 22.27 percent of the vote to place second, while Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party came in a disappointing third with 13.94 percent. Yet Tymoshenko’s drubbing of her old ally was tempered by finishing nearly 10 points behind Yanukovych’s party.

The Socialist Party, which backed the Orange Revolution and serves in Yushchenko’s government, placed fourth with 5.67 percent of the vote, out-performing the Communist Party, its longtime rival. The Communists cleared the 3 percent hurdle by a hair, finishing with 3.66 percent of the vote, a humiliating result for what until recently was considered Ukraine’s main opposition party. The Socialists did better, but not well enough to increase their influence. It was believed that their numbers were deflated in the presidential election because their voters made a tactical choice to back Yushchenko. Many thought that these voters would return to the Socialist fold this time around. They didn’t.

The most important result of last month’s election, however, was that the Blue-Orange rivalry that has defined Ukrainian politics for the last two years is clearly becoming a thing of the past. This affects more than the distribution of seats in parliament. A Blue government may be mathematically impossible, but an Orange government is politically impossible.

Tymoshenko’s tenure as prime minister ushered in a period of instability marked by a battle between liberalism and conservatism on one side and populism on the other. Yet this didn’t seem entirely clear even to the parties involved. It’s often said that generals always plan to fight yesterday’s wars. Political analysts are no different. Gripped by ideological inertia, they forecast the continued development of conflicts that have become irrelevant. Yushchenko was the first to recognize the shift, and responded by pursuing a government of national reconciliation rather than an Orange coalition. He was seconded by Rynat Akhmetov, the steel and coal magnate who is considered the main financial backer of the Party of the Regions, who proposed a Blue-Orange “marriage of convenience.”

The whole thing is straight out of Marx. Akhmetov’s marriage of convenience is based on shared class interests. If Yanukovych and Yushchenko join forces, they will create the first truly bourgeois Cabinet in Ukrainian history. Until now the ruling class has been split into clans, all pursuing their own narrow business interests. Following the Orange Revolution, the bourgeoisie appears to have emerged as a class.

What are the Blue and Orange camps teaming up against? Obviously not the demoralized Communist Party, or the Socialists, whose desire to be invited into the Cabinet — regardless of ideological orientation — outweighs all other concerns. The Ukrainian new left, represented by such groups as Che Guevara and Left Initiative, have made progress, but are still a long way from becoming serious political players.

The real threat to the Ukrainian ruling class is Tymoshenko’s economic populism. It was the fear of populism that brought down her government last year, and the same fear is now pushing Yushchenko and Yanukovych together.

The trick for Yushchenko and Yanukovych is to convince Tymoshenko to participate in a coalition that is actually directed against her — hardly a rare thing in politics. Populist leaders tend to have shifting views and radical but inconsistent programs. As a result they are easily ensnared in their own slogans. Tymoshenko is an extremely ambitious politician, however, and this makes her a dangerous opponent. If she prefers to remain in opposition, the united Ukrainian elite will be in for a tough time.

BORIS KAGARLITSKY is director of the Institute for Globalization Studies.

 

 

Boris Kagarlitsky PhD is a historian and sociologist who lives in Moscow. He is a prolific author of books on the history and current politics of the Soviet Union and Russia and of books on the rise of globalized capitalism. Fourteen of his books have been translated into English. The most recent book in English is ‘From Empires to Imperialism: The State and the Rise of Bourgeois Civilisation’ (Routledge, 2014). Kagarlitsky is chief editor of the Russian-language online journal Rabkor.ru (The Worker). He is the director of the Institute for Globalization and Social Movements, located in Moscow.

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