The Power of the Left in Ukraine
By Nancy Popson
The Communist Party in its current form has no chance to come to power in Ukraine in the near future, said Oleksiy Haran, Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and ECA Regional Exchange Scholar at the Kennan Institute, at a Kennan Institute lecture on 18 June 2001. However, he noted that the more moderate socialists could come to power if they transform into a true social democratic party and join in a bloc that includes centrist forces.
Haran explained that left forces in Ukraine are located to the left both of what is traditionally considered social democracy and of what passes for social democracy in contemporary Ukraine. The main players include the Communist party, which was "reborn" in 1993 and claims some 140,000 members, and the Socialist Party, with 30,000 members. The Communist Party is very conservative, as many of the more flexible members of the party shifted to other blocs when the Communist Party was banned following the August 1991 coup. Haran described the Socialists, who are led by the charismatic politician Oleksandr Moroz, as more moderate. While some have suggested that Moroz could become a future Ukrainian Kwasniewsky, Haran cautioned that the party remains in transition toward a more social democratic organization like its Polish counterpart.
Analysis of the parliamentary elections in 1998 indicate that the left forces together gained 37 percent of the party list votes but only 21 percent of the single member districts. According to Haran, this underlines the fact that the population is willing to support abstract socialist or communist ideas, but will not vote for socialists or communists as individuals. He claimed that this is the reason behind the Communist's push to pass an entirely proportional electoral law for the 2002 elections. In the 1999 presidential elections, left candidates also fared well in the first round, with a combined 44.5 percent of the vote. Haran noted that Kuchma pulled ahead only in the second round, when he was pitted against Communist leader Petro Symonenko rather than a more moderate leftist.
Haran then turned to the question of what lessons left forces have learned from past elections. He remarked that the Communists feel that since they could secure around 20 percent of the electorate, there is no need to modernize the party. In fact, suggestions raised at the last Communist Party Congress regarding a strategy of a "new" rather than a "reborn" Communist Party were defeated. Haran characterized the Ukrainian Communist ideology as rooted in Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis. They regard western ideology, in particular Catholicism and Protestantism, as the main threats today. This is not to say that more radical forces within the party have disappeared. To the contrary, Haran explained that these members have split off to form a new group, the Communist Party of Workers and Peasants. This development is likely to split the vote for Communists in the next election.
In Haran's view, the Socialists have been more successful in learning from their average showing in previous elections. As a result, the Socialist Party is beginning to transform itself. This includes the creation of a broad coalition that includes the moderate Komsomol as well as the Social Democratic Party and even the party "Forward-Ukraine," which can be characterized as a centrist or right-centrist group. This coalition moves the Socialists more and more toward social democracy in the Western sense of the word.
While this shift provides an opening for the Socialist party to come to power in Ukraine, Haran outlined the obstacles that must be overcome. The rank and file of the Party are more conservative than the leadership, and are less comfortable with a shift toward the center of the political spectrum. Moreover, Haran suggested that the creation of a center-right opposition bloc led by Viktor Yushchenko is a critical turning point in Ukrainian electoral politics. It means that in the upcoming parliamentary elections, there will be both a left and right-wing democratic opposition. Many voters who supported Moroz as the only viable opposition in the past , will now vote for Yushchenko's bloc instead. This means that Moroz will be forced to attract votes from communist supporters just as he is trying to move the Socialist party more to the center.
Haran concluded that it is important for Ukraine to have a socialist faction in the parliament, and in particular one that represents the tenets of true social democracy. He recommended that western countries and in particular the social democratic parties of Europe continue to work with the Socialists--especially the younger members. In particular, he suggested that support for publication of a non-partisan social democratic journal could foster this development.