“This kind of rating is only good for outdoor evening parties”

In this interview with The Day, SDPU(O) faction leader Leonid KRAVCHUK comments on the events that ushered in a new political season, including a six-party (APU, NDP, Party of the Regions, PSPU, SDPU(O) and Labor Ukraine) agreement on joint efforts in carrying out the political reform and participating in the presidential elections.

“The media made public the other day an SDPU(O) press release which quoted you as saying that the United Social Democrats might support the candidature of current premier Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential elections provided this is a common opinion of the Six. Does this mean the parties that signed this Declaration of the Six have already chosen a common candidate?”

“Not quite... The question sounds approximately like this, ‘Who will SDPU(O) support in the next presidential elections?’ I answered that the parties were conducting talks and had already signed a document on their intent to put forward a common candidate. I said this: the Social Democrats have always been moderate and predictable; they put the interests of the state and people above their own ambitions. So we will support the one chosen by all. In other words, it was a question of principles, not of personalities. Then the journalist asks, what if everybody chooses Yanukovych? I answer, ‘If everybody chooses Yanukovych, we will back Yanukovych.’ And I reiterated that we would extend support only if this is an opinion of all those who signed our statement. But now it looks as if Kravchuk said that SDPU(O) will support Yanukovych.”

“On Friday before last Labor Ukraine leader Serhiy Tihipko told journalists: ‘I represent an absolutely self-sufficient political force. Even if all [the parties that signed the statement] say they will support one candidate but our party prefers somebody else, then we will simply not sign this document. Yet, we will do our best to reach a compromise and work together. What do you think this indicates?”

“Some people put their own ambitions before the interests of the state. I said in the same interview that we should transition to civilized elections. We don’t need a hundred, thirty, or even fifteen candidates: we need as many as required by Ukraine’s potential and interests. Clearly, if people were guided by precisely this, they would not be making such statements. Or they would at least be more consistent and refrain from signing any inter-party agreements. I can’t understand why political games are beginning just now in the present situation... I feel sorry because I’ve always viewed Tihipko as a politician who can predict things and take a serious attitude toward his own words and signatures.”

“All previous attempts to nominate a common presidential candidate from several political forces failed. Today also, many experts are quite skeptical of such a prospect. How many chances do you think the Six have out of, say, one hundred?”

“We have not yet felt the cold wind of elections. Thinking about the elections in a hospitable climate, under the August sun, is one thing. But when northern winds begin to blow and when opinion-poll agencies report that you have a 1.6 rating, perhaps good only for an outdoor evening party, then I am sure politicians will take a more sober assessment of the situation, their own power, and all the rest. I believe this wind will cool them down, and they will think in more realistic and pragmatic terms. And then, to answer your question, our chances increase, at least in my firm opinion, to ninety some percent.”

“Do you personally admit the possibility of cooperating with the Communists in any form in order to achieve the goal of the victory of a common pro-government candidate in the 2004 elections?”

I don’t think the Communists will accept this. I am certain they will not close their eyes after twelve years of calling the government a criminal regime and suddenly agree to support the government’s candidate for president — they will not do so because this would be the final nail in their party’s coffin. Quite a different thing is changes to the Constitution. In this case it is possible, because this is a question of the current government, not personalities, it is the question of building an effective system of executive and legislative power — of entirely different things. And this [new bill on the political reform] is not a document from the government but from various parliamentary factions and groups. A common language can and must be found here. But when the names of presidential candidates come out, the Communists will accept no proposals from the government; they will have their own candidate.”

“Before signing the inter-party agreement, did you discuss any conditions, demands, mutual concessions, compromises, and such?”

“As you know, this is a very brief statement. It states intentions, not things to be implemented today. It says we will be supporting, coordinating, and so on. It was not necessary to specially discuss any conditions or distribution of, say, portfolios, etc. But once the name of a contender for the highest official post comes up, we will, naturally, begin discussing the place and role of each of the six parties. In other words, that will be the time for concrete, not general, discussions. Then but not now, there will be somebody to talk to. When we decide that, for example, Mr. X is the candidate, we will have to sit down and discuss specific names, conditions, requirements, and so on.”

“You have already seen the new draft law on Constitutional changes endorsed by the presidential side and the opposition and taken a fair view of the suggestion that a president with curtailed powers be elected by parliament in 2006. You think that this will be both cheaper and more convenient... But will Ukraine’s parliament not turn then into an absolutely uncontrollable body? Will there be in this case any kind of checks and balances?”

“I personally have no great fears about this mechanism of electing the president. If you thoroughly read this bill and then the Constitution, you will see that there are some checks and balances. For instance, if the parliament fails to elect the president within ninety days, it is to be dissolved. The same is true if no premier and cabinet have been chosen within sixty days. This means parliament will need, so to speak, self-control and responsibility. For our deputies are not exactly bursting to seek reelection every month: they value the seats they won. The same with the parties — this is quite clear. Thus, a parliament, over which the sword of Damocles of automatic dissolution always hangs, cannot turn into a self-sufficient or, I would say, conceited body. This is the point. This is why I take a fair view of this provision. Still, there is a great danger in my opinion: is it possible under the current imperfect political system to gather the 337 votes required for electing the president in any case, even after a proportional-representation parliamentary election? I don’t think this situation will have improved by 2006. It would probably be better if 300 votes were required for electing and 337 for ousting the president. I think this point will stir up a heated debate inside the parliament and out.”