- The Washington Times - Friday, October 26, 2001

KIEV Viktor Yushchenko, the leading reformist candidate out to topple President Leonid Kuchma, said this week he hopes that by consolidating Ukraine's democratic forces, he can reform the political system and give his country a new political ideal.
Mr. Yushchenko, former central bank chief, ex-prime minister, and the man many here believe is Ukraine's last great hope, put his thumb and forefinger together and said, "It's a thin political line.
"The most complex assignment that we weren't able to fulfill in the years of Ukraine's independence was that a political system wasn't created which guaranteed democracy in Ukraine, or the democratic processes," Mr. Yushchenko, who was ousted from office as prime minister six months ago, said in an interview. "The political arena remains multifaceted and very complex."
Although Ukraine has 112 registered parties, none of them dominates the political landscape. Mr. Yushchenko's new party hopes to do that by winning the parliamentary elections scheduled for March. He announced the formation of the party, called Nasha Ukraina, or Our Ukraine, last summer.
His goal is to win a majority in Ukraine's communist-dominated parliament, which would allow necessary political and economic reforms to happen.
"The only way to [achieve] this, however, is the consolidation of democratic forces," Mr. Yushchenko said.
In recent months, Mr. Yushchenko has cast a wide net across the country to find those democratic forces. He has traveled the nation, meeting with leaders of political and civic groups that share his ideals. He has even kept in contact with Mr. Kuchma, who many observers here say was instrumental in helping oust Mr. Yushchenko from power because he was becoming too popular and too powerful.
"It would be a mistake to personify politics," Mr. Yushchenko said when asked why he maintains a relationship with the president. "This political system is difficult in that it is hard to have a mode that could propose the stability of political ideas and stability of relations."
These words are a far cry from the days when, as central bank chief, Mr. Yushchenko prided himself on remaining apolitical, and instead doled out lessons in Western-style economics at press conferences to often-bewildered Ukrainian journalists. Now he has captured the nation's attention with the promise that he will somehow be able to put an end to Ukraine's political morass.
Although he held one of the nation's most important posts, Mr. Yushchenko has remained untouched by allegations of corruption within the Kuchma administration. The nation seems to have forgotten he sided with the president during Ukraine's so-called "cassette scandal," where Mr. Kuchma was supposedly heard on secretly recorded tapes telling aides to get rid of Internet journalist Georgiy Gongadze, a presidential critic.
Still, despite the grass-roots support, Mr. Yushchenko said he has had a hard time getting fair coverage in Ukraine's press, because many of the country's media outlets are owned by so-called "oligarchs," wealthy businessmen who are close to the president.
He worries that Ukraine's election can be tainted by the use of the so-called "adminresource," a vertical line of command that runs from the president to the lowest levels of government. To that end, while he believes his political grouping will favorably win in the 2002 parliamentary elections, it is critical that Western nations closely monitor them.

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