- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Ukraine edged closer to the West on Sunday, after voters gave the Our Ukraine Party the lead in parliamentary elections. Viktor Yushchenko, the leader of the party, will strive to align his country with the West. President Leonid Kuchma, meanwhile, has tried to anchor his country in its Soviet-era past by allowing the Kremlin to maintain its long-armed influence.

Although there were reports of rampant voting violations in Sunday's election, Our Ukraine won more than 23 percent of the vote on Sunday, while the Communist Party came in a close second, garnering 20 percent. Mr. Kuchma's For a United Ukraine Party claimed about 12 percent support. Many observers were disappointed Mr. Yushchenko's party didn't win a majority of votes on Sunday. But he has clearly established himself as Ukraine's favored politician, and he will have the ability to forge alliances with other parties to counter Mr. Kuchma's corrupting power.

Although the United States stopped short of disputing the validity of the election, it expressed concerns. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in a statement, "We are particularly disappointed that officials did not take steps to curb the widespread and open abuse of authority, including the use of government positions and facilities, to the unfair advantage of certain parties." But Mr. Kuchma had rigged the election in his favor long before Sunday, by launching government campaigns of intimidation and terror. In 2000, Georgy Gongadze, a journalist and brazen government critic, became a victim of his own defiance when he was murdered, most likely by Mr. Kuchma's thugs. Mr. Kuchma has been caught on tape ordering the death of the journalist, but he claims the tapes were doctored.

The opposition's rise in power comes at a critical time, since Mr. Kuchma's party is jockeying to change the constitution to allow the president to run for a third term. The ruling party clearly recognizes how dangerous an alliance of "democratic forces" could be for the government's autocratic style. Ukraine's Prime Minister Anatoly Kinakh, a member of the pro-Kuchma party, said the "complicated" politics of the parliament would endanger efforts to change the constitution.

Although Mr. Yushchenko's victory will only temper Mr. Kuchma's power, it does send the president a cautionary message. Since Mr. Yushchenko has proved to be the country's favorite, his prospects for success in the 2004 presidential election have improved. A move to a more Western-style democratic and economic system would benefit Ukraine greatly.

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