Who could forget the democratic revolution in Ukraine at the end of 2004? Victor Yushchenko, his craggy face showing evidence of poisoning at the hands of his rivals, won back the presidential power that had been stolen from him in fixed elections. His glamorous lieutenant Yulia Tymoshenko stood with him. His rival Victor Yanukovich paid dearly for his ties to Moscow. Ukrainians and giddy foreign observers celebrated. Then everything got messy. And after Ukrainians vote in Sunday’s parliamentary elections it will probably still be messy.
Yushchenko became president, but he had a falling out with his prime minister, Tymoshenko. In August 2006 he had to bow to parliamentary arithmetic and appoint Yanukovich as the new PM. Now all three lead parties are contesting the election. And it is Yanukovich, still popular in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking east and among people who’ve been left behind by the market economy, and his Party ofRegions who are in the lead.
He claims that he’s changed. “He’s become a democrat,” one aide told the Guardian. He even had a U.S. Republican spin doctor, Paul Manafort, helping to run his campaign—although when Yanukovich’s party sagged in polls last week, Yanukovich exercised a prerogative dear to worried party leaders everywhere and sacked his fancy adviser.
Tymoshenko now runs an anti-corruption party, Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko. Her photo, with her distinctive blond braid, is everywhere. She has spent part of this election campaigning with Yushchenko and part of it warning darkly that he could form an alliance with his archrival Yanukovich. Yushchenko refuses to rule the possibility out.
None of this is as satisfying as the heroesand-villains tableau of 2004’s Orange Revolution, but it is hardly a catastrophe. Democracy came late to Ukraine. Its people are still deciding whom to trust. On Sunday they will vote freely among clear alternatives. Even that is progress. M
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