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[The Political Analysis of Postcommunism. Kyiv: Political Thought, 1995, pp. 131-142.]

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The Political System and Political Parties

Mykola TOMENKO




1. Special Features of the Political Systems in the Newly Independent States


Today, there are various typologies for classifying political systems. Most, however, boil down to two major contexts. In the narrow sense, a political system is interpreted as an aggregate of certain political institutions (parties, power structures, social associations, trade unions, etc.), while in a wider sense it is an interdependent network of political institutions, relationships, political norms, and consciousness. Here we examine the political system in both contexts.

The postcommunist development of Central European states is characterized by an awareness of the importance of creating an open system of social relations and an adequate form of political system. Legal and political recognition of the value of each institution in the political system created certain preconditions for the development of real democracy. In this sphere a situation which differs in principle has characterized the countries of the former USSR.

The sociopolitical evolution of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union from a political system based on the constitutional codification of the dominant role of the ruling Communist Party and the priority of labor collectives to a democratic system shares a number of common features. Leaders in various CIS states have faced the problem of defining key institutions of the political system /132/ which could enable them to supervise the evolution of sociopolitical relationships and make political decisions. The institution chosen to play this role is the presidency. The President has become the dominant element in the postcommunist political systems which have arisen in the wake of the USSR's collapse (except in the Baltic states). The President, who represents not any organizationally shaped political force but rather "the interests of the whole people," is able to act in an arena free from political commitments and election pledges. Moreover, the President is practically uncontrollable in his or her choice of appointments to posts in the executive branch since he does not have a stable political team of his own. This enables postcommunist presidents to act, putting it mildly, very situationally. Suffice it to recall former President Leonid Kravchuk who before his election had been the major opponent of the Popular Movement of Ukraine (Rukh) and once in office as elected President appropriated the national democrats' ideas and programs. A similar political metamorphosis can be seen with current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Candidate Kuchma presented himself as the bearer of moderate economic reforms and pro-Russian policies. President Kuchma has now become the representative of Western type radical economic reform. Thus, replacing the dominant role of the Communist Party by the institution of the presidency as the main active subject of the political system has, in significant measure, solved the problem of legitimizing the renewed elite and laid the foundation of a "pseudo-new model" of political systems in the postcommunist states of

the former USSR.

However, a need has arisen for ideological consolidation of these changes in political strategy and the system of political relationships. After seeking possible candidates for the role of key elements in the realm of political consciousness, most postcommunist states have opted for religion or, more precisely, the church.

Turkmenistan provides the classic example of a postcommunist country, where the planned transition to a "new model" of the political system has been carried out 100%. /133/ Under its constitution, the president is not only the highest state official but also controls both legislation and local government. The People's Council (Assembly) of Turkmenistan is composed of two parts: a popularly elected Mejlis with extremely restricted powers and a presidentially appointed upper house vested with greater powers. The president also appoints local authorities and consequently completely controls the situation.

The president himself and his policy have come to be seen as God-given and sacred for the people. This is evidenced both by Turkmenistan's national anthem and the numerous monuments to Saparmurad Niyazov (Turkmen-bashi) which have now replaced the sculptured figures of Lenin.

Close to this model are other countries of postcommunist Central Asia whose leaderships are apt in combining the institution of the presidency with popular religious traditions. Political developments in early 1995 in Kazakhstan made this clear once again. President Nursultan Nazarbayev dissolved the popularly elected Parliament under the pretext of a complaint by an unsuccessful female candidate, thus removing the problem of an institution which might have offered a measure of checks and balances to a strong presidency. A logical sequel, fully in line with the "pseudo-new model" of postcommunist political system being introduced, then took place when the President suggested a plebiscite on the need to extend his term until the year 2000. The majority chose to live through the transition period in peace and harmony with the reliable Nursultan Nazarbayev and accordingly voted to give their leader the power to act as "required" under the circumstances.

This is how the political systems of the Central Asian lands of the former Soviet Union are being transformed. For various reasons, this general rule has assumed special features in the Transcaucasus and Tadjikistan.

In Russia, despite its status as one of the pioneers of the Soviet-style democracy, the country's leadership has also managed to subject the democratic institutions of its political system to the above-mentioned element. The development of political parties and social organizations and the /134/ mixed character of the electoral system have failed to affect in an essential way the President's predominant status. A bicameral parliament and elected State Duma are counterbalanced by the Council of the Federation, controlled by the President and consisting of two representatives from each subject of the Russian Federation. This setup cannot in any substantial way prevent Boris Yeltsin from implementing his own program of actions and influencing the course of the political process. Moreover, the heart of the Russian political regime is the idea of a "Great Russia" sanctified by the Orthodox Church and religion, which in turn augments the legitimacy of the President and ruling elite.

An essentially different situation has developed in Belarus. After the collapse of the USSR, it sought to preserve the ideas of the communist model of political system. The communist elite and labor collectives were, until recently, dominant in the Belarus political process. At the same time, the ruling stratum's inflexibility and inability to legitimize itself by means of a certain idea or even an institution have led to its complete inability to pursue its own political strategy. Belarus' return into the orbit of a "new postcommunist Russia" testifies to its failure to form even the model of postcommunist, renewed political system analyzed above.

A less noticed but no less important phenomenon in the area of quests for a new political system in the postcommunist world is the implanted political system syndrome. A certain segment of democratic forces in postcommunist states, which have oriented themselves to the transplantation of the model of the Western world, either consciously or under pressure, propose to transplant the foundations of the political system of donor-countries in post-Soviet soil. A particular example of such an artificial transplantation is the attempt to introduce the Christian-Democratic model in Ukraine. The peculiarity of political donorship has resulted in the fact that the role of pioneer in this field is now claimed now by four political parties the Ukrainian Christian-Democratic Party, the Christian-Democratic Party of Ukraine, the Christian-Democratic Union and the Christian-Social Union (although the latter two have not /135/ yet been officially registered). The "implantation syndrome" is also observed among political representatives of classical liberalism much criticized now even in that homeland of liberalism, the USA. The triumph of the political system of the nations of classical liberalism in Ukraine, Russia, and especially the states of Central Asia and the Transcaucasus would seem somewhat problematic. But still the influence of this trend persists.






2. The Ukrainian Political System in Light of the Postcommunist Transformation


The model of Ukraine's postcommunist political system has formed spontaneously within the context of the general notion of state-building.

Etatism, which is at the basis of how the system of new socio-economic and political relations in Ukraine is being constructed, is characterized by the fact that the strategic objective was defined as state-building (or, more precisely, statehood) as a major determining factor in further reforms. But political leaders have not defined what Ukrainian state-building really means, how it can be accomplished, or how long it will last. In an interview on Russian Ostankino television former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk indicated that, while the present generation was unlikely to live in a civilized country, the main thing was that it would live in its own state. This understanding of the state-building process (the mechanistic establishment of the institutions statehood, only after which generally recognized mechanisms and principles of reform could be approached) led society to inadequately understand a whole series of notions about the political system. Thus, opposition came to be seen, not as a mechanism of influence and control over state decision-making and the actions of the institutions of power, but as a mechanism that ruins the state. This in turn allowed the formulation of the principle that in the so-called "period of state-building," opposition in the Ukrainian state is opposition to the Ukrainian state.

A similar approach also characterized questions of state /136/ structure and the mechanisms of economic reforms.

The self-sufficiency of state institutions, which supposedly brought closer the mythical statehood for Ukraine's leaders and aimed at expanding Ukraine's presence, above all, on the world stage, was covered by the mass media, not as one aspect of normal state activity, but as a great achievement. In this vein, the mass media created images of politicians who were building the state as a whole. But the question still remained of whether they had managed to do anything real in terms of carrying out their duties.

This state of affairs became a prerequisite for representatives of the old elite to join with a part of the new one, making it possible for them to build the state both in the center and the regions by the approbated methods but now without undue trepidation about being held accountable for any violations of the law. The attempt to influence the implementation of decisions at the local level and to set up a mechanism of influence on and control over local authorities by introducing a system of presidential prefects was a priori doomed to failure, for it was designed for "good people" who actually do what they are supposed to. In practice, the prefects, who lacked any real legal status and division of powers with other structures in the center and the regions, with time found appropriate niches in the state-building process in the regions they governed.

Along with etatism, ochlocracy (which for no apparent reason in Ukraine is stubbornly referred to as democracy) also found itself a place. Ukrainian ochlocracy displays the following characteristics: the incompetence of political power, disrespect for law, understanding law as whatever the state wants, and the manipulation of the attitudes of certain social groups in order to attain narrow corporative interests. Ochlocracy, or Ukrainian democracy, together with etatism have become a convenient disguise for the dilettantism of those who wield power. By formally referring to the importance of global tasks of state-building (in the etatist sense) and democratic transformations (in the ochlocratic sense) state officials were able to disencumber themselves from responsibility and to satisfy their own narrow clan interests. /137/

It was precisely under these conditions that the place of the institution of presidency as the key element of Ukraine's political system has come into ever sharper focus. All other institutions, and specifically political parties and social organizations, became mere satellites of the leading actor in political relations. In the course of pursuing the path of "state-building" there was even an attempt to form, on the basis of the Kyiv Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, an official state church which would sanctify the actions of Ukrainian state-building. But let us return to the history of the formation of Ukraine's political parties, whose status has assumed that of social organizations of a satellite character.

The history of the emergence of the Ukrainian multiparty system has certain specifics of its own, and it is worthwhile to examine the contemporary party system in Ukraine in light of certain periods in its emergence.

The first period of Ukraine's multi-party system, which might tentatively be referred to as "pre-state/opposition," extends chronologically from the emergence of the first Ukrainian Parties (Fall 1989) until the juridical codification of Ukraine's independent status (December 1, 1991). Today the systems of ideological support of all parties and their ideological credos are, in large measure, uniform. The selfidentification of party structures on the political spectrum took place only on the periphery. Different political forces turned out to be rather similar in their views on issues of state-building, socioeconomic system, religious, cultural, ecological, and other issues. The programs of these parties were full of general declarative slogans and appeals to the whole people of Ukraine in order not to restrict the zone of their ideological influence. Precisely this explains the presence in the documents of various political structures of a great quantity and general democratic dogmas. After an attempt to classify nationwide parties in the above period, one can conclude that of the twelve parties which existed as of December 1, 1991, all except the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) championed the ideas of parliamentary democracy and private property. As for Ukraine's political /138/ status, eleven parties, again except for the CPU, favored Ukrainian sovereignty either within a commonwealth system or as an independent state. Thus, the Democratic Party of Ukraine, Liberal-Democratic Party of Ukraine, People's Party of Ukraine, Unified Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine, Party of the Democratic Rebirth of Ukraine, Green Party, Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine, Ukrainian Republican Party, Peasant-Democratic Party of Ukraine, and the Christian-Democratic Party all stood shoulder to shoulder in the struggle for "sovereignty," "democracy," "the free market," "pluralism," and against communist ideology. Despite various negative trends, this became the principal prerequisite for their joint actions which led to the proclamation of independent and democratic Ukraine. The new parties were small, politically naive, and were not drawn into the machinery of the state policy. Among them rifts, tensions, and confrontations soon reared their heads.

Since the proclamation of Ukrainian independence, a qualitatively new situation has arisen in society. From then on political parties, with only preliminary programs lacking any mechanism for attaining their goals, have become inferior subjects of the political system. Such was the status of political parties at the beginning of the next stage in the development of the Ukrainian multi-party system which can be tentatively called a "state-loyalist" one. Chronologically, this period spans from December 1991 to early 1993.

After the All-Ukrainian referendum on independence and Presidential election of December 1, 1991, all the major goals which had served as the basis of forming major political pre-election blocs, were in complete agreement with the President's own policy. A process began of "velvet" appropriation of the parties by the state. On the one hand, this split the opposition. Because of the socioeconomic situation, a considerable portion of the party structures and sociopolitical organizations came to support the President and either partially or wholly the government. The newly created Congress of National-Democratic Forces and, to some extent, the bloc of radical nationalists embraced (both in theory and practice) the thesis that "support for the President of /139/ Ukraine elected by the whole people is support for building an independent state."

Accordingly, "opposition to the President means the ruin of our independent state." The political forces around Rukh and the Nova Ukraina association occupied the niche of a loyal opposition. Paradoxically, a de facto controlling interest in all realms of state power was retained by the socalled party of power," which is not a registered political structure at all. Thus, a new political elite was formed in Ukraine as a result of the compromise between a part of the old ruling party layer and a portion of the national-democratic opposition. Moreover, in this period Rukh and Nova Ukraina repeatedly switched back and forth from support to opposition vis-a-vis the President and government, thereby creating a problem of identifying the character of a Ukrainian counter-elite on the level of political parties.

Former President Kravchuk opted for the creation of a simplified mechanism to legally regulate the registration of political parties: The Ministry of Justice was authorized to register a political party when its program, statute, and founding documents were appended to a list of one thousand party members. This in turn created a legal situation stimulating the emergence of dwarfish quasi-political parties led by ambitious, pseudo-political leaders. Of course, in the developed democracies party registration is of no great significance. A political party's importance is determined by its participation in parliamentary and local elections. These Lilliputian party formations one by one joined the major parties, also without any real programs of action, and found a niche in the ranks of the loyal opposition. Their actual political participation was limited to periodic announcements about the nature of their opposition to or support for certain institutions of state power (parliament, the government, or the President) or their attitude toward what the Russian Federation did. The President knew how to take advantage of the situation of the political parties. For example, in order to strengthen his position, he initiated regular roundtable discussions of political parties on problems which were certain to be supported by the leaders of most parties. /140/ Specifically, the round-table discussion on the CIS Charter forced the leaders of several parties of the loyal opposition to support the President's policy line, and this cast doubt on the depth of their opposition.

In this period, a type of party system was formed which displayed elements a of multi-party system: a significant number of parties and signs of polarization between Left (Socialists and Communists) and Right (radical nationalist organizations). This took shape in 1992-1993.

The next period, the "pre-election" one (1993-1994), was characterized by a shift of the center of attention to preparation for the Parliamentary election campaign. This determined the parties' main tasks: choosing acceptable slogans for their election programs and seeking to influence the passing of an optimal election law. As a result, a law was passed mandating parliamentary elections on a winner-takeall basis and stipulating the rights of political parties as subjects of the electoral system (but with a more complicated procedure of nominating candidates for parties than for groups of voters).

Lacking a developed organizational structure and enough sufficiently experienced candidates, political parties proved unprepared for elections on a winner-take-all basis. The election results (allowing for numerous violations of election laws) make it possible for us to draw some conclusions:

Voters showed their trustful attitude to candidates to the deputies nominated by political parties or political groups and chose to vote for them rather than independent candidates.9

On the other hand, regional differences in the influence of various political parties and lack of balance in the election programs of candidates made it impossible to form structured majority and opposition coalitions Ukraine's parliament.

In addition, there is not a single All-Ukrainian political party which would have demonstrated in the course of the elections its ideological, political and organizational influence in most of Ukraine's regions. Only the Inter-/141/Regional Bloc for Reform, which represents the interests of major regions of the country to some extent performs this role.

At present Ukraine is approaching the stage of a transformation of its parties, characterized by the process of unification of small political parties on the basis of proclaimed ideological, political, and economic affinity:

Communists and Socialists;

Social-Democrats;

Liberals;

Conservatives (represented largely by National Democrats, Christian Democrats, and various trends of Nationalists).

How real the influence of these orientations is in Ukraine will be shown only by the results of the next parliamentary elections very likely to be held on a mixed basis.





* * *


Thus, the period of political transformations in the states of the former USSR (except for the Baltic states) has certain common regularities. First of all, this is true for the nature of political system, codified in constitutional documents as democratic, pluralistic, and open. But actually the majority of the new political players, the parties, fail to influence the course of events. This is above all the case with political parties. Under the circumstances the main institution in the political system becomes the President or national leader who uses other political institutions only to secure and consolidate his own legitimacy. Political parties become transformed into formal declarative institutions of societies estranged from state policy-making. This situation is in turn conducive to the incompetence, irresponsibility, and corruption of the political elite, while the constant situational balancing of the ruling stratum between the principles of ochlocratic, democratic, and authoritarian forms of state organization is extremely dangerous and provokes calls for establishing something like a neototalitarian order. The political system at issue in the countries of the former USSR can be referred to as the transformative "pseudo-new" model of the postcommunist period. /142/

At the same time, rather popular with democratic circles, still remains the model of the so-called "implanted political system" which would have to be based along the lines of the political structure of a certain Western state. Primarily, the principles dominating in a donor-country of postcommunist implantors underlie the basis of such "optimal" model of political system.

Obviously, we are dealing with two unacceptable approaches to developing an efficient and socially viable model of political system in the postcommunist theater. The basis for the optimal political organization of society must be:

the functioning of generally recognized principles of democratic society;

an appreciation of the national specificity of a given country;

the mechanisms of political and legal guarantees against authoritarian, neototalitarian, or ochlocratic reflexes in the postcommunist world.




9. For more details on this paradox see: "Verkhovna Rada Ukrainy: Paradigmy i Paradoksy," Eksklusiv Ukrainskoi Perspektyvy, No. 1, 1995 (in Ukrainian).





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