Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Skepticism Dogs Ukrainian Poll in Richest Ex-Soviet Republic, Voters Express Disaffection for Government amid Faltering Reforms and High Inflation

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Skepticism Dogs Ukrainian Poll in Richest Ex-Soviet Republic, Voters Express Disaffection for Government amid Faltering Reforms and High Inflation

Article excerpt

LIKE almost everyone else in this westernmost part of Ukraine, Viktor Chobit supported the reformist-nationalist movement that led the fight for freedom from the Soviet Union two years ago. Now as Ukraine heads toward its first parliamentary election as an independent nation, he has decided not to vote.

"I have no time for politics," explains Mr. Chobit, an electrician, stopping briefly to talk in this city's charming market square, lined with 17th and 18th century imitations of Italian Renaissance palazzos. He works three jobs to survive in Ukraine's super-inflationary economy and complains that the deputy whom his factory supported has not shown his face since the last election.

In a four-day swing from the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in the country's center to this western city in the foothills of the Carpathian mountains, this sense of disillusionment and political apathy among Ukraine's voters was widespread. After more than three years in which a parliament dominated by old-style Communists and bureaucrats stymied attempts at reform, it is now widely feared that Sunday's election holds no real possibility of change.

Many observers worry as well that the country's confusing election laws could yield a situation where no working parliament can be seated. Western diplomatic sources in Kiev say aides to President Leonid Kravchuk are working on plans for an interim period of direct presidential rule if that happens. Thrill is gone

The election mood is testament to the deep sense of disappointment many feel over the lack of accomplishments in a free Ukraine, the second largest and richest of the former Soviet republics. Even in Western Ukraine, the stronghold of the nationalist movement where anti-Communists swept to victory in 1990 elections held while the Soviet Union still existed, there is little optimism.

"We won't see the enthusiasm of 1990 again," says parliament candidate Yuri Kluchkovsky, a physicist who heads the Lvov regional branch of Rukh, the main democratic-nationalist party. "One can see disillusionment with politics in general and people losing hope that anything can be changed."

Little more than a week before the vote, the lack of campaign activity is striking. Campaign posters are hard to spot in the capital, though more numerous in the politicized west. Television appearances are limited by law and candidates spend their time speaking to whatever small audiences they can find.

At every level of government, from the Rukh-controlled regional administration in Lvov to the central government, voters express the belief that government cannot solve their problems. "Nobody trusts either the old parliament or the candidates," says Stepan Pisotsky, an agronomist at a Rivne region collective farm that includes his village of Ptycha. No questioning independence

In the west, where the soft endings of the Ukrainian language are the dominant tongue, there is little questioning of the correctness of independence from Russia. "We have some questions about the quality of our leadership but not about independence itself," Mr. Pisotsky says.

That skepticism also extends to Rukh, which has at times backed President Kravchuk in his wavering support for reform and Ukrainian resistance to Russian pressures.

Rukh, which began as a broad front, has splintered into numerous parties now competing, often viciously, against one another. Economic depression is weakening support for moderate nationalists here, with more extreme ultranationalists gaining some ground. …

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