Ukrainian voters might find Communists tempting in elections

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Communist Party and other leftist groups tempted Ukrainians voting in parliamentary elections Sunday with promises of Soviet-style social guarantees that would ease the poverty and worry of post-independence life.
The message might appeal to millions of retirees and workers tired of waiting months for pension checks and back wages. Many have fond memories of low cost housing, free health service and job security during the Soviet era.
“People see that the current course is a dead end and want a different life,’ said Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist speaker of the outgoing Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament.
But others, who remember the suffering inflicted on Ukraine by the Soviet regime, decided to vote for the more centrist and reformist of the 30 parties on the ballot.
“Some people believe that if we return to a communist system, they will have what they had then. But that’s impossible, we don’t have the resources,’ said Stepan Sternina, 70. “There will be hunger.”
Nearly half the electorate voted by midafternoon, but last-minute decisions and a new electoral system made forecasts risky.
Ukrainians had high hopes for their country when it gained independence in 1991, but seven years later the nation of 50 million is still waiting for an economic upturn and a stronger sense of identity.
“I’m an optimist and I’d like to think things will get better fast, but it’s hard to believe,’ said Tetyana Pustovoitova, 51, a food store clerk.
The government conquered hyperinflation and introduced a relatively stable currency in 1996, but structural reforms have been stymied by the slow-moving executive branch and its deadlock with parliament.
Before Sunday’s election, the Communists had about 20 percent of the 450 seats in the parliament. Combined with other leftist groups, they have been able to block many of President Leonid Kuchma’s economic reforms. Many analysts lay equal blame on the president and the government for the slow pace of reform.
But economists have predicted the economy may grow slightly this year for the first time since independence, and Kuchma insisted in an election eve address that the worst is over.
After casting his ballot Sunday in Ukraine’s second parliamentary elections since the 1991 Soviet collapse, Kuchma vowed to work more productively with the new parliament to shift the economy out of the doldrums.
Each of the legislators in the outgoing parliament was directly elected from one of 450 districts. The resulting legislature was fractious, with a dozen shifting factions.
This time, only half of the new legislature was being directly elected. The other 225 seats will be apportioned to political parties winning at least 4 percent of the vote.
The ballot allowed voters to register their dislike for all parties.
“I voted against everybody,’ said Natalya, a seafood shop employee who refused to give her last name. “They all promise mountains of gold, but they do not keep their promises. I don’t trust any of them.”
The vote ended a contentious parliamentary campaign during which parties tried to win voter trust by discrediting opponents, and discord may heighten as Kuchma and his rivals prepare for the fall 1999 presidential election.