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Back to the Brink in Ukraine

The campaign for Ukraine’s parliamentary election of September 30th is scarcely underway and yet Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is already trying to steal it. Yanukovych was the man who sought to falsify the result of the presidential election of 2004, inciting the Orange Revolution. Back then, a peaceful and honest result was reached in the end because Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma refused to heed Yanukovych’s call to use violence to defend his rigged election. This time it appears that Yanukovych is prepared to do anything to remain in power.

The dirty tricks began in the midnight hours of August 11th, when Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (which is packed with Yanukovych placemen) refused to certify the largest opposition party, the bloc of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, to participate in the election. The technicality the commission cited would be absurdly funny if its potential results were not so incendiary: the CEC objected to the fact that the Tymoshenko bloc candidates listed only their home towns on the party list, not their precise street address. But Tymoshenko’s party successfully submitted its list in the very same format at the March 2006 election, which demonstrates the glaringly partisan nature of the election commission’s ruling.

By seeking to cling to power by hook or by crook, Yanukovych is likely to bring on the deluge. In Ukraine that means not only violent unrest, but economic decline and renewed repression. At the end of the day it could lead to the sort of huge street protests that marked the Orange Revolution, and their attempted violent suppression.

Recent history is replete with alarming examples of dictators and would be dictators who refuse to recognize when their time has run out. But for the past twenty years their blatant political chicanery has been met with a potent new force: the massed voices of ordinary people who refuse to be cowed. From the “People Power” revolution that toppled Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986 to Boris Yeltsin’s defiance of the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev of August 1991, to the Rose, Orange, and Cedar Revolutions of recent years, dictators have been forced to admit defeat when enough people stand up to them.