People’s Democratic party

People’s Democratic party (Народно-демократична партія or НДП; Narodno-demokratychna partiia or NDP). Created at a founding convention on 24 February 1996 by the merger of three preexisting bodies, Labor Congress of Ukraine (TKU), Party for the Democratic Rebirth of Ukraine (PDVU), and Nova Ukraina, and the closest to then President Leonid Kuchma, NDP can be characterized as a centrist, pro-government party. First head of the party was Anatolii Matviienko, a former Communist Youth League of Ukraine (Komsomol) official; deputy head was Volodymyr Filenko, also a former Komsomol official and previously in the leadership of Nova Ukraina. From its inception, the NDP attempted to become the ‘party of power,’ the first of its kind in Ukraine, but ultimately unsuccessful.

Its program said the party was based on the time-tested values of European social democracy and liberalism. It called for radical reform of all aspects of social life, recognizing the individual as being most important. It also wanted acceleration of economic transformation by market means. The state must withdraw from direct intervention in the economy, limiting itself to setting the rules and creating a favorable business climate. With private property as the basis of economic development, the party supported small business and advocated shareholding and corporate ownership. Collective farms and state farms should be transformed into shareholding companies; agriculture should be rapidly absorbed into the market economy; there should be radical land reform, a market in land, expanded private ownership, and long-term leasing as well as privatization of farm land. Industry must be modernized, consumer-oriented, and competitive. The program placed a premium on Ukraine’s economic independence on the international plane, but for the moment advocated protectionism while the country’s export potential was being developed. Regulation of the economy must, however, be through economic mechanisms, not administrative ones. The party promised to create a strong and dominant middle class as well as civil society. It saw Ukraine as a civic rather than ethnic nation, advocated a bicameral legislature, and supported a unitary state and a presidential-parliamentary republic. Less money should be spent on government bureaucracy, armed forces, and ineffective enterprises; it was against printing money to meet government obligations. The NDP program urged consolidation of all democratic and reform-minded forces (under its leadership) to ensure radical reform of the country.

The NDP platform for the 1998 elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine proposed an orderly exit from the economic crisis. It promised economic growth in 1999 through increased production and market development. Its market economy would, however, include various forms of property ownership, and privatization would have to pay off in investment and employment. In agriculture there would have to be a market in land, but food imports at the expense of domestic production would be cut. To capture a share of the global market it advocated capitalizing on Ukraine’s military-industrial prowess. It promised to pay wage arrears, to guarantee future wage payments, to set pensions at 70 per cent of average wages, to tax the rich, to provide free housing for the needy, and to maintain free state medicine. On crime and corruption, the party promised an Italian-style ‘clean hands’ campaign, which would include lifting the immunity of officials and parliamentarians tainted by criminal activity. It advocated a multilateral foreign policy including development of friendly relations with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States as well as Europe and the rest of the world, and supported transforming NATO into a collective security system.

In the 1998 elections, the NDP fielded 189 candidates and obtained 5.0 percent of the vote in the party lists which yielded 17 seats; with the election of 11 deputies in single-member districts (SMDs), this gave the party 28 seats overall, the fourth largest contingent in the new parliament. After the elections, however, once parliament began sitting, the NDP caucus (fraction) grew to 84 by attracting the lion’s share of ‘independent’ deputies, which made it the second largest of the caucuses. At the end of 1998, there were 77 deputies in the caucus. Caucus leader was Anatolii Matviienko.

When a majority of delegates decided at the party’s congress in May 1999 to support Leonid Kuchma as candidate for president, a number of parliamentarians quit the party including Anatolii Matviienko, Volodymyr Filenko, Oleksandr Yemets, and Taras Stetskiv. (Matviienko went on to lead the ‘Sobor’ party in December 1999; Filenko became deputy leader of the Reforms and Order party—PRP; Yemets joined the RPR leadership as well; and Stetskiv transferred to the RPR caucus also.) The then Prime Minister, Valerii Pustovoitenko, was elected NDP leader. During the presidential election campaign, Pustovoitenko headed a combination of 12 political parties named ‘Harmony’ (Zlahoda) meant to rally regional political elites behind the Kuchma candidacy. Pustovoitenko’s reward was to have been his re-appointment to the post of prime minister, but he failed to gain parliamentary approval. The party’s influence waned and various other of its leaders defected to form their own parties, for example, Anatolii Kinakh went on to head the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Under Pustovoitenko, the NDP depicted itself as a centrist, popular-democratic party dedicated to the principles of equilibrium, pragmatism, and absence of doctrinairism. It advocated gradual economic growth of the country based on modernization and aimed at improving people’s well-being. Its slogan, accordingly, was simple: ‘The Individual. The Fatherland. Well-Being. Ukraine.’ The party eschewed experimentation and confrontation, advocating instead ‘dialogue, compromise, and consensus.’ The NDP supported unquestioningly President Leonid Kuchma and his actions. It believed its social base to be comprised of all those people who shared its commitments, and hoped in future, as do so many other Ukrainian political parties, to obtain a large share of support from the middle class.

The NDP was part of the parliamentary majority formed in February 2000, a staunch supporter of President Leonid Kuchma, and voted with the majority in the vote of non-confidence in the Viktor Yushchenko government in April 2001. On 13 June 2001, its parliamentary fraction was made up of 16 deputies.

In the 2002 elections to the Supreme Council of Ukraine, the NDP joined four other parties (the Agrarian Party of Ukraine, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Party of Regions, and Toiling Ukraine) in an electoral alliance, ‘For One Ukraine’ (Za iedynu Ukrainu; ZIU; mocked as ‘Za Iedu’ [For Food]), which obtained 11.8 percent of the vote for 35 seats on the PR side, plus 66 in SMDs, for a total of 101 members of parliament. It placed second after Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc. Ivan Pliushch of the NDP became chairman of the assembly, a post he had held in 1991–4. In 2003, however, he defected to Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine, along with Roman Bezsmertny, another NDP member. As he had done for Leonid Kuchma, the latter failed to transform Our Ukraine into Yushchenko’s ‘party of power.’ ZIU disintegrated a month after the elections into its oligarchic components. In the April 2004 vote on Kuchma’s constitutional changes, the NDP’s 14 members voted unanimously in favor, but the motion failed; in June, on bill no. 4180, of the combined caucus of NDP and the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, only 5 of 16 voted in favor, but the motion passed.

After the party’s poor showing in 2006, Valerii Pustovoitenko was replaced as leader by Liudmyla Suprun, who had already served as a parliamentarian for the NDP in the Third Convocation (1998–2002) of the Supreme Council of Ukraine, having been elected in an SMD in Kirovohrad oblast, and had run on the ZIU list under the Toiling Ukraine label as number 37 in 2002. In 2005–6, she was deputy head of the party. In the 2006 parliamentary elections, the NDP Bloc, comprised of the NDP, the Democratic Party of Ukraine, Christian Democrats, Christian Liberals, with Suprun as no. 1 on the list, obtained 0.49 per cent and failed to win a seat. The following year, renamed the Electoral Bloc of Liudmyla Suprun, the NDP together with the Democrats and Republican Christians combined, secured just 0.34 percent. Suprun entered the 2010 presidential race for the NDP, and obtained 0.19 per cent of the vote—13th out of 18 candidates. She then attempted to return to the Supreme Council of Ukraine as an independent in 2012, via a seat in Kirovohrad oblast again, but fell short with only 17.1 per cent of the vote. As of November 2020, Suprun, an economist and lawyer, remained leader of the NDP.

Bohdan Harasymiw

[This article was written in 2020.]

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