Communist Symonenko Says Abolish Presidency

KIEV -- Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko wants to abolish the presidency, which he plans to win in two weeks and to rethink ties with the West.

A modest former Soviet functionary whose vocabulary is filled with hackneyed slogans like dictatorship of the proletariat, Symonenko, 47, told Reuters late Sunday he would stick to his pledges to build socialism and abolish the presidency.

"It is a position of principle of the Communist Party that the existence of this institution [the presidency] is inexpedient," he said, adding that the abolished institution should be replaced by "a system of people's power."

With 96 percent of the votes counted, Symonenko was in second place with 22.32 percent of votes behind sitting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma with 36.36 percent.

A run-off election will be held on Nov. 14; Symonenko said that if he wins, then the presidency might be abolished by 2002 via a referendum to be held alongside new parliamentary elections.

Symonenko's pledges to restore socialism and redistribute what he calls ill-gotten gains still strikes a chord with a large section of the electorate that is nostalgic for the certainties and welfare guarantees of the Soviet era.

"Ukraine is on the verge of national catastrophe, according to all indicators of living standards, security issues, economic matters and political independence," he said.

A devoted pupil of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, Symonenko says Ukraine's internal and foreign policies are dictated by the West.

Loans from financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, are essential, but their disbursement should not be pegged to any concrete economic program, he says.

Lashing out against the economic hardships, which he blames on Kuchma's market reforms, Symonenko dissociates his party from Stalinist repressions and says his idea of socialism is the only alternative for the impoverished nation.

Feeding the nostalgia for Soviet times, Symonenko says he favors a union of Slav neighbors Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and will hold a referendum on the issue after the polls. A union along those lines has been pursued sporadically by Boris Yeltsin's Kremlin and ardently by Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, but so far Ukraine under Kuchma has not signed up.

He is credited by his supporters with turning the party into Ukraine's most numerous and organized political force. It numbers 142,000 members.

Symonenko's career is typical of that of many Soviet functionaries.

Born in the eastern coal-mining town of Donetsk, he graduated from a local polytechnical institute but worked as a mining engineer for only one year.

He later started climbing the party ladder, reaching the post of a Communist Party ideology secretary at the regional headquarters.

He is married with two sons.