By Ilya Khineyko
On 30 September, for the second time in two years, Ukraine held parliamentary elections, which were recognized as free and fair by international observers from the West and Russia. Five blocs and parties: the Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense (OU-PSD, NUNS in the Ukrainian acronym), the Tymoshenko bloc, the Party of Regions (PofR), the Communist Party, and the Lytvyn bloc garnered more than the 3% required to get into the new parliament. It is, however, far from certain when the political forces represented in the new Rada will be able to form a parliamentary majority and appoint a new government. As it stands, the political crisis that has permeated the Ukrainian political scene since last spring is far from over. Some unexpected political alliances might emerge from the protracted political discussions that are likely to follow the announcement of the final results on 15 October. The Party of Regions has the largest percentage and highest number of seats, followed closely by the Tymoshenko Bloc, while the pro-presidential OU-PSD is a distant third. The two other factions in the new parliament have less than fifty seats combined, but it is widely expected that the smallest faction, the Lytvyn Bloc, could play the role of a kingmaker in the new parliament.
Results of 2006 Parliamentary Elections
Party Seats Percentage
Party of Regions 175 34.37
Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko 156 30.71
NUNS 72 14.5
Communist Party 27 5.39
Bloc Volodymyr Lytvyn 20 3.96
In assessing these results, a background of the events leading up to this election is useful. The election season in Ukraine began on 2 April when President Yushchenko issued a decree dissolving the previous convocation of the Verkhovna Rada. What seemed a last resort on the part of the President came after the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Speaker Oleksandr Moroz had successfully wooed a handful of opposition deputies to switch sides, leading to talks on forming a constitutional majority, a move that would have rendered the president a purely ceremonial figure. Opinion polls indicated that the early elections would not change the status quo as the Party of Regions was expected to retain its high standings, while the fortunes of Our Ukraine seemed bleak. Indeed, the Party of Regions managed to increase slightly its percentage of the vote as did the OU-PSD bloc. However, both parties stand to lose a handful of seats each in the new parliament, due to the dramatic surge of the Tymoshenko bloc, the biggest winner in the elections. Tymoshenko’s parliamentary faction will expand from 129 to 156 deputies as a result of gaining 8% more votes than it received compared to the 2006 results. The combined tally of the OU-PSD and the Tymoshenko Bloc (228 seats) is enough to form a parliamentary majority and establish a new ‘Orange’ government. The events seemed to be following this course on election night when a jubilant Yulia Tymoshenko was greeted by leader of PSD and leading candidate on the OU-PSD candidate list, Yuri Lutsenko. During a joint press-conference both leaders vowed to stay true to the “ideals of the Maidan” and honor the pre-election agreements to form a coalition of democratic forces. However, on 3 October, President Yushchenko caused consternation among the Orange campwhen he issued a statement urging all political forces to “seek a compromise” and consider forming a broad coalition that would include the Party of Regions as well.
Why did the President decide to contradict the leader of his party and what lies behind the call for unity and compromise? Several observers pointed out that a Yulia Tymoshchenko government would seriously undermine if not completely dash Yushchenko’s hopes to run for the presidency again in 2008. By becoming the Prime Minister now, Yulia Tymoshenko would be able to use the powers of the office to boost her profile at the expense of Yushchenko to the point where nominating her as the presidential candidate of the Orange forces would be the only choice left to defeat Yanukovych or any other presidential hopeful from the Party of Regions. It appears in retrospect that Viktor Yanukovych made a huge political blunder by attempting to strip the president of the last vestiges of real power instead of forging a meaningful alliance with Our Ukraine that would relegate the Tymoshenko Bloc to the opposition benches. As the prominent Ukrainian pundit Yulia Lymar pointed out, “The problem of Yanukovych lies in the fact it took too long for him, that is until now, to realize that he needs Yushchenko as much as Yushchenko needs him… Unfortunately, this card cannot be played any more”
Yet, there is no unity within the OU-PSD bloc concerning Tymoshenko’s current candidacy. Whereas business groups in Our Ukraine represented by Yuri Yekhanurov are vehemently opposed to the possibility of Tymoshenko becoming Prime Minister as evidenced in a memo published by Ukrains’ka pravda, Yuri Lutsenko and his People’s Self-Defense group are clearly in favor of such a step. It is likely that if Yanukovych retains his prime-ministerial post, Lutsenko’s party members will break away from Our Ukraine and join forces with BYuT. Furthermore, the Orange electorate remains deeply antagonistic to the figure of Yanukovych, so Our Ukraine risks losing even more electoral support to the Tymoshenko Bloc if an alliance between Yushchenko and Yanukovych becomes a reality. In this light, the standings of Viktor Yanukovych within the PofR might not be as solid as they appear. As Ukrains’ka pravda’s analysis reveals, the Party of Regions candidate list was filled by people loyal to Rinat Akhmetov who is much more willing to seek rapport with Yushchenko in order to stop Yulia Tymoshenko even if it would mean changing the leadership of the party.
The prospect of an Orange coalition remains a more feasible option. After a closed door meeting with President Yushchenko on 4 October, Yuri Lutsenko opined that the Orange coalition might be formed by 15 October when the Central Electoral Committee is scheduled to announce the official results. However, given the factors described above, Ukrainian politics may yield more surprises in the coming weeks.
Published by the Stasiuk Program for the Study of Contemporary Ukraine, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies. This article may be reproduced with appropriate acknowledgement.