UKRAINE’S PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS: LITTLE TO SATISFY REGIONS PARTY


David Marples

With 99.6% of the votes counted, Ukraine’s election results are very similar to those of the exit polls released on October 28. In terms of popular vote, Regions lead with 30.03%, with Batkivshchyna at 25.51%, UDAR 13.94%, the Communist Party of Ukraine 13.18%, and Svoboda 10.44%. These five parties are the only ones to clear the 5% minimum threshold. Projected seats in the new parliament, as published in Ukrains’ka Pravda on November 1 (http://www.pravda.com.ua), are Regions 186 (114 in individual constituencies), Batkivshchyna 104 (42), independents 44, UDAR 40, Svoboda 37 (including 12 in individual constituencies), and KPU 32.

Although there have been reports from the OSCE and Canadian sources of serious electoral violations (http://www.interfax.com.ua/eng/press-conference/123721/), and a statement from Yuliya Tymoshenko that this was the “most unfair election in the history of Ukraine” and that she would go on a hunger strike in her prison cell (http://www.interfax.com.ua/eng/main/124638/ )  the results of the seats contested by proportional representation appear to reflect, more or less, the views of the voters. The same cannot be said of the results in single-mandate constituencies where Regions won an outright majority. The reinsituted dual system, as noted by Taras Kuzio, has worked in favor of the authorities, just as it did in previous elections (http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=40030). In 2002, for example, a disastrous showing for President Leonid Kuchma’s For a United Campaign was offset by the accumulation of seats in the single constituencies, thus preventing Our Ukraine from winning an outright majority.

Several preliminary comments can be made. First, Batkivshchyna did much better in the latter part of the campaign at which time its vote seemed to be declining. Correspondingly, support for UDAR seemed to fall away as the election approached, perhaps because of voters’ concern at the relative inexperience of its leader, the boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. Nevertheless, Klitschko has emerged as a viable opposition leader with an excellent showing for a first campaign but he is concerned about the emergence of Svoboda, and is unlikely to enter any form of coalition or alliance with them. Both the Communists on the left and Svoboda on the right fared well. Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok maintained that the Ukrainian Security Service controlled the placement of data in the server of the Central Election Commission, thereby depriving his party of “every third vote” (Interfax-Ukraina, Oct 30). Compared to the exit polls, polling for Svoboda was down by between 1-2.6%, but still within the margin of error. Still, Ukraine now faces the likelihood of an even more fractious parliament in which extremist parties have gained a firm foothold

Overall it should be possible for the Regions Party to cobble together a majority with the assistance of the Communists and independent candidates. Not surprisingly given the prevalence of state propaganda, Regions performed much better in individual constituencies than those elected by proportional representation. In terms of the popular vote, 51.47% of those who took part preferred non-ruling parties and 43.21 backed the Regions or Communist Party. Though the latter party fared better than in the previous election, its leader Petro Symonenko has denounced the election campaign the “dirtiest” in the entire period of Ukraine’s independence, including blackmail and intimidation, and violations of legality in vote counting in the Luhansk region in particular (Interfax Ukraine, Oct 30).

There can be no room for complacency or even satisfaction from the perspective of President Viktor Yanukovych and his ruling party. Despite the arrests of Tymoshenko last year and former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko earlier in 2012, the opposition has maintained significant support. A prominent role is assured for the interim Batkivshchyna leader Arsenii Yatsenyuk, who is frequently dismissed as too intellectual or bookish and lacking in charisma (see for example Kuzio at http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=40030). But the question remains when Yulia Tymoshenko will be released and take up her role as leader of the opposition. Moreover, the election has failed to convince the Europeans in particular that there has been any moderation of recent authoritarian trends. Without the release of Tymoshenko and Lutsenko, there is unlikely to be much progress on Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU.

Above all, with a 58% turnout, less than 31% supported Regions, which gained significant victories only in the eastern areas, their traditional stronghold. In other words, 69% backed other parties and candidates, and only 18% of those eligible to vote backed the Regions. It is hardly an overwhelming mandate at a time when the country is threatened with a serious economic recession. In fact one would have to say, given the Regions’ overwhelming control of state institutions, their enormous financial backing and largesse, and their preponderance in the media, their supporters can only consider this election a failure. They cannot look forward to the next step in their consolidation of state power, namely the presidential elections of 2015. On the other hand, as the example of Belarus has demonstrated, it is often very hard to remove incumbents once they control the machinery of state.

 

Advertisements

About DAVID R. MARPLES

Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: