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15 September, 2014  ▪  Oles Oleksiyenko

Have No Illusions

With the old election law in place, the parliamentary campaign cannot radically upgrade the Verkhovna Rada now. Still, it will make it more adequate to the challenges faced by the state

On August 25, President Petro Poroshenko signed an edict disbanding the parliament for failing to form a government coalition for a month. The early election is scheduled to take place on October 26, and the election campaign already kicked off on August 28. Thus, in addition to the war against Russia’s aggression in the Donbas, the country’s attention will be riveted to another top issue – the internal “front”, the fight to upgrade parliament and make it capable of rising to the challenges of the hard times in which Ukraine has found itself. These two topics will be evolving hand in hand.

It is already clear that the election will be regulated by the old Law On the Election of Members of Parliament of Ukraine (passed on November 17, 2011) which foresees closed party lists, a ban on political blocs and electing half of MPs in first-past-the-post (FPTP) districts. This system will prevent new parties from entering the Verkhovna Rada and will strengthen the positions of long-time heavyweights, representatives of large business and simply oligarchs’ henchmen who will be able to grab the majority of seats in the FPTP districts.

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Ukrainians should not hope to see a major overhaul of the Verkhovna Rada, something the Maidan demanded. Even if a number of new characters appear in parliament, many representing Poroshenko’s Solidarnist (Solidarity) party and Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party, they will be controlled by well-known old-timers. It is equally clear, however, that the new parliament will still be much better than the one we have now – with much fewer communists and Party of Regions members and no odious anti-Ukrainian individual MPs who were elected in the Crimea earlier.

Representatives of new political forces formed by the Maidan’s activists have minimal chances of being elected on their own. At the moment, there are no recent opinion polls that would give an idea of how Ukrainians’ electoral preferences changed over the summer. Nevertheless, a poll carried out by the Rating Sociological Group in early July showed that 23% of the respondents (from among those who would participate in the election) would vote for Solidarity, 13% for Liashko’s Radical Party, 11% for Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), 7% for Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR and 5% for Anatoliy Hrytsenko’s Hromadianska pozytsiia (Civic Position). Svoboda (Freedom) and the Communist Party would each win 4%, while Serhiy Tihipko’s SylnaUkraina (Strong Ukraine), the Party of Regions and Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Front zmin (Front of Changes) would collect 3% each. Olha Bohomolets’ Kolo narodnoi doviry (Circle of People’s Trust), the Right Sector and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy’s Samopomich (Self-Help) would each receive 1-2%, while the Democratic Alliance and Lesia Orobets’ Nove zhyttia (New Life) a measly 0.3%.

Based on proportional lists, they would be able to make it to parliament either by uniting to form a quasi-bloc (official blocs are not actually allowed) based on one of the parties or by joining the lists of better-placed political forces (Solidarity, UDAR, Batkivshchyna or the Civic Position). These forces would be interested in this move as it would give them a chance to claim they are bringing new people to the Verkhovna Rada. They would likely be willing to offer civil activists a share of spots on their lists, even among the top five.

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According to Yulia Tymoshenko, her party’s main task in new parliament will be to “for the first time, create a pro-European, democratic constitutional majority” that will “clearly stay on the right course of the country’s development”. This may be the only chance for Batkivshchyna to squeeze itself into the government as President Poroshenko may forge a majority without Tymoshenko’s MPs or at least without most of them.Activists and representatives of new political forces stand an even smaller chance of winning the election in the FPTP districts. The reason is that big business is expected to offer strong competition and that supporters of new parties are few and far between (usually no more than several per cent in any such district). An additional factor is that the division line between the government and the opposition is less clear now. The current government continues to occupy the pro-European, democratic niche and has not yet drawn the ire of society as was the case in the past.

Liashko’s populist party may be an even more dangerous opponent to Poroshenko than Tymoshenko’s party. Hrytsenko’s Civic Position is also likely to join the opposition.

Svoboda is balancing on the 5% threshold (needed to pass to Parliament) and risks losing the election. Recent polls show that support for pro-Russian forces – the Communist Party, Strong Ukraine and the Party of Regions – is likely to grow as they find ways to persuade a large number of citizens in southern and eastern regions who are not going to participate in the election or do not have a clear preference at the moment. A Rating poll carried out from June 28 to July 10 showed that voter turnout is likely to be the highest in Central and Western Ukraine (around 80%) and the lowest in the Donbas (27%) and Southern Ukraine (37%). 30% of the respondents were not certain or did not know who they would vote for.

Thus, pro-European political forces may turn out to be underrepresented as compared to poll figures. Polls carried out during the election campaign may very soon start reflecting this trend.

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In the FPTP districts, the election may be won by a number of candidates representing the Party of Regions (the remainder of the old Party of Regions now controlled by oligarch Rinat Akhmetov) and the Party of Development (a new party formed by Serhiy Liovochkin from the old Party of Regions and headed by Yuriy Miroshnychenko, former representative of Viktor Yanukovych in parliament). They are unlikely to be elected under the proportional system unless, as rumour suggests, they form one political force. Their chances largely depend on whether the residents of the Donbas regions now controlled by terrorists will return to Ukraine’s electoral field. Without this core support base they are unlikely to enter the Verkhovna Rada.Serhiy Tihipko’s Strong Ukraine has high chances of making it to the Verkhovna Rada both in the FPTP districts and under the proportional system. Despite his undisguised opportunism, he has done the best face-keeping job of all the key figures representing the previous regime.

The Communist Party of Ukraine still has a chance, albeit only under the proportional system. Its representatives will like lose in the FPTP districts in southern and eastern Ukraine to representatives of big business who either won there in the previous election or were the Party of Regions’ MPs. Meanwhile, the communists are facing a threat of a different kind as their political force may be banned in the midst of the campaign, leaving them no time to regroup.

On August 26, Petro Symonenko, the leader of Ukrainian communists, said that the political council of his party worked out several ways in which party members will be able to participate in the election if the party is ultimately banned. On September 4, the District Administrative Court of Kyiv will continue considering the lawsuit to ban the Communist Party filed by the Ministry of Justice. It would be best to eliminate it as the Kremlin’s staunchest fifth column in Ukraine as close as possible to the election date in order to disorient its supporters and essentially eliminate their voices from the overall count. Otherwise, the removal of the communists from the race would boost the standing of such pro-Russian projects as the Party of Regions and the Party of Development.

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The election in the Donbas will be a precarious affair. Mykola Okhendovsky, head of the Central Election Commission, has said that the vote will definitely be organized in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, adding that “a key task in this context is to have MPs elected in all single-member constituencies there (21 in Donetsk Oblast and 11 in Luhansk Oblast).” To this end, the boundaries of districts and their centers will have to be altered in order to open at least several polling stations [in each district] where voters will be able to cast their votes.”

On the one hand, this will be important for legitimizing new parliament as elected in all regions of Ukraine, except the temporarily occupied Crimea. On the other hand, there is a risk that MPs in these districts will be elected by a much smaller proportion of voters as compared to other districts. Some odious supporters of the previous regime may benefit from this setup.


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