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19 November, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

A New Reality

The protest near the CEC showed that the opposition is not capable of building effective strategies to counteract the government, at least for the time being. It lacks coordination and well thought out joint actions.

The Ukrainian parliamentary election is over. Central Election Commission (CEC) Chief Volodymyr Shapoval announced the official results on 10-11 November, and the opposition de facto accepted them on 12 November. 

Opposition members criticized the election as non-democratic and rigged but agreed to assume their seats in the new parliament. Five of the 450 MPs are yet to be defined. They will have to go through additional elections in the districts in which the CEC failed to identify a winner because of multiple vote-distorting violations. In fact, the number of such districts should have been much higher. It is yet unclear when these re-elections will take place.

As of today, the Party of Regions has 185 MPs, the three opposition forces 178 and the Communist Party 32. The rest (50 seats) have been taken by successful self-nominated candidates and representatives of marginal parties – Viktor Baloha’s Yedynyi Tsentr (United Centre), Volodymyr Lytvyn’s Narodna partiia (People’s Party), Oleh Liashko’s Radykalna partiia (Radical Party) and pro-Russian Soiuz (Union).

The opposition ultimately failed to protect all the votes cast for it. It failed to prevail in 13-14 hotly contested districts where pro-government candidates managed to steal the victory through numerous infringements – the data on these districts published on the CEC’s site is greatly at variance with what officially-stamped original records held by opposition members say. Moreover, Svoboda (Freedom) and UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) officially received at least 2-3 per cent less than suggested by most exit polls and the parallel vote count. Considering their performance, this discrepancy is too big to be waived off as a margin of error. Thus, the opposition failed to obtain at least an additional 5-8 seats in parliament. If it had been able to protect its victory in the 13-14 contested first-past-the-post districts, it would have more than 200 MPs and could try to forge a thin majority by involving self-nominated MPs who claim to be in the opposition and to favour the European choice. The ruling party must have grasped as much and consequently it took a highly militant approach in what at first glance appears to be an insignificant number of districts.

Even the current parliamentary configuration will in many cases make it hard to form an ad-hoc majority to pass government proposals. All three opposition parties have already rejected any alliances with the government, which leaves the Communist Party as the Party of Regions' only permanent ally. It is now clear that far from all self-nominated MPs will join the pro-presidential majority. It is doubtful whether the Party of Regions will succeed in formally incorporating even half of the 50 or so self-nominated MPs and members of marginal parties.

However, the Party of Regions seems to be banking on driving as many MPs as possible into its faction, not just a formalized majority.  It is using law enforcement agencies and the tax administration to put pressure even on hard-core opposition members, such as Lesia Orobets, to say nothing of businessmen with a low public profile. UDAR’s campaign manager Vitaliy Kovalchuk said that threats and pressure are already being used against new MPs elected both in first-past-the-post districts and on party lists. This trend is set to intensify when the new parliament opens in mid-December.

Close to the end of protests near the CEC, the opposition issued a statement which will help it save face amid differences in the ways its leaders are reacting to vote rigging. For example, Anatoliy Hrytsenko called, with much bravado, on the opposition to withdraw its party lists completely, while others justly pointed out that the Party of Regions would only benefit from such a tactic, because this time around a rejection to assume parliamentary duties would not secure the dissolution of the parliament. In this case, the government would be able to push its decisions through parliament relying on the support of the Communists and MPs elected first-past-the-post districts. The protest near the CEC showed that the opposition is not capable of building effective strategies to counteract the government, at least for the time being. It lacks coordination and well thought out joint actions. If it fails to learn the lesson in the new parliament, this negative trend will only grow stronger, fuelled by the approaching presidential election. The opposition will then run the risk of completely discrediting itself by the time the presidential campaign kicks off. If the opposition self-destructs in the first ballot, this will give Viktor Yanukovych or his successor a chance in the second.

Finally, despite its controversial procedure and outcome, the election showed that Ukraine is entering a totally different political reality. It will be in many ways similar to, but other ways different from, the 2002-2004 period. The current government is motivated to transform realities to suit its purposes, while the opposition lacks a clear leader and, most importantly, has no programme to rally society to depose Yanukovych and his regime and help step up Ukraine’s European integration efforts. However, all of this is taking place against the backdrop of a generation change which has advanced much further from where it was a decade ago and which will become apparent the next time the country faces a choice of development paradigms.


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