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3 May, 2012  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

Through Union to Conflict?

Batkivshchyna and the Front of Changes, two most popular opposition forces, presented the Declaration of Unity signed by Yulia Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk. They announced plans to run under one list in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Evidently, there are people in the top opposition forces who are not quite satisfied with this merger. They will rather seek options for themselves in Vitaliy Klychko’s UDAR (this is especially true of Mr. Yatseniuk’s fellow party members) or Natalia Korolevska’s project (for ex-BYuT members – and this process has already started). Some others may opt to run as “independent” candidates. If you believe the infamous recordings made by MP Roman Zabzaliuk, the government has a large pent-up demand for such potential defectors, especially in western and central oblasts. The union is decidedly beneficial to UDAR, whose popularity rating has nearly reached that of the Front of Changes. Svoboda (Freedom) partywill also benefit as it may attract part of Mr. Yatseniuk’s electorate that is averse to ByuT-Batkivshchyna.

This is unlikely to concern Mr. Yatseniuk too much, because the Front of Changes was set up as his project, and from now on he will top the united opposition list. Barring extraordinary situations, the opposition list is most likely to “win first place” in the party list competition. Moreover, even the threat of Mr.Turchynov as a power broker may be removed soon – the government has made attempts to start criminal proceedings against him using the method they tested on Yuriy Lutsenko.

However, if Turchynov is arrested, this will only boost Mr. Yatseniuk’s position as the opposition leader and the main rival of the pro-government candidate (regardless of whether it will be Viktor Yanukovych himself or his successor) in the 2015 presidential election. In this case, there are more reasons to believe that oligarchs view Yatseniuk as an optimal replacement for Mr. Yanukovych. Mr. Yatseniuk is rumoured to be sponsored, in addition to his main donor Viktor Pinchuk, by Rinat Akhmetov who works through Leonid Yurushev. This brings to mind the news carried by mass media outlets in January: Ukrainian oligarchs allegedly met in Kyiv to discuss ways in which they could avoid “being raised on pitchforks” when the current regime is overthrown.

Meanwhile, the opposition has a fairly good chance of winning the election. Various polls suggest that the Party of Regions together with the Communist Party may receive 23-25% of votes, the BYuT-Front of Changes tandem could end up with 24-26%, UDAR with 8% at the least and Svoboda with5-6% if it crosses the parliamentary threshold. In other words, the government may expect to receive 40% of the seats at the most under the proportional system. In order to form at least a tiny majority in parliament, it will need to win two-thirds of seats under the majority system. A fairly stable majority (250-260 MPsincludingthe Communists) will require capturing 75% of theseats. If the opposition does come out with a common majority list, the government will have a hard time reaching the two-thirds' mark.

That is precisely why coordination on majority constituenciesis an absolute must for the opposition if it wants to stop the further entrenchment of the current regime. The July mayoral election in Kyiv will be the first test. If there is a conflict between Batkivshchynaand the Front of Changes on the one side and UDAR on the other, provided that the former two do not support Mr. Klychko, it will raise doubts about their joint action at the parliamentary elections and the likelihood that they will form a common list under the majority system. Moreover, UDAR could under certain conditions totally withdraw from participation in the elections under the majority system in Western Ukraine where its positions are not as strong as those of Batkivshchyna-Front of Changes and Svoboda. Instead, it could put a relatively high proportion of its candidates on the common list under this system in Central, Southern and Eastern Ukraine.

The government has reacted to attempts by the opposition to unite by improving methods of distorting electoral preferences, even if doing so damages its image in the West and jeopardizes the chances of the October election being recognized as legitimate by Western countries. The government has launched a new wave of repression against the already imprisoned opposition leaders and those that are still free. It has also started revising the “compromise” law on elections through the Constitutional Court which it controls. The way three majority constituenciestaken away from Kyiv were distributed suggests that this was done to favour the oblastswhere the Party of Regions either has an absolute advantage (Crimea) or scored a victory in local elections in 2010 with the help of administrative leverage(Poltava and Cherkasy Oblasts). The Constitutional Court ruling that bans a candidate from running at the same time under both systems was evidently intended to foment argument in the opposition camp. Mr. Yatseniuk admitted after this ruling: “In difficult constituencies we would have let candidates be on both the party list and run in majority constituencies. They have taken this opportunity away from us.” Thus, the Constitutional Court ruling forces parties to reformat their lists of candidates, but Mr. Yatseniuk still assures: “We will have a common list of majority constituency candidates anyway.”

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