As the Ukrainian opposition successfully overcomes hurdles erected by the ruling Party of Regions, the authorities are being forced to increase efforts to sow conflict and discredit the opposition in the eyes of voters
The government has been intent on preventing the traditionally fragmented Ukrainian opposition from forming blocs and wrote such a provision into the election law passed in the autumn of 2011. However, this effort has been reduced to nothing by what is essentially a quasi-bloc emerging on the basis of the Fatherland party. Places on its election list are now being claimed by Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Front of Changes, Viacheslav Kyrylenko’s For Ukraine! party, Anatoliy Hrytsenko’s Civic Position party, Mykola Katerynchuk’s European Party and other small opposition forces. The united opposition, the Freedom party and Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR were reported to have resumed negotiations to form a unified list under the majority system but later dropped them. The Presidential Administration is now trying to discourage individual participants from involvement with this quasi-bloc and provoke internal rivalry in the opposition camp. Recent events suggest that several tools are likely to be employed to this end.
First, the recently raised parliamentary threshold may be lowered again. After the united opposition absorbed the most popular individual parties that would not be able to make it into parliament on their own (above all, Hrytsenko’s party), the existing five per cent threshold has lost its utility to the government. If it is lowered to three or even one per cent, Natalia Korolevska’s political force, which is almost openly supported by the government, will be guaranteed a quota in the parliament. Moreover, Volodymyr Lytvyn’s Our Ukraine, Natalia Vitrenko’s PSPU party and even such right-wing parties as Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine and Yuriy Kostenko’s Ukrainian National Party, whose background make them unlikely allies of the united opposition in the Verkhovna Rada, will have a chance. Most importantly, a low threshold would put psychological pressure on the leaders of small political projects that have already joined the Fatherland party, making them think that they could have been trying to get into parliament on their own.
The second tool is aggressively suggesting to party members and supporters of certain political forces in the united opposition that “together they would lose”. This campaign has already kicked off in mass media outlets controlled by pro-government oligarchs. A piece in the Segodnya newspaper argues that the Fatherland party will be split when the election lists are made public. Moreover, it cites a mysterious source in the BYuT-Fatherland bloc who says some MPs who are overcome by doubts are saying it would be "better to poll 15 per cent alone than 25 per cent in the united opposition". Evidently, this is just the beginning. The end goal may not be as ambitious as breaking up the opposition. The pro-government forces will be content to see a number of disgruntled “independent candidates” willing to accept administrative resources and become slaves in regions that have traditionally supported the opposition. These types of politicians were mentioned on the scandalous tapes published by MP Roman Zabzaliuk last winter.
Finally, the government is trying to discredit and neutralise the opposition by purposely provoking conflict and distrust among its leaders. Two methods are being used to achieve this: pro-government sources are reporting that some opposition figures are cheating and about to abandon their partners. At the same time, others are being paid compliments, casting shadows of doubt on them and suggesting they are “comfortable” with the government. For example, the Party of Regions is praising Klitschko’s UDAR and giving the impression that the Freedom party has a green light in government-controlled mass media.
There are many questions to be asked of the Ukrainian opposition. But even in its current form it has obvious advantages over the country’s present leadership – above all, a preference for political pluralism and democratic principles in forming the government and a desire to preserve national sovereignty. This will clearly not be enough to successfully solve the problems inherited from Soviet times and accumulated over the past two decades, but it is more than enough to be aware of the difference between the opposition and the government and not fall for the provocations organised by the latter.