Ukrainian opposition forces are stepping up threats to boycott the country's new parliament unless the government ends what they denounce as widespread vote-rigging following October 28 parliamentary elections.
Authorities are still tallying votes more than one week after the election, fueling accusations that officials are falsifying the results in favor of President Viktor Yanukovych's ruling Party of Regions.
The United Opposition coalition led by Fatherland (Batkivshchyna), the party of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, announced on November 5 that it would "denounce the next parliament as powerless" and insist on early parliamentary and presidential elections unless the government "immediately stops rigging the vote and illegally taking away mandates won by opposition candidates."
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the coalition's interim leader in Tymosheno's absence, reiterated the accusations hours later at a protest in Kyiv, faulting the Party of Regions with "stealing the votes of Ukrainians and changing the results in favor of its candidates."
The other two leading opposition parties, the nationalist Freedom (Svoboda) movement and the Udar party of boxer Vitali Klitschko, have also warned they could renounce their seats in the 450-seat parliament, known as the Verkhovna Rada.
If all three opposition forces follow up on their threats, the legislature would be deprived of its mandatory quorum of 300 lawmakers. The opposition hopes this would invalidate the legislature and lead to repeat elections.
A deputy sits next to huge Ukrainian flags decorating the benches of opposition deputies who left a parliamentary session in June to protest a language bill.
In practice, however, the odds of repeat elections being called are slim.
"Achieving this would be quite difficult," says opposition deputy Yuriy Kluchkovsky, who heads the parliamentary commission on state building and local government. "Everybody on the party list, right down to the last person on this list, must personally refuse to take up his or her seat. But this will not solve the question, because this represents only half of parliament."
Obstacles To A New Vote
Under current election law, 225 of the parliament's 450 seats are distributed through a proportional system among the parties that win at least 5 percent of the vote; the other half according to first-past-the-post races in 225 single-mandate constituencies. Candidates may represent parties or run independently.
"Those who won in single-mandate constituencies also can relinquish their seats," Kluchkovsky says. "The Central Election Commission will then set a date for repeat elections, which will take place within 60 days. But until this election takes place, the parliament cannot be declared invalid."
Hoping to do it all again? A member of the local electoral commission carries a ballot box at a polling station in Kyiv on October 27.
Under Ukrainian law, the president is ultimately in charge of calling repeat parliamentary elections. Experts say Yanukovych would also be reluctant to disband a parliament strongly dominated by his own party.
"The decision to conduct extraordinary parliamentary election would be taken by the president," says Oleksandr Zadorozhny, who heads the Ukrainian Association on International Law. "If the new parliament is illegitimate, then this Verkhovna Rada will continue to work. Does the president have a problem with this parliament? Not at all, therefore he won't be in a rush."
According to preliminary official results from the October 28 elections, Yanukovych's Party of Regions emerged with a thin parliamentary majority by winning just over 30 percent of the vote.
That assumes the party receives support from its traditional Communist allies and a handful of independent candidates.
The Fatherland United Opposition came second in the election at roughly 25 percent, followed by the Udar movement with 14 percent and the Communist Party with just over 13 percent.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has described the October 28 poll as a step backward for Ukraine's democratic development, criticism echoed by the United States.