Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Ukraine

Ten Takeaways From Ukraine's Vote

A Ukrainian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk, near Slaviansk, during the parliamentary elections on October 26.
A Ukrainian woman casts her ballot at a polling station in the eastern Ukrainian town of Kramatorsk, near Slaviansk, during the parliamentary elections on October 26.
By Glenn Kates

Ukrainians have voted in a new parliament for the first time since the Euromaidan protests ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian government earlier this year.

Here are some takeaways from the October 26 vote:

The West-Russia divide is no longer relevant in parliament

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine's parliamentary battles have largely taken place between so-called pro-Western factions and pro-Russian ones. No more. For the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, the country's parliament will be dominated by parties that support strong ties with Europe. The likely top three parties all support EU accession and, combined, upwards of 75 percent of the seats are expected to be held by pro-Europe deputies.

Poroshenko's party underperformed

President Petro Poroshenko will have a pro-European coalition, but his party is not coming out looking as strong as he had once hoped. At one point, members of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc thought it possible to win an outright parliamentary majority. And just days before the elections, opinion polling showed it likely to be at least 10 points ahead of the closest runner-up. Instead, as results came in, the party was running neck-and-neck with the People's Front party led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. They have put on a united front -- saying they will form a coalition together -- but we can likely expect a budding rivalry.

Radical protest vote falls flat

Polling had predicted that ultra-populist candidate Oleh Lyashko (his Radical Party logo is a pitchfork) would place second, as Ukrainians -- growing disenchanted with the slow pace of reforms and the sagging war effort in the east -- looked to cast a protest vote. Instead, the Radical Party came in a distant fifth, with about 7.5 percent of the vote.

The 'upstart' looks a lot like the other guys

If there was an upstart in this election, it wasn't Lyashko but Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy and his Samopomich ("Self-Reliance") party. Sadoviy's strong showing -- he won Kyiv, according to exit polling, and was poised to place third nationally with 11 percent of the vote -- combined with the failure of any other pro-European party to dominate the vote seem to signal that Ukrainians support a pro-European path but aren't yet wedded to any particular party or political figure.

Goodbye, Lenin

For the first time in 96 years, there will be no Communist Party in the Ukrainian parliament -- a milestone important enough that Poroshenko noted it with glee in his three-minute postelection speech to the nation:

"It's as if a statue of Lenin inside the Verkhovna Rada" -- Ukraine's parliament -- "has been destroyed," political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, drawing a parallel with the wave of Lenin statues that have been torn down by activists in Ukraine. "And it corresponds to domestic opinion and undoubtedly a change in the structure of the electorate in the country."

Tough times for Tymoshenko

Yulia Tymoshenko has become -- at least for now -- nearly irrelevant in Ukrainian politics. When the former prime minister was released from prison in February and ferried to the hub of the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv, she quickly announced her intention to re-enter politics. But some in the crowd were said to have groaned. She has so far been unable to shake the perception that she represents an old guard that was too willing to work within a hopelessly corrupt system. And after getting trounced in her run for president, Tymoshenko's once-powerful Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party appears to have just barely more than the five percent required for a share of parliamentary seats.

WATCH as a not-particularly-happy-looking Yulia Tymoshenko casts her vote:

Party of Regions offshoot survives

There will still be a pro-Russian party in parliament. The Opposition Bloc, largely made up of former ruling Party of Regions members, only came in fourth with about 10 percent of the vote. But it appears to have won substantial victories in eastern regions, including Dnipropetrovsk, which has put on an outwardly strong pro-Ukrainian face under the leadership of billionaire governor Ihor Kolomoisky. It may be weaker than it once was, but the so-called East-West divide still lingers.

No vote of confidence in the east

If 70-percent voter turnout in Lviv, in western Ukraine, showed excitement about Ukraine's future, sluggish voting numbers in eastern Ukraine indicated, at best, apathy toward Ukraine's new direction. Turnout in Donetsk and Luhansk (both just over 30 percent) was not expected to be high because large parts of those regions are occupied by pro-Russian separatists who banned the vote. But low turnout in other eastern regions -- Odesa (40 percent, compared with 50 percent in 2012), Kherson (41 percent, compared with 51 percent), and Mykolaiv (42 percent, compared with 52 percent) -- combined with support for a Party of Regions offshoot should be worrying for Kyiv, which has pinned its hopes on these regions resisting any further Russian-supported separatist military advances. (The overall, nationwide estimated turnout of 52 percent is six percentage points lower than in 2012.)

Some recent reporting in areas of eastern Ukraine near the frontline but controlled by Kyiv has also shown lack of trust or even outright hostility toward Ukrainian authorities. 

 

Sorry, Russia, Ukraine is not creating a fascist state

For eight months, Moscow has railed against the supposed rise of fascism in Ukraine. But for the second time in that same period, ultranationalist parties have fared terribly in an actual vote. In May, ultranationalist candidate Dmytro Yarosh earned less than 1 percent of the vote. And on October 26, his Right Sector Party -- long Russia's favorite right-wing boogeyman, performed almost as poorly. Svoboda, an ultranationalist party that was already in parliament, having earned 10 percent of the vote in 2012, is in danger of losing its seats entirely. (With about half the votes counted, it was just under the five-percent threshold.)

 

The district-vote wild cards

Speaking of Yarosh, he's still likely to be a deputy in the next parliament. Only 50 percent of Verkhovna Rada seats are based on proportional party lists. The other 50 percent are based on first-past-the-post district elections. This is where some wild cards are likely. Yarosh was a candidate in Dnipropetrovsk, where he appears to have won his district vote. And in Mariupol, billionaire oligarch Serhiy Taruta, who was recently fired from his post as Donetsk governor by Poroshenko, seems likely to have easily won a place in the new parliament.

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