The New Elections, in a Nutshell
by Paul Miazga
When I was asked to write something in advance of the Sept. 30 snap parliamentary elections, my mind went in countless different directions all at once trying to figure out what exactly to write. As with the political situation in most every country the nuances that surround the political game are what really shape and influence events at least as much as the actors in the game itself. What details could I possibly draw out to give Go2Kiev readers a proper understanding of the vote without leaving out important details?
Past as Prologue
First of all, these “snap” elections are the result of a decision made back in April by President Viktor Yushchenko to dissolve parliament. The president believed the country to be under threat from the party of his arch rival Viktor Yanukovych, who as prime minister since the last such elections in March 2006 had been trying to undermine the constitutional power of the president and consolidate all power in the country in the hands of the parliament, which his Party of Regions currently controls.
Yanukovych, it must be remembered, was the man responsible for rigging the 2004 presidential elections with voter turnout of more than 100% in some regions and legions of dead people “active” on voting lists in parts of the country loyal to him. And he would have gotten away with it had the country’s Supreme Court had not shocked everyone by overturning the election results, which paved the way for Yushchenko to take the presidency after a month-long stand-off known as the Orange Revolution. Yanukovych never got over this slight; he has always wanted the presidency and has worked hard to regain absolute control over Ukraine ever since.
What happened to the Orange Revolution and the change it was supposed to usher in? Well, for one, Ukraine is currently experiencing an economic boom largely thanks to the simple regime change that the whole event created. The results of that – 7% economic growth expected for 2007, record foreign investment and privatization receipts, increased household spending, etc. – have made the country the Cinderella story of Europe, but have also made it a serious battleground for the world’s economic powers, namely Russia and the West. The two sides in the current political campaign – Yanukovych and his Regions party and the opposition, led by Yushchenko (and his Our Ukraine party) and charismatic Orange Revolution figurehead Yulia Tymoshenko.
The Two Sides
Regions of Ukraine is essentially a massive Donetsk region-based grouping of massively influential big business types, former Communist Party officials and other people from Ukraine’s heavily industrialized eastern regions. There, as in the south of the country where the party also enjoys solid support, Russian is the main language rather than Ukrainian and many people still feel a serious affinity towards Russia, not the West. Nato and the European Union are distrusted and talk of recreating some sort of a union between Ukraine, Russia and other former Soviet republics has a lot of currency among Regions supporters. The party messages throughout the campaign, as if to highlight this neo-Soviet sentiment, are simple: “Stability and Well-being” and “Happy family, successful country”. A Regions win essentially means more Russian-style politics for Ukraine: more gifting of party members with fire-sale state privatizations, more prosecutorial immunity for parliamentarians, little if any stomach for systemic reform, no rule of law and so on. At roughly 45% of popular support right now, they look to be able to win the same majority they did a little more than a year ago.
As for the opposition, there’s little to choose between Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT). Both nominally stand for the pro-western forces in the country, but aside from generally embracing market reforms, entrance into the WTO, Nato and other western/international structures, there’s little that can be said of the party platforms for either party. The two have agreed to side with each other after the election when it comes time to form the next government but aside from talk of supporting constitutional reform the two sides have said virtually nothing about actual economic issues. The respective party platforms for Our Ukraine (“One law for all”) and for BYuT (“Justice is not created by itself”) leave much in doubt (it all sounds rather idealistic), and so it is that the two are behind in the polls, together polling just below Regions (OU: 18%, BYuT: 24%). Their core vote in the center and west of the country can be virtually assured, but with a smaller percentage of the population, they’ll have to make huge inroads in the east and south to have any chance of winning this time around.
That leaves the two other parties from the current parliament, the Communists and the Socialists, both now decidedly in the same camp as Regions despite the Socialists being one-time allies of OU and BYuT. The Communists can count on die-hard supporters across the country but with just 5% of the vote, their only role after the election will be to shore up a Regions-led government and enjoy the spoils of being in the government camp. As for the Socialists, in a word, they’re finished. Essentially a reformist bloc of former Communist party supporters, their popularity plummeted when party leader and Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz took a bribe rumored to be $300m to join the Regions-led camp and betray his erstwhile Orange Revolution allies. Since the new election call, his party has polled roughly 2% support, which despite the low threshold for entry into parliament means they will cease to exist as a political force unless some fundamental changes take place within the party. Ironically, Moroz, in his TV spots, argues that voting for his former allies would be akin to surrendering the country to greed and corruption. Touche.
The vote is on Sept. 30, voter turnout is expected to be low – around 60% if the weather is good – and most sides expect a dirty campaign. Too bad late American author Kurt Vonnegut never thought to turn his attention to the wily world of Ukrainian politics: votes are rumored to be for sale on election day in some areas of Ukraine for as much as $20, or double what they were worth a year ago. The economy is booming. To the winner go the spoils. And so it goes.
“PM Viktor Yanukovych seems intent to make himself czar of Ukraine.” (Korrespondent)