For the first time since independence, Ukraine’s Communists will be only a negligible minority in the country’s new parliament (Verkhovna Rada), which is to convene later this month. Judging by the results of this past Sunday’s election (March 31), two roughly equal camps will be the main players in the 2002-2006 Rada: representatives of the old bureaucracy, oligarchs and regional “clans” supporting President Leonid Kuchma, and the nationalists and liberals backing former Premier Viktor Yushchenko.
According to unofficial results, which were announced by the Central Electoral Commission yesterday, only six blocs and parties out of thirty-three participating in the election cleared the 4-percent popular vote barrier. Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc won the election in the nationwide party constituency with 23.6 percent of the vote. Further down the list are the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) with 20 percent, the Kuchma-backed For United Ukraine (FUU) with 12.1 percent, Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc with 7.2 percent, Oleksandr Moroz’ Socialist Party of Ukraine with 7 percent, and the United Social Democratic Party (USDP) with 6.2 percent.
The election in single-seat plurality constituencies, from which half of the 450-seat parliament was elected, was won by the FUU with 68 seats, followed by Our Ukraine (42), the CPU (7), the SPU and the USDP (3 each). No one from Tymoshenko’s team won a single-seat race.
The results combined, Our Ukraine secured 112 seats in the 450-seat Rada, followed by the FUU with 102, the CPU with 66, the SPU with 24, the USDP with 23 and Tymoshenko with 21. This composition is not final, because 101 races in single-seat constituencies were won by unaffiliated candidates and representatives of the parties that failed to clear the barrier. Most of them are expected to join either Our Ukraine or the pro-government FUU and USDP.
The success of Tymoshenko’s bloc and the SPU was the main sensation. Pollsters had not predicted a combined 14-percent support for these two allied radical anti-Kuchma forces. At the same time, the Green Party and the Women for the Future–two parties from Kuchma’s camp considered among favorites in the early stages of the campaign–will not be represented in the Rada. Women for the Future scored 2 percent and the Greens a dismal 1.3 percent.
The election was fraught with violations stemming chiefly from poor organization and financing. District electoral commissions were short-staffed, the premises for voting were small and poorly equipped and the ballot papers were long and numerous (along with Rada deputies, Ukrainians were electing mayors and deputies to local councils), according to both domestic and international observers. At polling stations in big cities, long lines discouraged people from voting. Such conditions favored the disciplined electorates of the CPU, the SPU and the FUU, and worked against Our Ukraine. Large groups of people voted outside the constituencies where they had originally been registered. This legal loophole was reportedly especially widely used by candidates of pro-government forces who brought people in buses, sometimes even from other regions, to swing the vote in their constituencies. In spite of all this, the vote was generally free and fair, according to preliminary conclusions by observers representing European organizations and the CIS. The U.S. State Department, however, chided Kyiv for the irregularities and media bias.
Four of the six winners–Our Ukraine, Tymoshenko’s bloc, the SPU and the CPU–are oppositionist. The election can thus be considered a defeat for Kuchma. Clouds are gathering over the president, accused of corruption and the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze in the tape scandal a year ago, and of illegal arms trade to Iraq quite recently (see the Monitor, March 11). CPU leader, Petro Symonenko, said on April 1 that he was not against a temporary alliance with the SPU and even his ideological enemies–Our Ukraine–for the sake of impeaching Kuchma. Tymoshenko said that her team would definitely work with the SPU to the same end.
But getting rid of Kuchma is the only agenda likely to unite Tymoshenko’s radicals, the liberals from Our Ukraine, the diehard Marxists from the CPU, and the Socialists. To all appearances, the new Rada will be as ill-structured and prone to short-lived alliances as its predecessor. Only one thing is certain: This parliament will not be dominated by leftists (the CPU, the SPU and their unaffiliated sympathizers having received less than one-third of seats). In theory, the two largest factions–the FUU and Our Ukraine–could form a pro-market majority of more than 226 ballots. But theory isn’t necessarily reality. The 2004 presidential election agenda will dominate the new legislature, and it’s at best a long shot that the two blocs would back the same candidate. (Our Ukraine is expected to back Yushchenko, who is out of the question for the FUU). Another problem, which both the FUU, consisting of five parties, and Our Ukraine, consisting of more than ten, are likely to face is unity among the ranks.
The election showed a deepening regional divide across the country. Our Ukraine recorded a landslide in Europe-oriented and national-minded western Ukraine, with rates of support in some regions reaching as high as 70-75 percent (in Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, respectively). Tymoshenko’s bloc was the second most popular in western Ukraine. But the Russia-oriented and predominantly Russophone east and south voted for the government and the Communists. Our Ukraine did not even clear the 4-percent barrier in Ukraine’s most populous region–Donetsk–where the FUU scored almost 40 percent and the Communists came second with 30 percent. The Communists won the race in Crimea with almost 35 percent.
Such a divide is a serious warning for Yushchenko, who many consider the favorite for the 2004 presidential race. Presidential elections in Ukraine are won in the densely-populated East. “It really was a trial run, but an unsuccessful one because those people who aspired to the role of national leaders were defeated if they saw the parliamentary election as a dress rehearsal of the presidential one,” FUU leader and head of Kuchma’s office Volodymyr Lytvyn said in clear reference to Yushchenko (Ukrainian and international media, March 31-April 2).
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