With several days remaining until the polls open in Ukraine on October 26, it is clear that President Petro Poroshenko’s party will win the early parliamentary election hands down. Opinion polls show that the Bloc of Poroshenko (BoP) is heading for a victory no less convincing than Poroshenko’s outright first-round victory in the early presidential election on May 25. The BoP will most probably form the basis of a pro-Western majority coalition.
This may be the end of bipolar politics in Ukraine and the start of something new. In the 1990s, communists opposed pro-market forces, and pro-Western forces ran neck and neck in elections with the largely pro-Russian Party of Regions (PRU) and its leader Viktor Yanukovych in 2004–2012. But Poroshenko’s party, founded only several months ago for the election, has no real rivals at the moment. The PRU, which dominated parliament in 2010–2013, was abandoned by Yanukovych (who fled the country for exile in Russia) earlier this year. And this former ruling faction has decided not to officially run any candidates in the October 26 election. The electoral base of the government’s would-be opponents has been destroyed by the February Maidan revolution, the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March, and the subsequent occupation of densely populated areas in the industrial Russian-speaking provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk (collectively known as the Donbas) by Russia-backed militants.
It will be impossible to hold the election in 14 out of the Donbas’s 32 constituencies, Central Electoral Commission chairman Mykhaylo Okhendovsky has said. In particular, the polls will not open in 8 out of 21 constituencies in Donetsk province and in at least 6 out of 11 constituencies in Luhansk province, as those are controlled by the “terrorists,” said Okhendovsky (zn.ua, October 17). The impossibility to organize elections in half of the Donbas means that pro-Russian forces, which are traditionally popular there, will be underrepresented in the next parliament. Also, no candidates will obviously be elected from Crimea. Without votes from those constituencies (accounting for about 12–15 percent of Ukraine’s voters before Crimea’s annexation), the next parliament will be pronouncedly pro-Western and nationally minded.
The most recent opinion polls show that although all of the three opposition parties with strongholds in the east—Opposition Bloc, Strong Ukraine and the Communist Party—stand a chance of overcoming the 5-percent barrier, at most they will collectively win only about a sixth of the total votes cast. The three parties are very unpopular outside the Russian-speaking areas in the east and south because they are closely associated with the kleptocratic regime toppled last February.
By contrast, the BoP is likely to garner 30 percent, or more, support among already decided voters. All other parties are far behind the BoP. The second most popular party, the populist Radical Party, headed by maverick people’s deputy Oleg Lyashko, is far behind with no more than 12–14 percent. Lyashko’s party is trailed by the moderate nationalist Fatherland (7 percent), headed by former main oppositionist Yulia Tymoshenko, and People’s Front (PF—with 9–11 percent), headed by Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, who recently defected from Fatherland (ukraine-elections.com.ua, accessed on October 22).
The outgoing parliament has not changed the election rules introduced by the PRU-led coalition in 2011, which replaced the straight proportional system (with a 3-percent electoral threshold) with a mixed system. So half of the people’s deputies will be elected to the 450-seat unicameral body according to a proportional system with a 5-percent threshold. The other half of the deputies will be elected from majoritarian single-member constituencies. The BoP and PF, just like the PRU in 2012, are likely to benefit from these rules—particularly in the single-member constituencies—because their candidates will be supported by local authorities and influential businessmen who usually back the ruling elite.
On the wave of patriotism and anti-Russian sentiment provoked by Russia’s aggression, pro-Western forces including the BoP are likely to win way more than half of the votes and form a governing coalition. Consequently, assuming the new coalition can keep from prematurely collapsing under political infighting, Ukraine will move faster on the path toward European integration and much-needed liberal reforms. At the same time, however, this will probably anger Russia, so relations between Kyiv and Moscow are unlikely to improve after the election. Also the election, held at a time when a significant part of Ukraine remains outside of government control, will increase the divide between that part, which will not be represented in parliament, and the rest of Ukraine. Furthermore, the separatist forces, routinely called “terrorists” in Kyiv, are determined to hold their own, independent elections in the areas under their control on November 2 (pravda.com.ua, October 18).
Yatsenyuk had been reportedly invited to head the BoP list. But in the end, he preferred to run independently from Poroshenko, founding PF jointly with parliamentary speaker (and interim Ukrainian president from February to June 2014) Oleksandr Turchynov, who also defected from Fatherland (theinsider.ua, September 8; pravda.com.ua, September 13). If the BoP wins as easily as expected, and PF performs weakly, a new BoP-led coalition will most probably replace Yatsenyuk with somebody close to Poroshenko. It has been widely speculated that Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman is being groomed to replace the current head of government. Hroysman, a former mayor of the central Ukrainian town of Vinnytsya, has long been a member of Poroshenko’s team (capital.ua, October 10; zn.ua, October 17).
To sum up, President Poroshenko’s political faction may take control of both the executive and the legislative branches after these upcoming elections. This is likely to ease the passage of crucial reforms and legislation; but in a country with a history of weak democratic traditions and shaky constitutional checks and balances, it could also place undue pressure on Ukraine’s democratic system going forward.