Upcoming Parliamentary Elections in Ukraine: Old Faces in New Rada?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 187

Ukrainian parliament (Source: wikimapia.org)

As October 26, the date of the upcoming parliamentary elections in Ukraine, approaches ever closer, many current legislators are finding themselves in increasingly dire straits. In addition to the tense political campaign, an increasing number of Ukrainian parliamentary candidates and top officials have been falling victim to attacks by protesters in the streets.

The highly controversial member of parliament (MP) Nestor Shufrych, who himself has a long track record of physically assaulting both his fellow MPs and members of the public, has himself become a target of attacks twice since last month. First, this Party of Regions (PRU) deputy was beaten by a mob in the southern port city of Odesa, on September 30, while trying to escape the angry crowd’s attempt to deposit him in a garbage can (pravda.com.ua, September 30). Then, on October 17, he was bombarded with eggs in Mykolaiv, another southern Ukrainian city (pravda.com.ua, October 17). Shufrych has been notorious for his openly pro-Kremlin stance, which he repeatedly declared during his weekly appearances on top-ranked TV political talk shows.

Over the past several months, a number of other parliamentarians—especially those accused of mass-scale corruption, connection to the so-called “dictatorship bills” of January 16, or who had expressed support for separatists in eastern Ukraine—have also fallen victim to trash can “containerization,” street attacks, negative billboard campaigns, or even possible arson (TSN news, September 19; pravda.com.ua, September 16; censor.net.ua, October 15; versii.com, September 26).

And these politicians now face a particularly difficult election day. “The upcoming [parliamentary] election will sweep the Party of Regions out of the Ukrainian political scene,” President Petro Poroshenko declared in Lviv, on October 3, while presenting his government’s Ukraine development strategy until 2020 (UNIAN, October 3). Doubts persist, however, as to whether voters will prevent all the most notorious MPs—including those connected to the previous regime or with close ties to the country’s oligarchs—from entering the next parliament. In particular, some 133 out of the 239 lawmakers who voted for the anti-democratic laws on January 16, are on the ballot for the October 26 election, according to the election watchdog Chesno (chesno.org, October 2). Most of them, 94, are running in single-mandate districts, primarily in eastern Ukraine, including one candidate nominated by the presidential party, Bloc of Petro Poroshenko (BoP). The rest are running on party lists: 15 from the Oppositional Bloc; 13 from the Communist Party and 11 from Strong Ukraine.

Poroshenko himself said at a recent press conference that his party has a lot of members “who in the past had different views,” but are now “respectful people” (korrespondent.net, September 25). The BoP has the highest number of sitting lawmakers up for reelection of all the political forces competing in the race—a total of 42. By comparison, the closest rival in that sense is Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland, with 26 of the party’s current Rada deputies up for reelection, according to OPORA, the largest Ukrainian election watchdog (oporaua.org, accessed October 20).

Poroshenko’s political slogan in this election has been “Living the New Way.” However, considering the number of controversial old faces appearing on the party list ballots (in Ukraine’s proportional representation districts) as well as in the (“first past the post” or simple plurality) single-mandate races, the slogan has frequently come under public criticism.

Among the most outspoken figures on this topic has been Oleksandr Bondar, a former chairman of Ukraine’s State Property Fund. According to him, almost all the political parties running in the October 26 election, including BoP, Fatherland and People’s Front, have been saturated with individuals beholden to Ukrainian oligarchs, such as Rinat Akhmetov and Ihor Kolomoyski. Poroshenko has remained neutral regarding this situation so far, so as to avoid conflicts between them before the vote, Bondar argues. But when the winning coalition begins trying to form a new government following the election, these figures’ behind-the-scenes influence will grow much more apparent, Bondar warns (epravda.com.ua, October 13).

“We have been repeating the situation of 2005, with all those back-room games and [secret] memorandums,” Bondar says. “Following the 2014 revolution, when so many people were killed, I thought that the oligarchs would vanish. Nothing of the kind; they are all in Kyiv, enjoying life and doing the same business. They have maintained their presence [in the legislative and executive branches] and been strengthening their networks. Nobody has attempted to fight it” (epravda.com.ua, October 13).

Bondar argues that because the October 26 election will run under the same rules as those adopted by the former Viktor Yanukovych government (2010–2014), many of the former MPs, including those with ties to oligarchs, will manage to enter the Rada. “[E]verything will be following the Yanukovych[-era] pattern,” he predicts. “The President’s bloc will form the largest faction in the parliament. All the MPs elected in the single-mandate constituencies will back the president. They are the rich people dependent on the authorities, so they will be always supporting the president. But what comes next?” he asks (epravda.com.ua, October 13).

Bondar’s viewpoint is shared by Vitaliy Bala, the head of the Situations Modeling Agency, who believes that the set of people supported by BoP will find it difficult to come up with a coherent road map for Ukraine. “It may be one of the most incompetent parliaments we’ve ever had and [a] rather heterogeneous one,” Bala explains. “The deputies don’t know why they need a new parliament. Without [a] clear[ly] defined mission, it will be very difficult to find something that will unite this political force” (Kyiv Post, October 10).

BoP is indeed predicted to have the largest presence in the new legislature—29.9 percent of voters support this party, according to the poll conducted by GfK Ukraine between September 24 and October 5, 2014. And four other political groups will likely pass the 5-percent threshold required for entry into the next parliament. Fatherland, the Radical Party, led by populist politician Oleh Lyashko, Civil Position of former Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko, and People’s Front are slated to win 8.7 percent, 7.6 percent, 7.3 percent and 7.0 percent, respectively (zn.ua, October 10). However, the survey covered only half of the 450 parliamentary seats for which deputies will be elected from party lists, and did not include the 225 seats that will be elected on a first-past-the-post basis in single-mandate districts.

Based on essentially all available polling data, Ukraine’s pro-Western political parties will likely sweep to victory in the next parliament. Yet, concerns are already emerging from some quarters that the next ruling coalition could lack political cohesion or ideological coherence.