Ukrainian Gambit

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ukrainian parliamentary elections are getting closer and closer. On October 28, 2012 Ukraine will have to elect its new “Verkhovna Rada” that consists of 450 members, through new combined proportional and majoritarian (also called “First Past the Post”) systems. Under the new electoral legislation half of the seats in Rada will be elected through the former system (party lists), while the rest of them will be filled through the latter system of elections.
Moreover, the new legislation provides that the voting barrier to be reached by the party to be able to get any seats in parliament was raised to 5%, while political blocks are not able to participate in elections at all anymore – political parties only.
Considering all that, when we look at the pre-election situation it seems quite different from what was to see in 2007. No more there are political forces led by the Vladimir Litvin or Alexander Moroz with leftist and socialist ideas and at the same time there are changes in the opposition to the ruling Party of Regions too. Both most charismatic leaders of the opposition Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko are serving their sentences in jail due to criminal charges pressed against them almost a year ago. Hence, the opposition went with the policy of unification and gathered under the banners of All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland". While the nominal leader of this Union is still Tymoshenko, it is becoming more obvious that the real leadership already belongs to Arseniy Yatsenyuk whose party Front of Changes became a part of the Fatherland in February this year.
Furthermore, there are new players in the game. Famous Ukrainian boxer Vitaliy Klychko is going to the elections as the leader of his newly developed party UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform). Almost no one expected such a pre-election success of that party and it has to be noted that its currents polls shows 12% of possible votes under the proportional system. Some experts forecast even 15% as the elections result for this party. Interesting situation is with another newcomer to the political battleground in Ukraine – the Party of Natalia Korolevska “Ukraine – Forward!” Though it is still unknown if this party will be able to reach 5% barrier (current polls less than 4%), it is still impressive how such a fast-runner could prove so well on the pre-election stage.
Last but not least is the participation in the elections of All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" led by Oleh Tyahnybok. The Union unites the nationalistic ideologies of Ukraine and currently believed to be able to pass the voting barrier and get its seats in parliament. Svoboda is in strong opposition to the Communist Party of Ukraine that has been steady in its decrease in popularity, however still able to get enough votes to secure seats in parliament.
From the general outlook to the situation one can see the progress in the political development in Ukraine in the sense that there are new political forces on the ground, new coalitions and balances on the table and there seems to be no stagnation in the ideological matters. However, when analyzing the situation on the practical level, everything seems quite different.
United opposition Fatherland on the current polls is a little bit stronger that the Party of Regions on proportional system and they have already negotiated the representation of the candidates in majoritarian system with Svoboda. However, there are still hindrances to the opposition in terms of the unequal opportunities in the pre-election campaigning.
When it comes to UDAR of Klychko and the party of Natalia Korolevska they tend to position themselves as an opposition to the current government, however there are some specifics that may indicate that the situation is less clear. For example, the main financial sources of “Ukraine – Forward!” come from the circles that are close to the Party of Regions, whereas the party of Klychko is still unable to reach some kind of agreement with the united opposition and their allies.
That leaves us with the Party of Regions that has a very interesting strategy. Apart from their customary coalition with the Communist Party, they seem to direct attention more to the first past the post candidates rather than to their party lists. The strategy then will be in form of “Ukrainian Gambit”, by sacrificing the victory on proportional system to the opposition, while gaining more seats in parliament through majoritarian system and securing the dominancy when attracting the possible “swinging parties” like “Ukraine – Forward!” or even UDAR of Klychko (if unable to reach an agreement with opposition) to their coalition in the parliament. 

Will the ruling Party of Regions be able to get its ultimate goal of 300 seats in parliament, thus securing an absolute constitutional majority, remains to be seen. Much will depend on if the new parties will be willing to make their own gambit and sacrifice the democracy for the representation in the parliament.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor of Laws (LL.D)
New Europe, Issue 1002, 14-20 October.

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