2014 Parliamentary Elections
The parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26th are being contested by 29 registered political parties for roughly half of the 450 seats in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament). The other half (roughly) are being contested by majoritarian (first-past-the-post) candidates in geographic constituencies. The reason the exact number of constituencies and polling stations is unknown is that the continued Russian occupation of Crimea and the separatist forces controlling parts of eastern Ukraine make the vote for these regions uncertain.
Of the 29 parties listed on the ballot for October 26th, less than ten are widely known and well organized enough to receive the minimum 5% required to win seats in the legislature. This is a familiar feature of Ukrainian elections, and it has always seemed suspicious. As in all proportional representation (PR) systems, the votes of the parties that do not receive at least 5% of the nationwide votes will be divided among the winners. In Ukraine, because so many parties have no chance of getting in to parliament, the winners will receive an even larger share than might be expected in established Western democracies with PR systems.
Throughout the post-Soviet era, elections in Ukraine have been typified by de facto “dummy parties.” The “party of power” was controlled by whatever financial-oligarchic group was dominant in the country as a whole, and such a group had an incentive to see as many fake parties competing as possible as long as it was certain of winning the largest share of the vote on election day. If the actual share of the vote such a group could win was less than an absolute majority, the dummy parties might guarantee that group an absolute majority of seats (e.g. a party wins only 37% percent of the vote, but ends up with 54% of the seats, enough to form a government without a coalition).
Obviously, in a campaign finance system as opaque as Ukraine’s, proving that a given marginal political group is bona fide or not is impossible. It could indeed be the case that so many parties have undertaken the time, trouble and expense to register themselves, and that they actually have an axe to grind. But the fact that such a situation seems to persist today is troubling. Hopefully, it is only residual, and a symptom of old habits dying hard. The Ukrainian parliament and government that have existed since the overthrow of the previous regime in February were not able to reform the electoral system in time for this election, to require “open lists” of candidates running from a particular party, so that all parties are required to disclose to the voting public the identity and background of every candidate on their lists. One hopes that, in future, Ukrainian parliamentary polls will feature less than half as many parties as in the parliamentary election of 2014.
Another aspect of Ukrainian parliamentary elections common to all countries of the former Soviet Union where there is a palpable level of competition in the polls is the lack of ideological content of the vast majority of political parties. Even in ex-Communist countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, etc., there is a vague sense of “bipartisanship” – or at worst “tripartisanship” – whereby a party vaguely recognizable as “democratic socialist” competes against a “neoliberal-free market” party. Ukraine does not have such a clear ideological divide. The Ukrainian parties most readily identifiable as occupying opposite poles in the ideological spectrum are the ultra-nationalist parties (most notably Svoboda and Right Sector) and the Communists. But these parties are not expected to finish among the top performers, if indeed they make it into parliament at all.
The PR half of the ballot will consist of a long list of parties. Following is an exact English translation of the names of these parties, including quotation marks where they actually feature in the titles. Those parties in bold face are the ones that have conducted a high-profile campaign with frequent television ads, billboards in cities and regions across Ukraine, and campaign workers and tents distributing literature to voters on the streets.
1. Radical Party of Oleg Lyashko
The Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko’s billboard slogan: “We will not allow anyone to rule our native land.” Lyashko has adopted an ultra-nationalist image, employing a “pitchfork” symbol (approximating the trident that is the Ukrainian national emblem) to signify an intention to “clean house” in the manner of throwing old straw out of a barn. But the image is rather more nasty in its connotations, as Lyashko has assumed a high public profile among those politicians storming into the offices of officials of the previous regime accompanied by a film crew, and roughing up the surprised victims on camera. He is widely labeled the “Ukrainian Zhirinovsky” (a reference to the flamboyant ultra-nationalist Russian politician whose antics and outrageous statements are known worldwide), and as such is not viewed as totally serious. On the more sinister side, Lyashko is widely accused of receiving support and financing from former high-powered officials of the previous regime, most notably Sergei Levochkin, the former Chief of Staff of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and a close associate (reputedly) of Dmytro Firtash, the Vienna-based oligarch who is fighting extradition to the United States. News programs have focused on Lyashko’s expensive cars, bodyguards and luxurious lifestyle, and posed the question of where all the money comes from, since Lyashko is not known to have ever been a successful entrepreneur or businessman.
2. Party of “Solidarity of Women of Ukraine”
3. “Internet Party of Ukraine”
The infinite silliness of the Internet Party…
4. “Opposition Bloc” Political Party
“Protect and Restore!” is the slogan of the “Opposition Bloc,” a party formed largely from former officials and parliamentarians of the “Party of Regions,” the party of power of the former regime. The slogan is convenient because it is exactly the same in both Russian and Ukrainian (no different characters are required to read the message in either Cyrillic text). This is significant because the Opposition Bloc is attempting to exploit discontent with the current authorities, under whom the national currency has fallen drastically against hard currency, and under whom the threat of economic collapse has risen markedly as Ukraine approaches winter. The Opposition Bloc appears to be well financed, reputedly also by Sergei Levochkin, who is actually running as a candidate on the group’s party list.
A crowd in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, shouts “Leave Mykolaiv!” at Opposition Bloc candidate Nestor Shufrich as he attempts to campaign. Aides hold umbrellas over him to protect him from being pelted with eggs.
5. “People’s Front” Political Party
The People’s Front is led by the current prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who is a former leader of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. For reasons that remain unclear, both Yatsenyuk and Speaker of Parliament Oleksandr Turchynov decided to run in the elections separately from Mrs. Tymoshenko, and their party includes other high-profile members such as Tetiana Chornovol, who headed an anti-corruption agency immediately after the Euromaidan Revolution but resigned in protest at her inability to accomplish anything, and Andriy Parubiy, a coordinator and organizer of Euromaidan self-defense units and former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. The party prides itself on being more “horizontal” in structure than most of the other political parties, which are “leader-based” and preserve the “vertical” structure that is already tradition in post-Soviet Ukrainian politics.
6. “5.10” Political Party
7. “‘Spade’ All-Ukrainian Agrarian Union'” Political Party
8. “Renaissance” Party
9. “New Politics” Political Party
10. “United Country” Political Party
11. “Power of People” Political Party
12. “All-Ukrainian Union ‘Freedom’ (Svoboda)” Political Party
The Svoboda (Freedom) Party is controversial, as it has been associated with anti-Semitism and neo-fascism by commentators in the West. One of its top MPs, Ihor Myroshnichenko, has contributed to the party’s poor public image with some of his antics. He remarked once on social media that the Ukrainian-American actress Mila Kunis was not really Ukrainian because she was a zhydovka, meaning Jewish. The word zhyd is apparently not pejorative in certain central and east European countries in reference to Jews, but it sounds so much like “yid” in English that it is widely interpreted as unacceptable. Furthermore, Myroshnichenko was filmed with Lyashko “roughing up” some official of the former regime on camera, and this did not contribute to the party’s image as an upholder of the rule of law. Nevertheless, Svoboda has reformed significantly from its roots, and is now considered one of the pro-Western democratic parties in Ukraine. Unlike other ultra-nationalist parties, Svoboda favors membership in the European Union.
The majoritarian candidate from Svoboda for the 223rd electoral district in Kyiv, Yuri Volodymyrovych Levchenko, is facing two other Levchenkos on the ballot: Andrei Illiaronovych Levchenko, described as representing an organization called “United Svoboda,” and Yuri Volodymyrovych Levchenko, born in 1983 (the real Svoboda candidate was born in 1984). Who put the other two Levchenkos on the ballot is anyone’s guess, but the real candidate faces stiff competition from non-party candidate Viktor Pylypyshyn (see below).
13. “National Democratic Party of Ukraine” Political Party
14. Communist Party of Ukraine
The Communists are largely discredited as a political party in Ukraine, as they were consistently in alliance with the former ruling party, the Party of Regions, in parliament. Their leaders live rather stylishly for Communists, and they have even been accused of financing separatism in Ukraine’s east. They are generally seen as a pro-Russian party doing the bidding of the Kremlin. But the paradox for the Communists is that much of their support would have come from Russian-annexed Crimea and from the eastern regions now occupied and controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Since it is unlikely that the elections can be held in these areas, it is unclear how the Communists can hope to fare well in these polls. For the first time since Ukraine gained independence from the USSR, the Communists may not make it into parliament.
15. “‘Self-Help’ Union” Political Party
The Self-Help Party is led by Andriy Sadovyi, the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, traditionally a center of Ukrainian nationalism. Although considered an outsider, his party did win seats on the city council of the capital, Kyiv, in the last municipal elections, and he is apparently reasonably well known. His party runs frequent TV ads, and has posters and billboards in several areas of Kyiv. His grouping looks to be sensible and fairly colorless, although it does feature a war hero, Semyon Semenchenko, who made his name early as the capable commander of the “Donbas Battalion” in the fighting in the east. It also features Hanna Hopko, an activist of the “Euromaidan Civic Sector” and a leader of the Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR) project, and Yegor Sobolev, head of the Lustration Committee of Ukraine.
16. All-Ukrainian Political Party “Ukraine – One Country”
17. “Right Sector” Political Party
The Right Sector attracted international attention as a militant activist group during the Euromaidan protests that overthrew the previous regime in February 2014. Its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, is a Russian-speaking Ukrainian nationalist from the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk who fought against the Russians in Chechnya. Among all the regular and volunteer battalions, Right Sector has its own battalion – led by Yarosh himself – that operates on the eastern front. It has distinguished itself in the defense of the Donetsk Airport, which has come under heavy fire from pro-Russian separatists since a ceasefire was signed on September 5th. The group has attracted a large volunteer youth contingent, and appears well organized. It can muster a large number of demonstrators at short notice, as recently seen on the night of October 14th, after parliament failed to pass a law designating fighters of the WWII-era Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) as national heroes. Right Sector is viewed as an unpredictable political force that is uncompromising, and is ready to threaten the post-Maidan authorities with insurrection in the event that they do not live up to their promises or fall back into the old ways of government. It has recently become notorious for seizing officials of the former regime who are still in office and throwing them in dumpsters.
A party political broadcast on behalf of the Right Sector by Dmytro Yarosh
On October 19th, someone claiming to be the majoritarian candidate for Right Sector in Kyiv’s 223rd electoral district (where Yuri Levchenko and Viktor Pylypyshyn are running – see below) put his name out on the internet as the candidate enjoying the support of the Right Sector in the single-mandate constituency, but the party put out a statement on the same day that it had not selected a сandidate for that district. Babishen claims it was an error, and has since been corrected, so that the Right Sector now claims it is supporting Babishen. However, in his mini-bio on the ballot, he is still listed as non-partisan.
18. “Ukraine of the Future” Political Party
19. Liberal Party of Ukraine
20. Party of Greens of Ukraine
21. “Green Planet” Ukrainian Party
22. “Petro Poroshenko Bloc” Political Party
The president formed an electoral coalition with several high-profile political figures associated with a pro-Western democratic position, and many of these are among the most recognized democrats in the country. However, President Poroshenko changed the name of his political party from “Solidarity” to the “Petro Poroshenko Bloc” for reasons that remain obscure, and it is suspected that he did this because the Ukrainian electorate still associates parties with individual leaders rather than any specific ideology or stance. This makes parties in Ukraine generally “authoritarian” in the sense that they are “leader-based,” as discussed above. In the end, Poroshenko decided to capitalize on his name recognition as the most visible politician in the country, while perhaps compromising somewhat on the democratic image of the party. Thus far, polls indicate his bloc is well ahead of the competition, although smaller political parties are evidently gathering support. Mr. Poroshenko has taken many opportunities to be filmed in his commander-in-chief’s military uniform with the troops, and his ads place heavy stress on the “Ukraine under siege” theme. His slogan: “It’s Time to Unite!”
One example of how unpopular candidates may be trying to confuse voters is the campaign of Viktor Pylypyshyn, a majoritarian candidate in Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District. Pylypyshyn is running as a non-party candidate but has adopted on his posters both the slogan and the logo of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, “It’s Time to Unite!” But he is not running from that bloc, and in fact his main opponent, Yuri Levchenko, is the “united candidate” endorsed by the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, People’s Front and Svoboda (see NOTE below).
23. “Power and Honor” Political Party
24. Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists Political Party
25. “Strong Ukraine” Party of Serhiy Tihipko
Former Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko has long been a player in Ukrainian politics and has always had representation in parliament. However, most knowledgeable observers comment that he lost tremendous political support during the 2009 presidential elections, when he found himself in the role of kingmaker between Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko. Since he did not make it into the second round run-off between the two front-runners, but he still made a strong showing, his choice of whom to throw his support behind was critical to the ultimate outcome. He decided to support Yanukovych and join the Party of Regions, and many in Ukraine remember this. They also remember that he was put in charge of pension reform, but failed to improve the system. Still, he is considered a contender, and has considerable resources due to his personal wealth.
Valery Khoroshkovsky, the former chief of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) under Viktor Yanukovych and the No. 2 candidate on the “Strong Ukraine” party list has publicly stated that Russia is not an “aggressor” in Ukraine, citing the fact that the International Red Cross (which has the right to declare sources of outside interference in the internal affairs of other countries) has not labeled Russia as such. He has also publicly advocated improved relations with Russia.
26. “All-Ukrainian Union ‘Fatherland'” Political Party
The Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko still retains political capital even after the departure of two of its leading lights, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and long-time Tymoshenko loyalist Oleksandr Turchynov, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. Oleh Lyashko, the leader of the Radical Party, also left Fatherland, and shortly afterwards a compromising video was leaked of him as a youth, testifying under police interrogation about a sexual liaison with another man – a police official – in exchange for certain privileges. It is generally believed that Mrs. Tymoshenko released the video as a way of exacting revenge and damaging Lyashko politically. But Fatherland still has the largest number of seats in the Verkhovna Rada since the Party of Regions faction effectively dissolved. It has also run a clever campaign, with Mrs. Tymoshenko taking 2nd place on the party list after Nadia Savchenko, a female Ukrainian army pilot taken prisoner by the Russians and still in captivity as the election proceeds. Lt. Savchenko will effectively be running for election from within a Russian prison cell. The identification of the heroic Savchenko with Mrs. Tymoshenko, who spent over two years in prison under the Yanukovych regime, was a stroke of brilliance by the Batkivshchyna campaign.
27. “Civil Position” Political Party
The party of Anatoliy Gritsenko, a minister of defense during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, enjoys a fairly high rating in the current polls. One of his loyal supporters is Sergei Hadzhynov, a leader of ‘Automaidan,” a grassroots movement that played an important role in the Euromaidan Revolution by using vehicles to block police access to the center of Kyiv to attack protesters. Gritsenko is one of the more outspoken proponents of Ukrainian membership in NATO, arguing that – had Ukraine acceded to the collective security agreement earlier – the current problems with Russian aggression would never have happened. To his credit, his position on this issue has never changed. By contrast, Mrs. Tymoshenko – whose party now favors NATO membership as part of its campaign platform – has not always been so firm. Gritsenko is seen as an intelligent, capable manager, and is generally well received in his TV appearances.
28. “Bloc of Left Powers” Political Party
29. Civil Movement of Ukraine Political Party
NOTE: It should be added that, among the majoritarian candidates, some have apparently started running as “united candidates” endorsed by several parties. The proposal to cooperate in this way was made on television by a candidate from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the journalist Mustafa Nayyem, on the widely watched “Shuster Live” talk show. The program is one of the most popular in Ukraine at the moment, and appears on Friday evenings for several hours. Political candidates, party leaders and other public figures are questioned and given a chance to make speeches. On a recent episode, Yulia Tymoshenko made a long speech covering all the most important issues at stake in the election, but also criticizing her opponents. Nayyem then proposed that all the major “democratic” parties running in the election (by which he evidently meant all parties with a realistic chance except for the Opposition Bloc, Strong Ukraine and the Communists) should coordinate their campaigns to select a single candidate in each majoritarian district which they would support jointly, thus ensuring that democratic forces had a real chance in districts where popular support for the old regime was still strong. The implication was that Mrs. Tymoshenko may not have been a “team player,” since several other party leaders immediately agreed that this was a good idea.
Below is a billboard for a candidate running in a district in Kyiv, and backed by the People’s Front, Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Svoboda. Baktivshchyna is conspicuously absent.
According to the officially certified results of the 26 October elections, as of 3 November, with 99.92% of ballots counted, six parties overcame the 5% threshold to enter parliament as parties. In addition, official representatives of four other parties also won election. The final composition is reflected in the below pie chart published by http://www.liga.net, and visible at the following web address:
According to this graph (in Ukrainian), the composition of the new Verkhovna Rada is as follows:
Petro Poroshenko Bloc (BPP): 151
People’s Front: 88
Opposition Bloc: 28
Radical Party: 19
Right Sector: 2
Strong Ukraine: 1
According to this division of seats, BPP and the People’s Front would have enough seats in parliament to form a coalition government without having to look to other parties to form an absolute majority of 226. However, political wrangling and horse-trading could continue for several weeks in order to form a so-called “constitutional majority” of 300, in order that the government can make amendments to the constitution. For this, support from at least some of the non-partisan candidates who won election from single-mandate constituencies will be required because neither the Opposition Bloc nor the Radical Party is viewed as a reliable partner, and both may remain en masse in opposition along with “Strong Ukraine.” The math might run as follows:
BPP + People’s Front + Self-Help + Fatherland + Svoboda + Right Sector + 2 non-partisan members = 300.
Parties such as Self-Help and Fatherland may claim valuable time in making demands for ministerial portfolios during a period when the country is under serious threat of further invasion by Russia, the situation in the eastern provinces is highly unstable, and potential flashpoints still exist on the borders with Russian-annexed Crimea and the Moldovan separatist region of Transnistria. The hope is that the new parliament can reach accord and put its house in order quickly.