We’ve compiled an easy-to-use guide to the Ukrainian politicians and parties who are angling for power in the new parliament after elections on Oct. 26.
An election official carries ballots to a polling station in the town of Mariupol, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. Photo: AP
Ukraine’s extraordinary parliamentary elections this fall have been blamed and shamed for their “dictatorial laws” and “tushkas” (the so-called “traitors” who have switched factions during the campaign). Nevertheless, this parliament has earned its place in history for preventing the failure of the state at a critical time – a time when it was the only legitimate authority. That being said, it’s time to look ahead. The necessity of reform and pent-up social demand (and the unwillingness of President Petro Poroshenko to wait until his ratings fall in order to call new elections) all led to this: Time to say goodbye to the seventh parliament of Ukraine, which was elected two years ago.
In those two years, the semi-proportional system stayed unchanged, despite the attempts of civil society to push a proportional system with open regional lists. For now, party lists are used to elect 225 MPs while others run in single-member districts throughout the country. The eighth parliament of Ukraine is still an attractive place, judging by the fact that more than two-thirds of the incumbents are willing to regain their seats.
There are now several parties that might pass the five percent threshold in order to gain a seat in parliament. Here’s a guide to the main faces and voices who are determining their political future.
The Petro Poroshenko Bloc is the classic party of power, formed (and then renamed) from the almost non-existent Solidarity party. The president is trying to act as a peacemaker now, while also using unifying rhetoric. He has managed to unite all kinds of influencers behind him, including leaders of the Crimean Tatars, journalists and activists, former presidential candidate Olga Bohomolets and the mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitchko. Their level of support never dipped below 30 percent, all of which gives a powerful boost to president’s candidates in the single-mandate districts. The majority of the candidates in the single-mandate districts are trying to mimic this bloc for its corporate style. It is likely that the presidential party may not attempt to form a coalition with anyone else.
Yulia Tymoshenko is campaigning by making Ukrainian pilot Nadia Savchenko, who is currently imprisoned in Russia, the number one campaign issue for the Batkivschyna (“Fatherland”) Party. She has few young people with a top-level Western education on the list, but the key message will likely be “Vote for Yulia to save Nadia.” Tymoshenko is thought to be a comfortable person for Russian President Vladimir Putin to deal with, considering the long history the pair have in regard to gas-based cooperation.
Samopomich (“Self-Help”) united advocates of the lustration law (Egor Sobolev from the “Volya” party) and the Reanimation Package of Reforms (Hanna Hopko, Oksana Syroid). The locomotive of the party, which, according to the recent polls has gained in momentum, is the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi, regardless of the fact that he is under number fifty on the list. This party stands for new faces in politics and self-sufficient communities as a role model of success. It also relies on the mayoral support and charisma of Sadovyi and the support of the leader of the combat battalion “Donbas,” Semen Semenchenko.
Gromadianska Pozitsiya (“Civil Position”) is led by the former Minister of Defense, Anatoliy Hrytsenko. In the earlier presidential election won by Poroshenko, Hrytsenko used the message “I guarantee security” to land in fourth place with 6.4 percent of the votes. Though he has been losing momentum of late, a promising union with the famous fighters against corruption, Democratic Alliance, may still give the party a chance.
The Opposition Bloc, which is, in fact, the resurrection of the Party of the Regions, is trying to regain its influence in core regions and overcome the critical five percent threshold. Members of this party are basing their campaign message on the criticism of government failures in the economy. Moreover, they are positioning themselves as the “Voice of Donbas” or the “Voice of the East,” depending on the audience. One of their keynote speakers, media owner Vadim Rabinovich, gained more votes in the presidential elections than Yarosh (Right Sector) and Tyagnybok (Svoboda) combined. This fact gave birth to numerous jokes about so-called “Ukrainian fascism.”
As the phoenix of Ukrainian politics, Sergey Tigipko has gathered together pragmatic dealers, most of them looking to preserve their business and commercial activities elsewhere, under the umbrella of Sylna Ukraina. This party is best known for having been dismissed by Tigipko in 2010 when the latter joined Yanukovych’s team again. This was after leaving him during the critical time of the first Maidan (the “Orange Revolution”). Before that, he was a campaign manager of Yanukovych.
A woman watches photos taken during fresh protests exhibited at Kiev's Independence Square, Ukraine, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. Photo: AP
The brand new party Narodnyi Front (“Popular Front”) consists of those who took executive power after Maidan – Turchinov (Speaker of Parliament), Avakov (Minister of Internal Affairs), Parubiy (Commandant of Maidan and the former head of the National Security Council). The Party is led by the acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Its campaign is based on the idea of keeping him in this PM position. The party list includes participants of the "anti-terrorist" operation, which gives it a more militant image.
The Radical Party, led by talented populist Oleh Liashko, is known for its creative and scandalous campaigning. Liashko is often compared with Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of Russia's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party. His symbol – the hayfork – represents the wrath of the people against the oligarchs and Putin. No surprise, then, that over half of supporters of the Radical Party lives in rural areas.
Neither the current incumbent far-right party Svoboda (“Freedom”), nor the challenger far-right party (“Right Sector”), is likely to get into Parliament, a fact that again debunks the myth about Ukrainian fascism.
There is still evidence of massive election bribery of candidates giving money to voters for their vote. However, there is a struggle of the civil activists on the ground. In particular, the civil movement CHESNO advocates against candidates known to be involved in corruption and voting for dictatorial laws, while OPORA is watching out for fraud. Also, there have been the national debates, in which all 29 parties have had a chance to explain their positions.
The newly elected parliament will definitely have an influence on President Poroshenko’s decisions, due to the return to the parliamentary-presidential system. In such a divided political field, there will be no partner unwilling to join a coalition with the bloc of Petro Poroshenko. His message – "it is time to unite" – will not leave much space for criticism regarding the peaceful orientation of the president. Meanwhie, there may be calls for more radical actions against the Russian presence in Ukraine, especially from Popular Front, the Radical Party and Civil Position.
The current parliament is likely to have a turnover of nearly 50 percent, but regardless of the results, relations with Russia will continue to be a very sensitive issue for any party. Any warming of relations is hard to predict without subsequent steps from the Russian side.
Almost the entire Ukrainian cabinet of ministers is appointed by the governing coalition, although the Ministers of Foreign and Internal Affairs, as well as the Minister of Defense, are in the President's personal domain.
President Poroshenko has learned a lesson from Victor Yushchenko and now will avoid having a rivalry with the Prime Minister at any cost in order to avoid a political crisis. Poroshenko will be leaning towards having the former mayor of Vinnitsya, Volodymyr Groysman, in the chair, but is likely to leave Arseniy Yatsenyuk if Narodnyi Front gets more than 10 percent of the vote.
The great actor to watch for is the Ukrainian society, which will try to push for reforms and implementation of anti-corruption and lustration laws and shall not accept any trade-offs that would look like a betrayal. That is why the president will likely have no possibility of making decisions without properly communicating with them. Clearly, the parliamentary elections are just the first step in a long political process with many actors, each of them clamoring to determine Ukraine’s political future.