Ukraine's Party of Regions: A pyrrhic victory

  

Ukrainian authorities might have problems forming even a simple majority after the general election. The Party of Regions' apparent election success is in fact a pyrrhic victory, says Sonia Koshkina.

Sonia Koshkina is chief editor of lb.ua, part of the Gorshenin Group.

"It took the Central Electoral Commission of Ukraine two weeks to establish the results of the 28 October parliamentary election. The composition of the new Ukrainian parliament is known, new factions and a parliamentary majority are being formed.

Reshuffles in the Cabinet of Ministers and the country's foreign policy will depend on these new configurations.

Based on the election results, parliament will include: 185 representatives of the Party of Regions (72 elected on the party list and 113 in single-seat constituencies); 101 united opposition representatives (62 and 39 respectively); 40 UDAR representatives (34 and six respectively); 37 far-right Svoboda representatives (25 and 12 respectively); 32 Communists (all elected on the party list); 43 independent candidates who ran in single-seat constituencies.

The current authorities consider the latter a "candidate pool" for its "own" majority. The majority must have at least 226 deputies, whereas it would take 240-245 MPs for unimpeded lawmaking activities. The constitutional majority, consisting of 300 MPs and capable of changing the constitution, is not on the agenda at the moment because there is no need for it.

However the authorities might have problems forming even a simple majority. The Party of Regions' apparent election success is in fact a pyrrhic victory.

The government's opponents in parliament, ranging from the radical Freedom party to the loyal Communists, together hold as many as 210 seats. Factor in the deputies elected in single-seat constituencies.

This does not mean a parliamentary majority opposed to the official authorities can be formed right now, but an important trend can be traced: the government has lost many voters.

Compared with the previous parliamentary election in 2006 and the snap election in 2007, the Party of Regions has lost 2.5 million votes in its strongholds, namely in Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhya regions, and in Crimea.

An extremely low turnout certainly had its effect too. It cost the pro-government force from 600,000 to 800,000 votes, according to its own estimates.

Characteristic of this campaign was also a rather big amount of people, up to 30%, who could not make their choice. These were people who made their choice after they arrived at their polling stations. Ultimately, all these people chose protest parties, which once again attests to the trend of "voting out of spite".

Experts have reasons to describe this as "the first wave of the revolution in Ukraine", as the president of the Gorshenin Institute, Vadym Omelchenko, put it in a commentary published by EurActiv.

It should be mentioned that the Central Electoral Commission has summed up the election results at all but five so called "problematic" single-seat constituencies. There, based on the vote count, opposition representatives scored the victory, but the final reports put pro-government candidates in the lead.

For two weeks while votes were being counted, these constituencies witnessed literally "combat actions". The situation was especially hot in Mykolayiv where Berkut [special riot police] intervened for the benefit of the local deputy governor running for parliament.

His opponent Arkadiy Kornatskyy, fielded by United Opposition Fatherland, had to flee the country, fearing an arrest.

All the while the central authorities stayed aside. Soon after the polls closed, President Viktor Yanukovych made a formal statement congratulating the country on the democratic and open election. Then he took a long pause.

Even when blood was shed at a polling station in Mykolayiv, the central authorities did not get involved. Only international observers who stayed in Ukraine beyond the election day, which was rather quiet, voiced their concerns.

Still, repeat elections in five disputed constituencies will not change the landscape in the Ukrainian parliament.

At early stages, despite some possible problems, the pro-government forces are likely to form a majority in parliament.

There will be several "golden shares" held by forces on whose support and votes the authorities may count.

First, these are the Communists, the Party of Regions' long-time partners.

Second, incumbent ministers who were elected to parliament from single-seat constituencies. These are Economics Minister Petro Poroshenko, Emergencies Minister Viktor Baloha and speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Each of them rammed several allies into parliament. Having joined forces, they will be able to form a group of 18-20 MPs.

Third, members of the UDAR party election list, many of whom were put high up the list, as mass media see it, with the help of Serhiy Lyovochkin, Dmytro Firtash and Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy. Nevertheless, it is wrong to expect Klitschko's people to openly take a pro-government stand, or else they would have nothing to bargain with.

The situation with the opposition is more straightforward. Oleh Tyahnybok's Freedom, which entered parliament for the first time, is forming its own faction, but promises that they, unlike UDAR, will vote in unison with the united opposition.

Fatherland and Front for Change have signed an agreement on joint actions not only during the election but afterwards too. They even agreed that the faction would be named Fatherland. These agreements were confirmed at the first meeting of new MPs in Kiev on 14 November.

The most probable head of the joint faction is Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Yuliya Tymoshenko suggested so since Oleksandr Turchynov is formally in charge of the Fatherland party. Clearly, this springboard will make Yatsenyuk's presidential bid much easier. However, Vitaliy Klitschko also nurtures presidential ambitions. A confrontation between the opposition leaders is certainly inevitable.

The one who later nets the bets of big elite groups will win. In Ukraine they are often called oligarchs. Akhmetov, Pinchuk, Kolomoyskyy, Firtash, all of them rammed several dozen their deputies into parliament, both on party lists (the Party of Regions, the Communist Party, UDAR and even the opposition) and from single-seat constituencies.

Each group has its own interests to lobby, therefore parliament of the seventh convocation is unlikely to become a place where decisions pushed down from above will be voted unanimously. It will rather be a battleground. This might even lead to a revival of parliamentarianism as an independent institution of power."

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