Viktor Yanukovych's party claims victory

The Economist

29 October 2012

UKRAINE's ruling Party of the Regions looks set for victory in national elections on October 28th. With almost 70% of the vote counted, the party of president Viktor Yanukovych (pictured above) was on 33.51% of the vote, the opposition Fatherland party was on 22.97%, and the Communists received 14.51%. A party led by world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko had garnered 13.13% of the vote and Svoboda, a far-right nationalist party, was on 8.95%.

In Ukraine's 450-seat parliament half of the seats are allotted according to a proportional representation system while the other half are first past the post seats. So far the Party of the Regions looks set to take 116 of the latter and Fatherland 38. Another 39 may have gone to independents most of whom will almost certainly support a new government of the Party of the Regions.

The Party of the Regions and its allies are unlikely to win two thirds of the seats in parliament. It wanted this in order to change the constitution to abolish direct elections to the presidency. This would lower the risk for the unpopular Mr Yanukovych of losing the presidential race in 2015. If direct elections were abolished the president would be elected by parliament.

Alleging widespread vote rigging opposition parties are crying foul. The Organization of Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe has declared the poll flawed "considering the abuse of power and excessive role of money in this elections," said Walburga Habsburg Douglas, who is heading the OSCE mission. "Democratic progress seems to have been reversed in Ukraine."

International criticism notwithstanding, the Party of the Regions will almost certainly form the next government with the Communist Party. Both are Russophile and have their heartlands in the Russian-speaking east of the country. Such a result will reinforce the power of the president who has three more years in office.

The opposition has been handicapped by the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, the charismatic leader of Fatherland. She was defeated by Mr Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election and then tried and sentenced in 2011 to seven years in jail for abuse of power concerning the signing of a 2009 agreement on gas supplies to Ukraine from Russia. The office of the prosecutor general is now even mulling murder charges against Ms Tymoshenko relating to the 1996 killing of Yefhen Shcherban, a deputy and tycoon, and his wife. Today her lawyer announced she was beginning a hunger strike "in protest against the falsification of the elections".

The jailing of the heroine of the Orange Revolution of 2004, and the memory of the disastrous failure of the pro-western and pro-democracy uprising to deliver long lasting results has left millions of Ukrainians disillusioned with politics and politicians. A group around Mr Yanukovych known as "the family" comprising friends, family and oligarchs has prospered since he became president.

The big surprise of the poll is the surge in support for the far-right nationalist Svoboda party. With its calls for a Ukraine for Ukrainians and its anti-Semitic messages, the party has been likened to France's Front National. Having just voted, Sergii, a 48-year Svoboda voter in Irpin, a pleasant and leafy suburban town just outside Kiev, summed up the party's philosophy. "I want Ukraine to be a powerful country and if we have to choose between Europe and Russia it is Europe for us. Russia is Asia and I don't trust Asians."

However it is put, the issue of Russia or the West is going to be the biggest foreign-policy challenge for the new government. Critics say that while Mr Yanukovych and his team talk of European integration they have done nothing to further it. Relations with Russia are not so good either. The Russian government is pressing Ukraine to enter a customs union with it, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This would mean the end of Ukraine's European integration process.

Ukraine is clearly between a rock and a hard place. Leonid Kozhara, a deputy, former ambassador and foreign-affairs strategist for the Party of the Regions, says that "Kazakhstan and Belarus are like buttons on a sleeve," fingering the buttons on his jacket sleeve. "For Russia, Ukraine is the sleeve and you can't walk around without your sleeve. That is why this is all such a big geopolitical play."

Most voters were mainly interested in their quotidian worries rather than foreign policy. Meeting a group of journalists brought to Ukraine by the German Marshall Fund, Sergii Tigipko, the deputy prime minister and minster of social policy, said that pensions had gone up by an average of 54% in the last two years. However according to Katerina, a pensioner who was just about to vote in Irpin, her pension in 2010 was the equivalent of €94 ($121) a month and is now €105. Asked about Mr Tigipko's claim of a 54% hike in pensions she just laughed, adding: "maybe for them!"

Ms Tymoshenko's fate has also not been as high on the agenda as many foreigners might have expected. Taras, a taxi driver, summed up the belief of many when he said that while she had certainly been jailed for political reasons, "if the opposition come power, they will do exactly the same thing to them." Opposition politicians have said that if they form the next government they want investigations into "the family". They would also like to change the law so that they can impeach the president.



Нэт Пэрри

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