Who are the contenders in the Ukraine elections?

Who are the contenders in the Ukraine elections?

Commentary



Ukraine's parliamentary elections are set for 26 October and the president's party is unlikely to win the seats to govern alone.

Ukraine’s parliamentary elections are due to be held on 26 October. The opinion polls show that between five and ten parties could pass the 5 percent threshold needed to gain representation in the parliament.

But the forecasts should come with a warning. The polls only apply to half of the 450 seats to be elected, which will be filled using proportional representation on a national party list system. The other half, normally 225, will be elected in territorial constituencies. However, maybe 30 of these seats, those in Crimea and the Donbas, will remain vacant if voting in the troubled regions turns out to be impossible. Optimists talk of holding future by-elections to fill the gaps.

In a country like Ukraine, there is another problem with territorial constituencies. They give a big advantage to those who have the spending power to buy the vote – in other words, to local “oligarchs” and members of the old regime. Holding onto this system was a big mistake: it means that as few as 50 or so MPs will be genuine new faces.

With that caveat, here is a rough guide to the parties standing.

On the government side, there are three big partiesThe Poroshenko Block, an entirely new vehicle set up to support the new president elected in May,tops the polls with 30 percent of the vote or more. President Petro Poroshenko wants to win big. If he does, he will be less able to blame an obstructive parliament for failing to get things done. His eponymous block has little in the way of a real ideology, however. Winning big means constructing a wide coalition out of the old political system; only a few of his candidates are downright odious, but most are careerists. The block includes the crusading journalist Mustafa Naim, whose tweet started the original Maidan protests, alongside no fewer than four members of the notorious Baloha clan in the western region of Transcarpathia, the smuggling capital of central Europe. Keeping all these disparate elements together in the same party will require some policy success.

Tymoshenko is saving her energies for the next campaign.

The Fatherland Party of Yuliya Tymoshenko is not technically in government. The former prime minister will still get a sympathy vote for her time in prison between 2011 and 2014. But the party has characteristically been purged of all but the most loyal, and many former supporters are now in different parties or are running as independents. As in the presidential election, when she came a distant second, Tymoshenko is saving her energies for the next campaign. She has positioned herself as a critic of the cease-fire and of Ukraine’s military performance at times when she has seen it to be safely patriotic to do so.

Another new party, the Popular Front led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, is catching up to Fatherland in the polls. It has often led the criticism of the cease-fire and of the exclusion of military solutions to the conflict. It has the highest number of military veterans on its list, especially from the volunteer battalions. Its name evokes the anti-Communist reform movements of the 1989 era.

All the other parties are polling either side of the 5 percent barrier. Civic Position, a coalition of civil society activists led by the respected former defence minister, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who came fourth in the presidential election with 5.5 percent, has the best chance of making it into parliament. Self-Help, led by Andriy Sadoviy, the mayor of Lviv, may fall short of the threshold.

The nationalist Freedom Party has stabilised its falling ratings by acting as if it is in opposition, not in government, where in truth only a handful of its ministers remain. It cannot repeat the 10.5 percent it won in 2012, but it is competing in the niche of noisy populist nationalism with the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko. Liashko has also copied the Freedom Party’s trick of taking money from the oligarchs he condemns in public, and receiving generous airtime on their TV channels in return. Russian propaganda makes much of the xenophobic and fascist-tinged nationalism of Right Sector, which is polling at less than 1 percent. But Liashko’s superficial fake TV nationalism is actually more typical of modern Ukraine.

The Poroshenko Block and Fatherland in particular hope to win votes in southern and eastern Ukraine. However, three other parties are concentrating their efforts there.The Communists have not been banned, as once seemed possible, but their vote has been in long-term decline towards a hard-core in the Donbas, which will not vote. Nevertheless, the Communists will benefit from the absence of the Party of Regions, the former ruling party under President Yanukovych.

The Opposition Block might have been banned in some other countries.

The Opposition Block might have been banned in some other countries. It includes openly pro-Russian politicians and is allegedly financed by money from the old Yanukovych “Family”. Ukraine’s leading oligarch Rinat Akhmetov is also one of its supporters, as is the Forward Ukraine party of Nataliya Korolevska, which was an obviously fake “political technology” project, even back in 2012.

Strong Ukraine, led by another oligarch, the banker Serhiy Tihipko, was originally one of the big hopes for bridging the regional divide.But with former state security service (SBU) head Valeriy Khoroshkovskyi at number two on its list, it looks like yet another oligarchical party.

Without too many options to vote for, there is therefore a big risk of low turnout in southern and eastern Ukraine, that is in the largely Russian-speaking regions next to Crimea and the Donbas. This would carry enormous risks in encouraging Russia to risk further destabilisation in areas that have hitherto been loyal to Kyiv.

There are many average and many corrupt opinion pollsters in Ukraine. The last poll, in September, by Democratic Initiatives, one of the more respectable outfits, was as follows:

Poroshenko Block

29.9%

Fatherland

8.7%

Radical Party (Liashko)

7.6%

Civic Position           

7.3%

Popular Front

7.0%

All the other parties are hovering at 5 percent or below.

So no single party, not even Poroshenko’s, will be able to govern alone. A coalition looking something like Poroshenko Block + Popular Front + Civic Position would make most sense. In that case, Arseniy Yatseniuk could continue as prime minister. But such a coalition would probably need votes from the territorial constituency MPs to survive.

Andrew Wilson's latest book Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for the West is available as an e-book on 1 October, and is published on 14 October as a paperback original at £12.99.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.

Read more on: Wider Europe, EaP, Ukraine, Ukraine Crisis

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