Ukraine parliamentary election will test divided country

Ukraine parliamentary election will test divided country

The snap parliamentary elections scheduled for October 26 are an important test for Ukraine’s stability.

Announced by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in August at arguably the high point of the ongoing crisis, the parliamentary elections will have to pass the test of both creating a stable new government to help resolve the crisis in Ukraine and have a broad participatory base in both eastern and western Ukraine to be seen as having the mandate to rule. Both tests will be hard to pass, and the country’s economic stability in the medium- and long-term hinges on them.

Challenges within the Ukrainian voting system

Ukraine’s mixed proportional-simple plurality system (a holdover from 2012 parliamentary elections) means it will face difficulty electing enough candidates into parliament on October 26.

A second round of elections in some districts — notably in secessionist Crimea, and politically fragmented districts in Sevastopol, Donetsk and Luhansk — could be problematic. Thirty-six districts, in particular, could fail to produce results. Lawmakers (as well as the Ukrainian president) are clearly pushing for nation-wide participation in order to give the new parliament a mandate to rule and to help create support for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

Still, Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko has already called for ‘independent’ elections on November 2, a clear threat to a second round of voting that will likely be necessary on November 9. Although President Poroshenko promised four regions in the east a vote on three-year self-rule on December 7, the rebels may decide to take matters into their own hands.

Ukraine’s parliamentary make-up — a cause for concern?

In a final-hour piece of legislation, the new government instituted a policy of lustration, effectively serving to punish former civil servants for having engaged in corruption and excessive familiarity with Ukraine’s communist (and Yanukovych-led) past. It has precipitated the screening of over a million civil servants and firing of over 700 deputies from the largest party in parliament, Batkivshchyna (‘Fatherland’).

The seven largest parties — Strong Ukraine (5.1%), Fatherland (6.6%), “Self-reliance” (9.7%), Radical Party (11.3%), and People’s Front (9.14%), but also the Opposition bloc (6.5%) and Svoboda (6.3%) — all have a shot at entering parliament in October. Several smaller parties, like Civic Position (4.1%) and the Communist party (3.8%) are unlikely to make the cut.

The far right, which gained leads in seven districts in western Ukraine in 2012, may gain further support because of the strong distaste for the Russian Federation. However, its elevation to coalition member presents a threat to the overall inclusiveness of outgoing parliament, and, if re-elected, is likely to increase the parliament’s divisions.

Global context

A few weeks ago, Ukrainian President Poroshenko met with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss a resumption of natural gas deliveries to Ukraine. Although the Russian and Ukrainian leaders reached a tentative deal, the Ukrainian government is strongly dependent on financial aid to help pay outstanding debts and ensure its natural gas deliveries in the winter months.

After a fragile ceasefire was signed on September 5, President Putin pulled troops engaged in training exercises from the countries’ common border. But he effects of the conflict have been devastating, with the death toll reaching over 3,700 in October, and clashes continuing to be observed around the Ukrainian army-controlled airports in Donetsk and Luhansk.

There are few signs that the upcoming elections will help resolve the country’s divisions. The high levels of political risk and the lack of stable government pose medium- and long-term risks for the Ukrainian economy. Still, if the fragmentation of the political party system can be countered by helping create a truly inclusive coalition, Ukraine’s position vis-à-vis the calls for secession in the eastern regions will be vastly improved.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Amelie Meyer-Robinson

Amelie has worked at the German Committee on Foreign Affairs, the OSCE and the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics and the University of Toronto - Trinity College.