Currently watching events from Warsaw, Ukraine’s parliamentary elections look potentially messy. On the one hand, the election law is clearly designed to wrap things up for the incumbent powers that be, and this is being reinforced by various political technologies such as well-funded decoy parties and the invented ‘language issue’ most likely designed and timed to get Eastern and Southern Ukrainians’ eyes off the ball. On the other hand, the political capital built up by the previous three major elections (two parliamentary and one presidential) are the last remaining pillar of integrity that Ukraine has comparing to its peers Belarus and Russia. If election day is marred by ballot-stuffing, bussed-in voters and other tomfoolery that last remaining pillar will dissolve and two and a half years of deterioration of democracy and freedom in Ukraine will be utterly rubber-stamped. I’m personally sceptical about whether violations can be avoided given the disposition of the rank and file of those now in power, for whom the art of the possible trumps constitutionalism every time.
And even if the election is free (it already cannot be fair) it is not clear exactly what people are voting for. Voters will (presumably) have no idea who is on the lists and half the deputies will be elected under constituency mandates. That has seen plenty of ‘bread and circuses’ manoeuvres from those in the current power structures to get them home safely. Once the elections have taken place, now that the constitutional court has contradicted its own ruling by endorsing the tushki, we will in all likelihood see a clearing house which will, it is assumed, be able to iron out the election result and knock it into the kind of shape the authorities would like to see. In Ukraine’s unconstitutionalised (my word) society it’s all but forgotten that the legitimate ‘owners’ of the parliamentary mandate from the previous parliamentary elections are in fact STILL the so-called orange parties of Tymoshenko and the Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defence bloc. Therefore the ‘result’ this time too stands to be forgotten once things have sorted themselves out.
So, the problem for Ukrainians is that they don’t really know what they are voting for, and the relationship between the ‘result’ and the ‘outcome’ could be abstract to say the least. Therefore, if participating as a pragmatist, what are the options for Ukraine’s voters?
Voting for the Party of Regions is certainly an option if one is satisfied that life has improved in the past two and a half years. Anecdotally one or two things have improved such as, in my experience, snow clearing in Kiev. One also has to wonder if Euro 2012 would indeed have been a shambles under the previous government, but we will never know, and that was already nearly four months ago, and life moves on. However, voting for the Party of Regions is not the only way to, in effect, vote for the presidential party. Various decoy parties will look to feed discontent back in to the pot. It is pleasing however that, despite well-funded campaigns (including Natalia Korelevska irking us all during every advert break during Euro 2012) and gimmicks such as hiring in former footballers, the polls suggest the electorate isn’t going to go for them. As has been said many times, Svoboda also feeds indirectly back into the Party of Regions, if nothing else as the justifier of Yanukovych’s culturally pro-Russian policies. The Regions Party itself may not be the bastion of stability they’d have us believe. As a coalition of interests it is extremely vulnerable as even within that group the number really benefiting is small, and there are suggestions that divisions exist not too far below the surface on issues such as the DCFTA/Customs Union and Tymoshenko.
Yatseniuk (who his former English teacher called ‘the only intelligent person I met in Ukraine’) could finally step into an important role. The accusation that his party is the Spravedlivaya Rossiya of Ukraine doesn’t seem to have stuck, but the the tie up with Batkivshchyna looks risky to me. The image of Tymoshenko in the western media (just this week a writer in The Guardian compared her, quite absurdly, to Aung San Suu Kyi) and in Brussels does not play so well at home. Tymoshenko shouldn’t be in prison for what she’s in prison for, and the authorities have foolishly created a martyr, but there’s little evidence from her time as PM that she is the answer to any of the country’s problems.
Most interestingly, Klitschko’s UDAR seem to finally be bridging the credibility gap at the best possible time. If you’re looking to vote pragmatically this might be the place to look. Klitschko is almost unique in Ukrainian politics, having made his way to fame and prosperity by the relatively honest means of sporting success rather than in the murky and corrupt world of Ukrainian business. He speaks at least three languages and having spent much of his life in Germany his broader world view and understanding of both the European and post-Soviet ways of doing things has to be an advantage.
Once the dust has settled, I suspect the President will basically still be in control of parliament. Even though his oligarchic backers have complained for quite some time that he has not been putting his energies into representing their interests, the fact remains that his appointees are in all the organs of state power. Such people are however fickle and if there was a real change in the way the wind was blowing some of those people might change their minds very quickly indeed.
Personally what I would most like to see from these elections is the resuscitation of the Verkhovna Rada and an end to the rubber stamp parliament and the piano player voting which has been one of the most depressing aspects of Ukraine’s politics over the past two years. Ukraine badly needs a functioning parliament which would necessitate consensus-based decisions across a range of stakeholders (accepting that for the foreseeable future, deputies of the Rada will still be in it largely for their own ends). I would like to see the vindictive edge taken off the government’s current policies and the firing of the education minister with immediate effect. I also hope that Kiev and Kiev region does not go down the path of adopting Russian as a second language. I would also like to see a halt to the general ‘Donbasisation’ of the business environment. It is frightening investors and will turn out to be massively counterproductive. So the question of who wins is really not even the half of it. I also hope Femen might stay at home this time.