Six Things to Watch Out for in Ukraine’s Elections
This is a cross post from The Huffington Post:
Parliamentary elections take place in Ukraine on Sunday and are expected to show what direction the under-pressure country is taking. After the Maidan movement protests led to the ouster of the Russian-leaning President Yanukovych in February, a more European-friendly President, Poroshenko was elected in May. This election represents the next step in Ukraine’s journey towards a new politics.
At least it might.
While the elections are predicted to be largely free and fair, with 5,600 law enforcement officers deployed across the country to police the poll, the old politics of oligarch control looks increasingly hard to shift. With 312 incumbents standing in the 450-seat parliament, only a few dozen really “new faces” are expected to emerge. But with around 30 percent of voters still undecided, the outcome is hard to predict.
About 13 percent of voters will be unable to cast a ballot because they live in Russian-annexed Crimea or in one of the conflict areas in the east. Nonetheless, the election could give President Poroshenko a firmer mandate to tackle chronic corruption, a fragile economy, and the conflict with Russia.
Here are six things to watch out for in Sunday’s election:
How many people actually bother to vote is one indicator of the appetite for new politics. In the last parliamentary elections in 2012, there was a 57 percent turnout. In May the presidential election turnout was around 60 percent. Most polls predict a turnout of over 60 percent, but the greater the participation obviously the greater legitimacy of the parliament. By comparison, turnout for recent U.S. federal elections has hovered at around 55 percent in presidential election years, and around 37 percent in off years.
2. Will Poroshenko’s supporters get an outright majority?
Polls suggest that the single biggest group of candidates will be those supporting President Poroshenko. The “Poroshenko Bloc” is predicted to get at least 30 percent of the seats. Winning an outright majority may be beyond reach, although with so many undecided going into the election, it’s not impossible. More likely is that the Poroshenko Bloc will form a working coalition with one or more of the smaller groups. Former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kiev, heads the list for the Poroshenko Bloc.
3. Who else gets in.
Members of the new parliament, or Rada, will be directly elected from 225 election districts with the other half chosen from party lists. Candidates for the 450 seats in the parliament include 312 incumbents. For a party to gain representation in the new parliament it must achieve a 5 per cent threshold. Apart from the Poroshenko Bloc, the other parties are all struggling to break 10 percent. The support which previously went to the Russian-leaning Party of Regions will now be scattered across several other smaller blocs, but if enough of those reach the 5 percent threshold together, that old force could again be a significant parliamentary player.
4. The Radical Party.
The Radical Party is a bit of a wild card in the election. Headed by populist Oleh Lyashko, it promises to root out Ukraine’s chronic corruption–but is distrusted for being more about a charismatic leader than a party with a serous agenda. They want to arm Ukraine with nuclear weapons. It looks to be the “best of the rest” in popular support after the Poroshenko Bloc.
5. The Far Right.
A shocker in the 2012 parliamentary elections was the large number of votes–over 10 percent and 37 seats–that went to Svoboda, a far-right party. Although Svoboda cleaned up its act, dropping its antisemitic and other dangerous rhetoric and moving toward the center, there are fears that a latent far-right vote is there to be won, or exploited, by other forces. The far-right candidates did extremely poorly in May’s presidential election, registering barely two percent of the vote. But some far-right elements are popular in Ukraine for joining volunteer battalions fighting in the east. Whether this translates into more than a few directly elected seats will tell us how much of an immediate future the far right has in Ukraine’s electoral politics, but the far-right Right Sector party was polling at less than one percent a few weeks ago.
6. Victory Speeches
The election campaign has been fairly light on ideological debate or vision for a future Ukraine except for sloganeering and a general pro-European, anti-corruption theme. If candidates are serious about shaping a new political landscape, they might declare their priorities in victory speeches. Sustaining the momentum of the Maidan movement in parliament will be difficult, but candidates promising to enter the Rada with the intent to break the mold of Ukraine’s politics would be a good start.