Free elections confirm a European orientation.
The early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, held on 26 October, returned a vast majority to the country’s pro-Europe parties, further confirming the personal victory of President Petro Poroshenko. It was he who immediately upon winning the May presidential elections chose to dissolve the Rada – the parliament in Kiev – which held a position considered to be too close to that of his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia after the tragic events of Maidan Square.
The dissolution was in line with “the expectations of the vast majority of Ukrainian citizens and is a move toward ‘cleansing’ the parliament,” said the president, who deep down probably expected a few more votes for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the coalition that also included Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) party.
Yet despite obtaining 132 parliamentary seats, half of which were won through the majority system, percentage-wise the bloc lost out slightly to the People’s Front of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose reappointment now seems a foregone conclusion. In the name of governmental unity, the prospective administration could also absorb L’viv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi’s Samopomich (Self-Reliance) Party and perhaps former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party.
Together they will have to lead Ukraine out of the tricky situation it finds itself in as a result of both the war against the pro-Russian army, which has been raging for months in the easternmost region of Donbass and already numbers almost 4000 casualties, and the negative economic predicament the country is currently facing.
Ukraine has been through a very dramatic 12 months, including the demonstrations in Maidan Square (during which 86 people were killed) and the destitution and flight of the former president. Its territorial unity has been disrupted with the irretrievable loss of Crimea, annexed by Russia following a plebiscitary referendum that has yet to be recognised by the international community. Though a negative factor for the country, in a way the Crimean conflict ended up helping the pro-Europe parties at the polls, since a large number of Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens who feel a cultural tie with Russia were not able to vote on the Black Sea peninsula or even in the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, occupied by pro-Russian forces.
Further proof of the importance of Ukraine’s early parliamentary elections was the large number of international observers present: the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) sent over 700 – for its eleventh election observation mission in the country – hailing from 46 of the 57 member countries. Parliamentary delegations from a number of European countries were also on hand to ensure that everyone played by democratic rules as were members of the EU Parliament, the NATO Assembly and several non-governmental organisations, including Canada’s CANEOM, which sent over 100 observers.
Despite fears that the war in Eastern Ukraine could have repercussions at the polling stations and in the streets, no incidents or attempts at electoral fraud were registered on election day. “The results weren’t contested even by those who lost,” said Tana de Zulueta, head of the Election Observation Mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, who emphasised the improvements made with respect to the presidential elections last May.
Since that these parliamentary elections did not include Ukraine’s eastern regions, on 2 November the pro-Russian rebels who occupy those areas held autonomous elections, which the entire international community – with the exception of Russia – was quick to refute. Speaking before the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna in November, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called these so-called elections “unfortunate and counterproductive,” and the situation in Ukraine “a matter of deep concern.” He added: “The crisis risks jeopardizing our collective ability to solve global problems [for it has] created divisions that stretch beyond the region.”
The fact is that the problems between Ukraine and Russia extend beyond territorial disputes. One glaring example is the natural gas controversy that the heads of European and Asian states attempted to resolve in Milan in mid-October. Russia, which claims Ukraine still owes it €3.5 billion in gas revenue, only agreed to continue supplying its neighbour once the EU had agreed to act as guarantor for its debt.
A mediator role could be played by China, seeing as it has recently signed major commercial agreements with Ukraine both in the field of agriculture, to the tune of €2 billion, and also in communications, worth another €400 million. The country faces an important challenge. Having distanced itself physically and politically from Russia, it now hopes to enter the European Union, with which it signed an association agreement this past June 27, and is pushing to become a member of NATO.
Poroshenko and his allies have difficult months ahead and will have to work hard to boost an economy afflicted by a spike in inflation, a 50% decrease in growth and the devaluation of the local currency. And they must resolve the conflict currently raging in their territory.