30 September 2007

Ukraine's 2007 Election

2006 election results, shown on the map above from Wikipedia, show the regional divide in Ukraine's political sentiments

Ukraine's 2007 elections (background at Wikipedia) are over, although the counting is not.

Ahead of the election, leading parties swapped vote-rigging allegations. But preliminary findings by more than 3,000 observers ruled out widespread violations.

My colleague, Anne McGihon, is among those 3,000.

The results are complicated, however, which means that relatively minor irregularities have the potential to swing the balance of power in the former Soviet Republic:

Orange Parties (pro-West)
Ms. Yulia Tymoshenko (opposition BYuT leader) 30-32%
Mr. Viktor Yushchenko (President, Our Ukraine Party leader) 13-14%
Subtotal: 43-46%

Current Government (pro-Russia)
Mr. Viktor Yanukovich (Prime Minister, Regions Party leader) 34-35%
Communist (in coalition with Regions party) 5%
Subtotal: 39%-40%

Lytvyn's Block 4%
Fifteen Minor Parties With No Seats 7%-11% (a 3% total is requires to get a seat)
Against All 3%

Mr Yushchenko called elections early in a bid to gain ground over Mr Yanukovich, his bitter rival since the 2004 Orange Revolution. The president set aside his differences with Ms Tymoshenko, his former ally, and their parties mounted a joint campaign. . . The two Orange parties are likely to have more seats than the Regions-Communists alliance.

If Volodymyr Lytvyn's bloc sides with the Orange parties, the results won't be close and the pro-Western Orange parties will take power, validating President Yushchenko's gambit of calling new elections. But, if Lytvyn's bloc sides with the Regions-Communist bloc, this election is very close, making even minor election disputes important, but four different sets of exit polls all show the Orange parties with a slight lead (as little as four seats out of 450) even then.

Lytvyn's bloc is made up of two allied parties. The lead party was in coalition with the pro-Russian Regions party in 2002, but another party in that coalition has hence joined the pro-Western Orange grouping. In 2006 it ran celebrity candidates but failed to win seats in parliament. As head of the party Lytvyn is a king maker (which got him his previous seat as parliamentary speaker), but he is something of a controversial cypher politically.

It is also worth noting that despite the fact that Ukraine has a proportional representation system, that the failure of minor parties to form larger blocs has had an effect big enough to swing the election. Even a 3% threshold to get seats is enough to cause them to act as spoilers for their political allies.

Why is Ukraine so divided? These observations were offered during the 2004 Orange Revolution:

[T]he "blue" regions are overwhelmingly Orthodox and Russian, while the "yellow" regions are Catholic (outright or Eastern-rite) and anti-Russian. Indeed, some territories - the Donbas and Crimea, for instance - were Russian lands given to Ukraine by Communists.

A division of the country was seriously mulled in 2004, but talk of division appears to have subsided since then. While there is grumbling about the election, there are signs that the situation is stablizing:

“There will be emotions, but these will be just episodes. I’m sure that the political community will find mutual understanding,” Yushchenko said.

Tymoshenko’s message was the same: “I’m convinced that these elections will end the crisis.”

[After the March 2006 parliamentary elections] Yanukovych sought to change his image, casting himself as a democrat and preaching compromise and stability. He eased his affiliation with Russia and underlined his push for Ukraine’s integration into Europe. . . . Unlike the 2004 vote when the Kremlin backed Yanukovych, Russia is staying away from the parliamentary election. . . . Yanukovych grudgingly agreed to Sunday’s vote, but has hinted he would accept only one outcome: his victory.

Yanukovych has accused Yushchenko and Tymoshenko’s parties of preparing widespread falsifications, and warned he could organize protests similar to those during the Orange Revolution. He said that his party would not accept an “unlawful” outcome.

The fate of Ukraine still relies on the extent that the result is seen domestically and abroad to be credible, despite evidence that some irregularities have taken place, although not necessarily irregularities serious enough to sway the result.

UPDATE: The Socialist Party of Ukraine, a moderate party leaning towards the Orange Parties, but not above changing sides to be in the winning coalition looks likely to pass the 3% threshold in early election returns. But, the two main Orange parties look likely to secure a majority on their own in early returns. This could diminish the role of Lytvyn as king maker, but could also complicate matters because the Socialists are close enough to the 3% threshold that their percentage could be subject to plausible disputes -- whether their precentage is above or below 3% could significantly impact the outcome.

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