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Of further votes and hopes

Ukraine.jpgJenny Hilton on the conduct and outcome of the recent parliamentary elections in Ukraine

Since I was in Ukraine in May for the Presidential elections, politics has become increasingly fissiparous, with fragments of the old parties splitting and regrouping under new names. Ukraine has a hybrid electoral system with half of the seats in Parliament determined by proportional representation (PR) and half in single member constituencies. The latter is where most of the fraud, bribery, vote-buying, and oligarchic power is concentrated, which is why the new Parliament will legislate for a wholly PR system. 

There are 29 parties contesting the election, some of whom are so-called ‘technical’ parties – in existence merely to get representatives onto the various electoral commissions.  Others are fragments of old parties, such as that of Yulia Tymoshenko and the previous President’s ‘Party of the Regions’, under new titles such as ‘Civic Position’ and ‘Opposition Bloc’.  Some individual candidates claim to be supporters of President Poroshenko but are suspected of having other agendas.

Our briefings took place in the white and gold Baroque suite of the Fairmont Hotel where we were addressed by representatives of the main political parties, including Svoboda – a racist and homophobic party that claims its main enemies are Jews, Poles and Russians.  The Communist Party in contrast said that Ukraine was going to become a fascist dictatorship and that there would be a violent take-over of the Central Election Commission (CEC) on election night. 

The Chairman of the CEC however, gave us an optimistic account – in fluent English – of the preparations for the election and training of the staff. Although voting would not take place in the Crimea or 18 of the 32 oblasts of the Dombas region, where the civil war continues, 80% of the 35 million Ukrainians would be able to vote. The election campaign has been very-low-key with no large rallies and little unrest, except for some ‘rubbish-binning’ (literally) of politicians thought to be corrupt. There are very few posters, bar the large billboards of Tymoshenko on the way to and from the airport and of the Party whose image is a large fist holding a pitchfork. Symbolic apparently, of an anti-corruption drive.

It was cold and sunny in Kiev, and last weekend Freedom Square was occupied by schoolchildren and vintage cars rather than rubber tyres and army trucks. On election day, I teamed up with a female Swedish MP to observe the conduct of the elections in the north west suburbs of the city. A curious mixture of very smart and large new houses, and the old high-rise blocks of the Soviet era, we visited 13 polling stations and observed the count until 2.00am. The atmosphere was calm and we were warmly welcomed throughout. The turn-out of 52% seems disappointingly low but is apparently good by Ukrainian standards, as they have been deeply disappointed by their previous politicians. 

The early signs suggested a win for the three most pro-European parties, which could have provided Ukraine with a brighter future, sense of identity and self-confidence. Since then however, things have taken a more sinister turn. Illegitimate elections held in Donetz and Luhansk on 2 November have been recognised as an expression of ‘the will of the people’ by Russia, and there are genuine fears that it will support those separatists fighting for Mariupol and attempt to open a land route to the Crimea. The Ukrainian Army has been seriously depleted by the current fighting and will have difficulty in putting up much resistance. Meanwhile, shots have been fired at a drone used by the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe to monitor Russian troop movements. And there seems little now that Western powers can do.

Baroness Jenny Hilton is a backbench Labour Peer

Published 6th November 2014


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