Elections in Ukraine

Ukraine: Awkward Allies

Ukraine elections
Citizen Yushchenko Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition Our Ukraine coalition Victor Yushchenko at a press conference in Kiev, April 1, 2002 (Photo: AFP).

Ukraine’s third parliamentary elections since independence were widely perceived as a qualified victory for President Leonid Kuchma and his business tycoon supporters. But the real struggle got under way only after the March 31 vote.

Candidates to the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, or Supreme Council, are elected by a two-tier sytem. Half of the seats are apportioned to winning parties and half to candidates elected from so-called single-mandate constituencies. Our Ukraine, an opposition bloc led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, won the highest percentage of votes in the party-based contest. In the single-mandate constituencies, however, many unaffiliated candidates were expected to join the pro-Kuchma United Ukraine bloc.

Charges of irregularities were rife. Murder eliminated one candidate’s name from the running in Ivano-Frankivsk district, in western Ukraine. But because of improper changes to the ballot, the entire district’s vote was annulled. Including the single-mandates, according to the daily Den, Our Ukraine will be the largest bloc, with 10 more seats than United Ukraine.

“A Verkhovna Rada Chosen by the President”—a headline  in Ukrayinska Pravda (April 10)—was one interpretation of the results. “Ukraine will not get the Parliament for which she voted,” the paper remarked. President Kuchma told a gathering of United Ukraine activists that the new government would be ineffectual without a majority coalition, according to a report by Holos Ukrayiny (April 11). “I am committed to cooperation, and I will conduct a dialogue with those political forces that form a majority,” Kuchma declared. United Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Lytvyn, said that his bloc could serve as the basis for such a majority.

Yuliya Tymoshenko, a former deputy prime minister, asserted that her bloc would negotiate with “democratic forces”—Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party of Ukraine—to establish a parliamentary majority and a new government, according to Mold Ukrayiny (April 12). For its part, the Socialist Party issued a statement saying that such a majority should “prevent parliamentary members of United Ukraine from entering the government,” as this would lead to “complete control of Parliament by the presidential administration.”

Ukrayinska Pravda’s Anatolii Khanik reported that Our Ukraine was negotiating with both a possible parliamentary partner and with Kuchma (April 12). As for Tymoshenko’s proposed democratic alliance, this was supposedly under consideration, but Khanik expressed skepticism about such a union.

Yushchenko may have his eye on a higher prize than the premiership. The elections bode well for a future presidential bid, according to analyst Mykola Tomenko, but such ambitions would frustrate Yushchenko’s current efforts at alliance-building.