Elections in Ukraine: Yanukovych Consolidates Power Seat-by-Seat

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Once on the losing end of a dramatic democratic uprising, the president looks to win control of parliament.

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Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych inspects a guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony in Warsaw in February of 2011. (Reuters)

At a time like this, it's good to have friends.

That may be what Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is thinking as he seeks to parlay his party's controversial win in last weekend's parliamentary elections into majority control of the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. With just over nine-tenths of the vote counted, the Party of Regions is officially controlling 192 seats.

It's a sizable lead over their nearest rival, the United Opposition, which includes the Batkivshchnya (Fatherland) the party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, which holds 103 seats. But it's dozens of seats away from the 226 needed to claim the simple majority and more than 100 seats short of the muscular constitutional majority that would hand Yanukovych the power to amends the country's basic law -- and possibly lift political term limits or allow the parliament, rather than the public, to choose the president.

It appears all but certain that the Party of Regions, using a mix of pressure and promises, will come up with the allies it needs to form at least a simple majority -- and perhaps a constitutional majority. The two likeliest sources of extra seats are the Communist Party and the nonaligned candidates who won in the single-mandate constituencies that account for exactly half of the parliament's 450 seats. The Communists, who have allied themselves with the ruling party in the past, currently look set to control 33 seats, which would bring Yanukovych to the brink of a simple majority.

'Hard to Imagine'

But party member Oleksandr Holub, who will enter the Verkhovna Rada as a party-list candidate, says the Communists no longer have much in common with the Party of Regions, which is seen as protecting business interests to the detriment of social policy. "In order to create a majority, [parliamentary factions] need to have some common grounds," Holub says. "Today, it is hard for me to imagine that such grounds can be found with the Party of Regions."

The Democracy ReportAnalyst Kostiantyn Matviyenko echoed the suggestion that the Communists, whom he described as "phenomenal political survivalists," may hold off on an explicit partnership with Yanukovych but cooperate on key votes in order to win coveted posts like first deputy speaker. "The ruling party has not achieved its goal of creating a majority on its own. They cannot do this without the Communists," Matviyenko says. "There can be some situational things regarding some laws, but not a stable pro-presidential majority. From this point of view, this is a defeat for the ruling party."

The nonaligned, or "self-nominated" candidates, meanwhile, control 42 seats. Single-mandate constituencies are seen as particularly vulnerable to voter fraud, and their candidates -- many of whom are local businessmen whose profits depend on the grace of the state -- susceptible to pressure.

No Deal

But some single-mandate lawmakers have rejected the notion of a deal with Yanukovych. Viktor Baloha, a powerful politician from Ukraine's Transcarpathian region, is a member of the minor Yedynyi-Tsentr (United Center) party but ran and won as a nonaligned candidate. Baloha, who served as chief of staff to former President Viktor Yushchenko, has retained a position of prominence as emergencies minister in the current government.

But he believes many deputies will choose against allying themselves with Yanukovych. "I don't think that there's so much garbage among the deputies from single constituencies that it will allow the government to get 300 votes," Baloha says. "Secondly, I don't think that the president needs 300 votes. Thirdly, if there is a balance in society, including in the Verkhovna Rada, the country will develop. If the country keels too much to one side or the other, then again we will move to a dictatorship."

In a country where political opportunism is often seen as trumping personal conviction, there are also predictions that some opposition lawmakers may break with their parties in favor of a switch to the ruling coalition.


Some observers suggested such a scenario might be likely in the case of Udar, the young and relatively untested party of world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. Klitschko, who is seen as harboring presidential ambitions, has pledged his party will not cooperate with Party of Regions in any coalition. It remains to be seen, however, whether any of his deputies will decamp.

Accusations of Fraud

The flurry of calculations over parliament seats comes even as several opposition groups continue to complain that the vote was manipulated to favor the ruling party. Both Batkivshchnya and Svoboda have argued that exit polls showed opposition parties receiving a higher percentage of the vote than indicated in official results. Civic monitors have also accused election officials of inflating voter turnout figures in the Party of Region's support base in the country's eastern Donetsk region. Western officials have expressed collective disappointment in the vote, which is seen as a reversal of the country's post-Orange Revolution democratic gains.

If Yanukovych is unable to pull together a quick majority, there are fears the new parliament may sink into a fresh season of horse-trading and political infighting with little in the way of legislative activity.

But some observers note that the current Ukrainian Constitution does not require a coalition to function and that the Verkhovna Rada can create situational majorities in order to pass legislation. In the past, parties have often used their access to budget funds as an enticement to potential friends. But political expert Dmytro Vydrin says at a time of countrywide economic malaise, the Party of Regions may no longer have the financial wherewithal to buy a group of permanent coalition allies. "A situational majority will gather, for instance, to adopt the budget or to elect the speaker, but then it will fall apart," Vydrin says. "No one will put money in to support a good-looking but redundant political design. Everyone is taking austerity measures now -- businesses and politicians. So they will not support an artificial majority, because this is just extra money."


This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
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