The country's disputed results come down to the so-called "single-mandate districts" that account for half of the legislature.
No one expected clarity in the immediate wake of Ukraine's October 28 parliamentary elections. And, although the vote-counting is still under way, it seems evident that everyone was right.
Preliminary figures with just over one-third of the votes counted show the ruling Party of Regions with slightly more than 36 percent of the party-list vote, followed by the United Opposition, which includes jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchina (Fatherland) party, which took 21 percent. The Communist Party is running third with 15 percent, followed by boxing champion Vitali Kitschko's Udar (Punch) alliance with 13 percent, and the Svoboda (Freedom) party with 8 percent.
Both the government and the opposition rushed to claim victory. The Party of Regions has said their win was "obvious," while former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of the United Opposition bloc, said on October 28 that "it is absolutely clear that the Ukrainian people support the opposition."
Who turns out to be correct will depend on what happens in the 225 single-mandate districts that make up half of the 450-seat parliament.
Kataryna Wolczuk, a senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham's Center for Russian and East European Studies, says that "half of the deputies will be elected in the single-mandate districts and about half of them are independent."
"Some are representing political parties. However, exactly how those deputies elected in single-mandate districts are going to align themselves or position themselves in the new parliament is yet to be seen," Wolczuk says.
Traditionally, many of those running nominally as independents in the single-mandate districts end up supporting the ruling party. Those districts were abandoned after the 2004 Orange Revolution -- but reinstated with legislation initiated by the Party of Regions in 2011.
And as Elena Gnedina, an analyst with a London-based risk consultancy, explains, this gives the ruling party an advantage.
"There will be 225 deputies elected [in single-mandate districts, many of them] as independents, and many are afraid these people will join with the Party of Regions and the Communist Party and build a strong faction in the parliament. This is quite possible and this has happened before in Ukraine. In the 1998 and 2002 elections that is what decidedly happened," Gnedina says.
Results from the single-mandate districts are expected later in the week.
Additionally, analysts expect the Party of Regions to attempt to relentlessly entice, persuade, and cajole lawmakers from other parties to switch to their side.
This was one way the Party of Regions buttressed their faction after the 2007 parliamentary elections when they won 34.37 percent of the vote followed by Tymoshenko's Batkivshchina, which took 30.71 percent, former President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine with 14.15 percent, and the Communist Party with 5.39 percent.
And analyst Wolczuk says the ruling party should again have ample opportunity to encourage defections.
"Batkivshchina (Fatherland), they are a bit more tried and tested, whereas we are not sure about Udar. It is known that there are several businesspeople on their party list and businesspeople tend to be vulnerable once in parliament because their business may be used against them to persuade them to join the ruling party's coalition," Wolczuk says.
How much the Party of Regions is able to augment its number is seats will be critical in determining whether -- together with support from the Communists -- they will achieve the two-thirds working majority of 300 seats needed to amend the constitution.
Staying In Power
Achieving a working "constitutional majority," according to Olga Shumylo-Tapiola, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment-Europe in Brussels, is "the aim of the Party of Regions." Such a majority, she says, would enable Yanukovych virtually to guarantee himself a second term and, very likely, hand-pick a successor.
"The president has never hidden the fact he basically doesn't want to [leave power]. He wants to stay in power for as long as possible -- him or through successors who are close to his Family -- but he is not sure he can be reelected in 2015. So moving the [presidential] election from the popular vote to the parliament would be one of the ideas that a new constitutional majority led by the Party of Regions would work on," Shumylo-Tapiola said.
At the same time, the Ukrainian parliament remains an important platform from which the opposition can make its policies and personalities known. And this is also crucial for the next presidential ballot. With the two major opposition parties -- Tymoshenko's Batkivshchina and Klitschko's Udar -- seemingly set to enter the new parliament with significant factions, much depends on how much they will be able to pull together. Shumylo-Tapiola worries that the 2015 ambitions of the opposition leaders could produce gridlock or worse.
"So two opposition parties get into parliament in quite good numbers, but they don't manage to work together -- again, here we are speaking about the presidential ambitions for 2015 and Klitschko and Yatsenyuk basically trying to not cooperate but to fight with each other in the parliament through their parties to show who is better for the voter in 2015," Shumylo-Tapiola says.
This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
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