Ukraine Political Parties
|Party of Regions||22.0||21.4|
|Alliance for Reform (UDAR)||9.2||8.3|
|Pre-election projections from a May survey by the Ukrainian independent pollster Sociological Group “Rating,” as well as July figures from the Kiev-based Razumkov Center non-governmental think tank. 2,000 people participated in each survey. The margin of error for the first survey is 2.2 percent, while for the second poll it is not specified.|
|To enter parliament, a party needs to pass the 5-percent threshold.|
The Verkhovna Rada is divided into factions, formed either by single parties or coalitions made up of several different parties. Factions in Ukraine have traditionally been fluid, with political allegiances shifting frequently. As of mid-2012 the parliament included the following factions: the Party of Regions (194 seats), the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc-Fatherland (99 seats), the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense Bloc (62 seats), the Communist Party (25 seats), the People’s Party (20 seats), Reforms for the Future (19 seats), and independent lawmakers (30 seats). While the ruling Party of Regions held only a relative majority, it enjoyed a de facto majority in parliament by scraping together votes from other factions. Its goal was to muster a 300-vote constitutional majority.
Traditionally, Ukrainian parties competed in electoral “blocs” – or political alliances that pool together electoral support and compete during elections as single forces. However, a November 2011 law, sailed through parliament by the Party of Regions, changed the game considerably in a move critics said is meant to split the opposition. It stipulated that parties could no longer band together and compete as blocs in parliamentary elections – an especially damning rule in a country where the political opposition is already fragile and musters its political capital through coalitions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the electoral change, charging in a June 2012 report that it “seriously undermine[s] confidence in the electoral process” and “determine[s] the context of the elections.” Similarly, a recent Freedom House report expressed serious concerns about a crooked political playing field, as well as the authorities’ inclination to use administrative resources to their advantage.
Once in parliament, it is possible that the main opposition faction, Fatherland, would form parliamentary alliances with other factions, such as the nationalist Freedom party (should it win seats), and even Klitschko’s UDAR, to counter the Party of Regions’ influence. Many experts remained skeptical, however, about whether the opposition could stick together, noting also that the ruling party would attempt to court individual votes from other parties in parliament to maintain its own faction. Given Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, it seemed likely that she will remain the ceremonial face of the opposition, while Yatsenyuk would emerge as the political leader of any united opposition forces.
The ruling party needs to hold onto its electoral majority and reverse a double-digit drop in popular support, which plummeted from about 40 percent in early 2010 to around 20 percent currently, according to a survey of about 2,000 respondents conducted by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center think tank. The Party of Regions has relied on its control over parliament to ram through controversial legislation, such as a recent bill elevating the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, and will be focused particularly on scraping together a constitutional majority to adopt key changes in the constitution favorable to Yanukovych and the regime.
Party of Regions
The Party of Regions held a parliamentary majority since the 2007 parliamentary election. It was created in 1997 to represent the interests of Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the south and east of the country. The party and its then-presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, emerged as the losers of the 2004 Orange Revolution that swept the pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko to power. Yet after five years of stalled reforms and broken promises, the Party of Regions crept back to national prominence, having capitalized on public discontent with the Yushchenko administration. Today, despite a precipitous drop in ratings since Yanukovych’s election, the party remains the country’s most powerful single political force, and has emerged as a vehicle for the oligarchic business interests invested in the Yanukovych regime. It employs a populist approach, while also attempting to appeal to its blue-collar, working-class support base. Russia has traditionally thrown its support behind Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, though to varying degrees over the years. During the Orange Revolution, the Kremlin openly backed the party and its leader, but was quickly embarrassed by the resounding defeat. In the 2010 presidential election, Moscow tempered its position and announced it would work with either of the presidential candidates – at that time, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko. By 2010, however, Russia had grown increasingly impatient with the Yanukovych administration.
Fatherland brings together the two of the more visible opposition figures in Ukraine today. The party, which currently anchors the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) faction in parliament, is Tymoshenko’s flagship party and has a long history in the opposition. The Front for Change, a new and much smaller party led by Yatsenyuk, plans to blend into Fatherland and bypass a new law preventing political alliances, or “blocs,” from competing as joint forces. Yatsenyuk announced the cooperation agreement earlier this year as part of an effort to build a unified opposition to the Party of Regions and the Yanukovych administration. Fatherland advocates a pro-European platform, and has seen a small yet steady growth in public support alongside the Party of Regions’ drop. The combined forces of Tymoshenko and another key opposition figure, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, will offer a formidable challenge in the form of the Fatherland party, which may seek to work with a handful of other small opposition parties that make it past the 5 percent threshold into parliament. If the Party of Regions sees its 194-seat plurality in the 450-seat parliament eclipsed, especially by an opposition willing to work in concert, it could well embolden the otherwise divided and disenchanted anti-Yanukovych forces.
The Communist Party of Ukraine
As with many other post-Soviet countries, the Communist Party remains a relative mainstay on the Ukrainian political scene. While just passing the 5-percent threshold, the Communists have retained a visible presence in Ukrainian socio-political life, fielding outspoken and colorful individuals, such as firebrand Petro Symonenko, and publicly defending Kiev’s most famous Vladimir Lenin statue from nationalist attackers. As expected, the party enjoys the most support from retirees, but virtually none from younger voters and the first post-Soviet generation. It espouses a Marxist-Leninist ideology, though it has been known to work with the Party of Regions on key legislation and to collect votes otherwise intended for the ruling party.
Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR)
Among the newest Ukrainian political parties, UDAR (Russian for “punch”) was founded in April 2010 and is led by boxing champion-cum-politician Vitaliy Klitschko. Based on an earlier political coalition built around Klitschko’s 2006 political debut, in which he lost the Kiev mayoral election but gained 14 seats in the city council, UDAR has been slowly collecting political capital. In the 2010 local elections, it won about 400 seats on local and regional councils throughout Ukraine. Compared to its competitors, UDAR has enjoyed the most pre-election buzz: its support level has soared in recent months, and it seems set to collect seats in parliament. Experts have labeled it a political “dark horse,” noting it is unclear whether it would work with the ruling party or join the opposition. Its supports a platform of pro-Europeanism and anti-corruption.
All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom”
Ukraine’s token nationalist party, Freedom (or “Svoboda”) has crept slowly onto the national stage in recent years. Its main bastion of support lies in western Ukraine, where nationalist, pro-Ukrainian sentiment runs high and memories of Russian rule, whether Soviet or otherwise, remain deeply bitter. It has been a target of criticism in recent years for espousing ethnic intolerance and celebrating controversial heroes such as Stepan Bandera, the insurgent leader of a World War II-era independence movement but who is regarded in pro-Russian Ukraine and Russia as a terrorist. The party has also been accused of being funded and organized by the Party of Regions to funnel votes toward the ruling party from skeptical and frightened voters.
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