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New Ukrainian Parliament Keeps Politics A Family Affair

October 30, 2012

by Daisy Sindelar

Some people see work as a chance to get away from their families.

But when Ukrainian lawmakers gather for the first session of the newly elected Verkhovna Rada, they may feel like they never left home.

That's because a significant number of incoming and returning deputies are close relatives of high-placed politicians, a trend that Ukrainians refer to as "kumivstvo," or nepotism.

There's Oleksiy Azarov, the 41-year-old son of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, a political unknown who recently returned to Ukraine from Austria with the aim of entering government.

There's Artem Pshonka, the son of Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka and part of what supporters admiringly call "Ukraine's Kennedy dynasty."

And then there's Pavlo Baloha and Vasyl Petevka, the brother and cousin of Viktor Baloha, the powerful emergencies minister from Ukraine's Transcarpathian region, who himself won reelection. (A third Baloha brother, Ivan, failed to win in his district.)

'Their Personal Decision'

Speaking ahead of the October 28 vote, Viktor Baloha said his family-style strategy -- in which all four men ran as nonaligned, single-mandate candidates -- differed little from politics in the West.

"I do not want to appear immodest to you, but there have been two Bush presidents [in the United States]. We have three Baloha brothers running for parliament, and they are not running with a political party that is certain to win," Baloha said. "These guys are running on their own, in single-mandate constituencies.

"Now, the question is not about clans or families, but about the fact that Ukraine should have more families with the opportunity to run and win in elections." he continued. "Besides, I can't tell [my brothers and cousin] not to run. That was their personal decision. Of course, I supported them."

In total, dozens of relatives of high-ranking lawmakers and politicians will be entering the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada.

Many of them are entering parliament after winning one of the parliament's 225 single-mandate seats -- a situation in which candidates can particularly profit from the influence and endorsements of well-placed relatives.

Azarov, for example, ran a lavish campaign, using billboards and posters to trumpet claims he used personal and sometimes budget funds to aid local infrastructure projects in his single-mandate Slovyanske district of Ukraine's Donbass region.

In at least one instance, the administration of a local railway station denied Azarov's claims of contributing to recent renovations. But the impression of a generous social spender seemed to stick: Current returns show him winning handily with around 75 percent.

Vulnerable To Corruption

The strong bloodlines coursing through the Verkhovna Rada are fueling a conviction among many Ukrainians that their parliament is highly vulnerable to clan loyalties and corruption.

It's a suggestion that has raised hackles among many politicians, including Oleh Tyahnybok, the head of the Svoboda (Freedom) party, which took less than 10 percent of the vote but will see the entrance of not only Tyahnybok but his brother, Andriy.

Speaking during a live discussion broadcast by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Tyahnybok bristled at the suggestion that there was anything untoward about sharing a parliamentary career with his brother.

"You continuously distort information and make insinuations about [my] brother. My brother is a member of our party, just as I have been, for 21 years," he said. "My brother is an activist in our political force. Furthermore, in this district, he is a deputy in the Lviv regional council. He is not just some random person."

Maryana Drach of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/ukraine-yanukovych-parliamentary-majority/24755715.html

Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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