Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program

December 2012

Summary: Ukrainian experts generally regard the October 28 parliamentary election as a warm-up for the presidential contest scheduled for 2015. They are wrong: these elections have their own importance, as they produced a new composition of the Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada), with an important number of seats gained, for the first time, by a united opposition. The 2012 elections have also had an impact on Ukraine’s delayed choice between European integration and Russian-led integration alternatives. The opposition has a chance to push forward toward Europe.

A New Chance for Ukraine?
by Valeriy Chalyi and Oleh Shamshur

Ukrainian experts generally regard the October 28 parliamentary election as a warm-up for the presidential contest scheduled for 2015. They are wrong: these elections have their own importance, as they produced a new composition of the Parliament (the Verkhovna Rada), with an important number of seats gained, for the first time, by a united opposition. Many now hope that the pressing problems facing the country might finally be addressed: the rise of authoritarian tendencies, over-reliance on law enforcement agencies, degradation of the legislative branch, and shrinking of political and business competition. The 2012 elections have also had an impact on Ukraine’s delayed choice between European integration and Russian-led integration alternatives. The crisis of trust between Brussels and Kyiv became the backdrop of the 2012 election campaign in Ukraine, and it was the most, if not the only, important foreign policy issue discussed by candidates. The current stalemate in relations between EU and Ukraine is largely caused by internal developments in Ukraine and the actions (or inaction) of the current regime. Moving forward on the process of signing the Association Agreement, including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, depended on the progress Ukrainian authorities demonstrated in three key areas: ending the use of selective

justice, conducting free and fair elections, and resuming the reforms envisaged by Ukraine’s Association Agenda. We now know the expectation for the Ukrainian president and the government to deliver on their promise to conduct free and fair elections in order to save the relations between the country and the EU was too optimistic. Lack of appropriate legal reaction to violations of a hastily modified electoral law and the influence state institutions exerted on the decisions of the central, regional, and local electoral commissions throughout the process have influenced electoral results. This fact has been promptly noted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international observers who pronounced that “the 28 October parliamentary elections were characterized by the lack of a level playing field, caused primarily by the abuse of administrative resources, lack of transparency of campaign and party financing, and lack of balanced media coverage. Certain aspects of the pre-election period constituted a step backwards compared with recent national elections.” The electoral saga continues. Opposition parties (United Opposition Batkyvschyna, Ukrainian Alliance for Democratic Reforms — UDAR, and Svoboda) have claimed there was electoral fraud in the proportional part

1744 R Street NW Washington, DC 20009 T 1 202 745 3950 F 1 202 265 1662 E info@gmfus.org

Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program

of the system, 5 percent to their disadvantage. They are also contesting the results in five single-mandate districts, where a repeat of the vote has been mandated by the Central Electoral Commission. Results in two more districts, where victory has been claimed by candidates of the Party of Regions (PoR), will be appealed by opposition in the European Court of Human Rights. The flawed conduct of the parliamentary elections moved Ukrainian electoral habits away from standards accepted by democratic countries. Despite governmental influence on the election’s outcome and the majority the PoR has most likely secured in the new Parliament, the results actually pose a serious challenge to the governing party and to President Viktor Yanukovich. On November 13, more than two weeks after the election, the official results were finally released, except for the five single-mandate districts. According to the official tally, the 450 seats in the Verkhovna Rada have been allotted to: • Party of Regions (PoR) – 185 • United Opposition Batkyvschyna – 101 • UDAR – 40 • Svoboda – 37 • Communist Party – 32 • other parties – 7 • independent candidates – 43 The PoR remains the dominant force in the Rada, and it is expected to quickly build a majority by recruiting most of the independents, getting the Communists on its side,

and, many fear, stimulating or coercing defections from the opposition and the other parties. This, however, will still not change the fact that Ukrainian political landscape is no longer uniform, and serious political forces other than the Party of Regions have emerged. The electoral goal of the PoR, the 300-seat majority needed for Constitutional changes, has not been reached. The plan to change the election of the president from a direct, popular vote to a Parliamentary vote is now threatened, and so is the re-election of President Yanukovych in 2015, according to the polls. Moreover, the new PoR majority in the Verhovna Rada is not likely to be the obedient rubberstamping machine that is there now. As then-President Leonid Kuchma and his faction in the Verkhovna Rada did earlier, the PoR faction will now have to actually build a majority on each draft law up for debate by collaborating with parties and individuals that are not part of the wellgreased PoR party machinery. In the Ukrainian reality, this will call for mobilization of considerable resources of all kinds, with the appetite of the collaborators possibly only growing as presidential elections draw near. The most used, albeit illegal, parliamentary technique of casting one’s vote through proxies will also become more difficult, as the opposition has vowed to strictly implement the constitutional norm that forbids it. All in all, president and PoR will find it more difficult to impose their legislative agenda in the Verkhovna Rada than before. For the second time since the 2010 presidential elections, the ruling regime has to face substantial pushback from society and the opposition.1 Proof of this is the numerous popular protests against electoral fraud and the posture of the two new political forces — UDAR and Svoboda. These have become the new poles of attraction for voters disillusioned both with PoR and the “traditional” opposition. The actions of the new opposition indeed face the challenges of the extreme, xenophobic, and intolerant views of some Svoboda members, which make the party an uneasy partner for other opposition parties. Yet resisting the current government and president could prove a strong adhesive for the parties in the opposition, and help them maintain a common course of action.

The flawed conduct of the parliamentary elections moved Ukrainian electoral habits away from standards accepted by democratic countries.
2

1

The first such pushback was built by the nation-wide protests of SMEs against changes to the Tax Code at the end of 2010.

Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program

Within this context, the 2012 elections have opened a window of opportunity for the opposition, as well as for the development of Ukraine as a strong democratic country. This window is still narrow, and it may eventually shut, so the opposition will have to act cohesively. Short of a formal alliance within the Rada, which is not likely to occur for a variety of reasons ranging from personal relations and individual political ambitions to embraced ideologies, the opposition may still use all parliamentary means to resist the pressure of the majority. The Ukrainian opposition has to show the nation and outside partners and foes a new side to parliamentary work, to present a positive program of genuine reforms and efficiently co-ordinate its efforts while not caving in to the pressure from PoR. It needs to stand firmly against corruption and attempts to violate or breach the rules and norms of democracy. This, not personal charm, will help opposition parties mount a credible and successful challenge to the incumbent in the 2015 presidential elections. The November 12 joint statement of opposition leaders on a joint sponsorship in the Parliament of a legal package aimed at “combating corruption and restoring political and socio-economic rights and freedoms of Ukrainians” constitutes a first step in the right direction. It is to be followed by practical steps, however, starting with actually drafting the bills that will implement these as yet very general policy outlines. Possibly, opposition proposals will be rejected by the ruling majority; the opposition will then need to find efficient ways to convey its efforts to the general public and influence legislative work. It is, however, not only the results of parliamentary work that matter; it is also the process. Especially in a country where the Parliament and parliamentarians have historically only played a rubber stamp role, the current opposition has a unique chance to raise the quality of parliamentary debates and of constituency work, and to give real meaning to the parliamentary process and bring it closer to democratic norms. Finally, Ukrainian authorities and the EU hoped the 2012 parliamentary elections would be an opportunity to jumpstart faltering bi-lateral interaction and remove obstacles to closer relations. Instead, the undemocratic conduct of the elections has exacerbated existing tensions. The UkraineEU annual summit, stipulated in the current Partnership

The current opposition has a unique chance to raise the quality of parliamentary debates and of constituency work, and to give real meaning to the parliamentary process and bring it closer to democratic norms.
and Co-operation Agreement, was postponed. The prospect of signing the Association Agreement, which some had optimistically anticipated would take place in 2013, has withered. The bleaker scenario freezing this process until the 2015 presidential elections, leaving Ukraine in a grey zone for three more years, is now more realistic. During this period, Ukrainian leadership will feel increasing pressure from their Russian counterparts, who reputedly never take “no” for an answer, to join the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. And there is no secret that this is only the prelude of Ukraine joining the Eurasian Union. Recently, there have been indications of the lack of unity of Ukrainian leadership on the course of the country’s integration: conflicting statements on this question by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his first deputy Valeriy Khoroshkovsky are more proof of existing fissures. It is yet to be seen if these will evolve into actual faultlines, or will be cemented together by common political and economic interests. A vigorous opposition would bring the odds closer to the first possible outcome, while a lame opposition would only favor the second. The looming economic and debt crisis in Ukraine poses serious risks to the country in general and to opposition in particular, as it threatens European integration. The end of this year has already witnessed further contraction of real GDP, a steep decline in industrial production caused by further weakening of external demand for steel and iron, and worsening domestic conditions. State finances have

3

Foreign Policy and Civil Society Program

become extremely fragile due to the widening of the state budget deficit, deteriorating foreign trade balance, and high external financing needs coupled with the limited external credit resources. Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, found itself under serious depreciation pressures. Many pundits fear that this is only a beginning of much more serious economic woes in 2013. This precarious situation blows wind into the sails of the advocates of a final rapprochement with Russia, in order to receive its limited but so much needed by the government, economic favors. The likelihood of this scenario is increased by the growing division on the country’s closeness to Europe within the elite Ukrainian business community. Certainly, the leaders of the Ukrainian business community see new opportunities to advance their commercial and financial interests in the establishment of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DFTA) with EU, and at the same time insulate their business empires from the pervasive influence and intrusion of state bodies. They still can, however, operate comfortably within the existing opaque business environment, while the lucrative sale of their assets to foreign, recently mostly Russian, buyers always remains an option. In all its bitterness, the gravity of the situation may well act as a catalyst for the actions of the opposition, and could use geopolitics as a strong unifying goal. The opposition has a tough job in pushing European integration further, both within and outside the country. Signing of the DFTA remains the most powerful tool to halt the country’s flirtation with Russia, and open the way to genuine modernization. Since the Ukrainian government proved it had little intention to comply with the conditions set forth by its European partners, signing the Agreement is not a near-term possibility. It is now the job of the opposition to remind the European Union of the negative effects this lack of agreement has not only on the government, but also on Ukrainian economy and society as a whole, and to advance solutions and formulas allowing for the continuation of Ukraine’s European integration even under the current circumstances. This may ultimately take the form not of the traditional inter-governmental dialogue, but of the promotion of active engagement of civil society and of democratic forces in general.

The recent parliamentary elections in Ukraine have produced a dichotomic effect: the prospects of signing the Association Agreement and finally moving forward with Ukraine’s European integration have been indeed seriously damaged, yet a new parliamentary opposition with a good chance of changing the dynamics and nature of Ukrainian politics has emerged. This will come to fruition if the opposition understands one of its main tasks is to keep the European option open for the country, an approach that might make the presidential elections in 2015 a more attainable goal.
About the Authors
Valeryi Chalyi is the deputy director-general of the Rasumkov Centre and Oleh Shamshur is a non-resident fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Both authors live and work in Kyiv, Ukraine, and are participants in the GMF-funded project “Ukraine’s quest for European integration: internal and external dimensions.”

About GMF
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has seven offices in Europe: Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.

About the On Wider Europe Series
This series is designed to focus in on key intellectual and policy debates regarding Western policy toward Wider Europe that otherwise might receive insufficient attention. The views presented in these papers are the personal views of the authors and not those of the institutions they represent or The German Marshall Fund of the United States.

4

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful