This article is part of the serie “Eastern neighborhood: the silent consolidation of authoritarianism”. Pieces on elections in Georgia, Belarus and Russia can be found here.
The Ukrainian parliamentary elections’ day turned out to be calm and the voting process peaceful, mainly because the main actors played their winning cards well in advance.
Main flaws of the electoral process
The preliminary conclusions of the OSCE/ODIHR report cast doubts on the winning party’s campaign slogan - “stability and well-being” – as it found that the electoral process was worse than in 2007. The report sharply criticizes 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”. Moreover, EU leaders criticised the delay of the tabulation, as fraud suspicions were raised by Ukraine’s opposition parties.
The electoral law (2011), adopted under consensus, leaves a lot of loopholes and room for manoeuvre. The return to a mixed system (proportional lists and single-seat mandates), the prohibition of party blocks, the lack of criteria for constituency delimitation, details concerning campaign financing and limits on the right to stand as a candidate (prohibition for those who have been convicted or are in prison) are just a few examples of such loopholes. As far as the implementation of the law is concerned, international observers considered it poor: the composition of electoral commissions was mostly one-sided and their members tended to act as players instead of acting as referees. Even if according to the new electoral law webcams were installed in polling stations in order to reduce fraud, their effectiveness is questioned due to incomplete coverage.
Yanukovych’s party likely to build a majority
The preliminary outcome did not surprise anyone: with nearly 35% and probably half of the single-mandate seats, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PoR) took over its main opponent - Yulia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party (22.5%), thus reinforcing the so-called “predatory dictatorship”. However, the PoR will still need a coalition to get a majority. Its usual partners, the Communists, scored about 15%, while their other opponents, heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s party, “Udar”, and the ultra-nationalist “Svoboda”, scored 13% and 8% respectively.
The PoR’s real power-base in parliament remains unclear. Single mandate-seats count for half of the total number of seats and some of them are allocated for independent and non-aligned candidates. Analysts and election observers expressed concerns that most of these seats will go to the PoR or to the Communist party. This would reinforce Yanukovych's control over the Parliament in a similar fashion as in 2007. The maths so far show that PoR is likely to win 267 seats (60%) in Parliament, communists and independents included.
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement on hold
The misconduct of the elections will certainly add supplementary reasons for the EU to postpone the signature of the Association Agreement (AA), which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), and for which both parties have long been bidding for. The negotiations have been concluded in end-March 2012. However, the allegations of violent treatment of imprisoned Yulia Tymoshenko raised in mid-April, as well as the renewal of sentences in her and former minister Lutsenko's case, led EU policy makers to postpone the signature and the entry into force of the Agreement.
Right before the elections, during the Annual Conference of EU Heads of Delegation, President Barroso stressed that "the signing of the agreement will depend on Kiev's commitment to the European values". Many analysts recommend the EU to stick with its tough standards and show determination in its relationship with Ukraine. However, some diplomats suggest that the AA should be eventually signed to avoid pushing Ukraine into a Belarus-type isolation.
An insight into the Association Agreement negotiations
Ukraine’s democratic path and the signature and ratification of the AA is of great importance for the EU, not only in terms of the economy (liberalisation of trade, market enlargement, investment opportunities for European companies etc.), but also from a geopolitical point of view. It would firstly mean that the policies and the funding initiated under the Eastern Partnership were effective and worthy. In addition, the EU would gain stability at its borders and would reinforce its influence, while Russia would lose some of its leverage in the region; the EU would sustain the positive momentum in the 5+2 talks regarding the Transnistrian conflict, where Ukraine is a mediator; probably the gas-related frictions between Russia and Ukraine potentially affecting Europe would be addressed in a different perspective.
On the other hand, Ukraine's public opinion is divided over the DCFTA issue. An IFRI report shows that regular citizen are either unaware or not interested in the implications of the DCFTA agreement, while oligarchs or businessmen are mostly in favour, foreseeing the economic opportunities. As far as policymakers are concerned, they support whatever EU agreement would win them some votes - especially PoR politicians who have been often accused of being pro-Russian.
Who won the political battle?
After the constitutional "restoration" of the presidency operated since Yanukovych came to power, his plan to change the constitution and have an indirectly elected President might fail if the PoR does not succeed in creating a strong majoritarian coalition. Chances are for this to happen, as Yanukovych cannot rely on strong economic performance (his main focus was on consolidating power in the last two years) and his political legitimacy and accountability have been highly eroded. Surprisingly, this might benefit Vitali Klitschko’s Udar Party, which, with its 13%, might decide Ukraine’s future during the next parliamentary mandate.
What next for the European Union?
The European Union should adapt its strategy to the changing environment in Ukraine. As some analysts say, the EU should remain tough on human rights issues and on the respect for the rule of law (by enhancing the fight against corruption, eventually setting-ip a visa bans list for corrupt judges and oligarchs). This should not exclude a show of openness, through visa liberalisation and support for SMEs i.a., and delivering sustainable policies to those who most need it: the people of Ukraine. As a recent EUObserver article puts it, concluding agreements with countries like Moldova and Georgia, which have shown political will and have progressed on their path to democracy, could work as a strong incentive for Ukraine to comply with the European conditions and become a more reliable partner.