Par­lia­men­tary chron­i­cles

A look at how voter at­ti­tudes have shifted over the years and how the Verkhovna Rada has been shaped since in­de­pen­dence

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­skiy

How voter at­ti­tudes have shifted over the years and how the Verkhovna Rada has been shaped since in­de­pen­dence

Ukraine is fac­ing its next, eighth, round of Verkhovna Rada elec­tions. In its rel­a­tively brief mod­ern his­tory, the coun­try’s leg­is­la­ture has seen its role wax and wane, depend­ing on the po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, but there has never been a point where it had no power and func­tioned in a rub­ber-stamp­ing ca­pac­ity. On the con­trary, over time its in­flu­ence has es­sen­tially con­tin­ued to grow.

1994: THE GREAT MIX-UP. The first VR elec­tions in in­de­pen­dent Ukraine took place on March 27, 1994. This snap elec­tion was called when both Pres­i­dent Leonid Kravchuk and the leg­is­la­ture agreed to re­boot the gov­ern­ment: there had been a mas­sive min­ers’ strike in 1993 that led to a po­lit­i­cal cri­sis. The VR elec­tion was then sched­uled for the spring of 1994 and the pres­i­den­tial one for the sum­mer. The 1994 cam­paign was or­ga­nized in a man­ner typ­i­cal of the era and was marked by the kind of slop­pi­ness and con­fu­sion that was com­mon in the mid 1990s. The de­ci­sion was made to elect deputies on a first-past-the-post (FPTP) ba­sis with 450 “ma­jori­tar­ian” rid­ings, as they are called in Ukraine. Vot­ing was to take place in no more than two rounds: if no can­di­date picked up at least 50% +1 in the first round, then the top two vote-get­ters would run off against each other in a sec­ond round. But even then, the win­ner was de­clared only if that per­son man­aged to get at least 50% +1 of the votes cast. Be­cause vot­ers were given a third op­tion, “None of the above,” this re­quire­ment was not easy to meet in some rid­ings. More­over, no win­ner was de­clared if less than 50% of vot­ers turned up to vote in a par­tic­u­lar dis­trict. In that case, a third round was of­fi­cially called. These dif­fi­cult rules made it im­pos­si­ble for the 1994 elec­tion to re­sult in a com­plete Rada. In the first round, only 49 can­di­dates won out­right, while 401 rid­ings un­der­went a sec­ond round. But even there, 114 rid­ings failed to de­clare a win­ner — and many of the third rounds also did not man­age to come up with clear win­ners. The process was pro­tracted and by early 1995, with 45 va­cant seats, the Rada was still only 90% full. In the end, some dis­tricts did not have a sit­ting MP un­til the fol­low­ing elec­tion. The re­sult of this idio­syn­cratic elec­tion in 1994 was a very mixed-bag leg­is­la­ture. A to­tal of 15 po­lit­i­cal par­ties gained seats and the ma­jor­ity of deputies were in­de­pen­dents. 1998: THE RED COME­BACK AND ITS HENCH­MEN (AND WOMEN). The 1998 VR elec­tion was the first “proper” elec­tion in the sense that Ukraini­ans know to­day. Vot­ing, as now, was based on a mixed FPTP and pro­por­tional sys­tem: half of the deputies were elected based on party lists and half in “ma­jori­tar­ian” rid­ings. To gain seats in the Rada, par­ties had to reach a 4% thresh­old and eight par­ties met this re­quire­ment. The re­sults of this elec­tion from two decades ago would look like an ut­ter dis­as­ter for con­tem­po­rary Ukraini­ans, as it was a tri­umph of soviet come­back par­ties that looked to Rus­sia. The top win­ner, with a big lead, was the Com­mu­nist Party of Ukraine (CPU), which took a ma­jor­ity of seats in 15 oblasts, Crimea, Kyiv, and Sev­astopol. To­day, such an out­come can only be the stuff of night­mares, but 20 years ago, af­ter sev­eral years of hy­per­in­fla­tion, and mount­ing un­paid wages and pen­sions, this was the re­al­ity in Ukraine. The com­mu­nists came first even in western Ch­er­nivtsi Oblast. In two more oblasts, the Ru­ral Party of Ukraine (RPU) and So­cial­ist Party of Ukraine (SPU) won by ap­peal­ing to the soviet elec­torate. The Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party of Ukraine (PSPU) un­der Natalia Vitrenko, who was seen as a spoiler and lit­tle more than a clone of Olek­sandr Moroz’s SPU, backed by then-Pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma, also gained seats in the Rada. How­ever,

the sup­port “Vit­ri­olic” Vitrenko had demon­strated the pop­u­lar­ity of the rad­i­cal red and brown slo­gans she es­poused. What’s more, PSPU’s main strong­hold was not the Don­bas or Crimea but Sumy Oblast, where the party got 21% of the vote.

All told, the Reds got 37% of the vote and 174 seats, a sim­i­lar pro­por­tion, in the Verkhovna Rada. Had that elec­tion been held on a pro­por­tional ba­sis, such a leg­is­la­ture could have led to the col­lapse of the Ukrainian state, but the sin­gle-rid­ing deputies saved the day be­cause in­de­pen­dents won in most of these dis­tricts and they tended to co­op­er­ate with the gov­ern­ment. More­over, in two oblasts the par­ties that won were “feu­dal” par­ties who were able to gain sig­nif­i­cant sup­port through the ad­min­is­tra­tive lever­age pro­vided by their in­vis­i­ble “mas­ters.” For in­stance, in Zakarpat­tia Oblast, Vik­tor Medved­chuk’s SDPU (o) won with a healthy mar­gin, tak­ing 31% of the vote com­pared to 4% na­tion­ally. In Dnipropetro­vsk Oblast, 35.3% of the vote went to Pavlo Lazarenko’s Hro­mada, of the most in­flu­en­tial Ukraini­ans at that time and Yu­lia Ty­moshenko’s pa­tron.

The real sur­prise in the 1998 elec­tion was the ar­rival of the Green Party in the Rada. At the end of the 1990s, most Ukraini­ans were too busy wor­ry­ing about get­ting paid to worry about ecol­ogy, yet the Greens man­aged to pick up more than 5% of the pop­u­lar vote. How­ever, many of them seem to have voted for this party as a form of protest.

2002: RED PAR­TIES FADE AND OR­ANGE IS IN. At the start of the new mil­len­nium, the mood be­gan to shift among Ukraini­ans and the protest vot­ers be­gan to turn away from the com­mu­nists. The be­gin­ning of the end for the CPU was Petro Sy­mo­nenko’s failed bid for the pres­i­dency in 1999, when he openly gave in to Leonid Kuchma. At the same time the na­tional democrats man­aged to over­come the cri­sis that their camp faced af­ter the death of Vi­ach­eslav Chornovil and a split in Nar­o­d­niy Rukh. They also found a new, charis­matic leader in Vik­tor Yushchenko, around whom a va­ri­ety of mi­nor par­ties be­gan to unite. Even­tu­ally, these na­tional-demo­cratic forces took the name Nasha Ukraina, mean­ing Our Ukraine, and were as­so­ci­ated with their or­ange-col­ored ban­ner. In this elec­tion, the Or­ange camp had the high­est share of the pop­u­lar vote, 23.5%. NU beat out even the com­mu­nists, whose pop­u­lar­ity kept go­ing down, as did sup­port for the so­cial­ists. In ad­di­tion to Nasha Ukraina, the CPU and SPU, the pro-western Block of Yu­lia Ty­moshenko (BYT) made it into the Rada, as did two pro-Kuchma par­ties: Za Ye­dynu Ukrainu and SDPU (o), Al­though they only had 18.5% al­to­gether, the “in­de­pen­dents” once again saved Pres­i­dent Kuchma’s skin. Kuchma’s “Za Yed U,” a pe­jo­ra­tive nick­name that read as “For Food,” got 11.8% of the vote, which trans­lated into only 35 seats. But the epony­mous fac­tion in the Rada soon grew to 175 deputies, all thanks to “ma­jori­tar­ian” or in­de­pen­dent deputies. In other words, the party that had far less pop­u­lar sup­port ended up the big­gest force in the leg­is­la­ture. Za Yedu later trans­formed into the in­fa­mous Party of the Re­gions and was in­her­ited by Vik­tor Yanukovych.

2006: A PAR­LIA­MEN­TARY REPUB­LIC. The 2006 Rada elec­tion took place in a very dif­fer­ent coun­try, where the Con­sti­tu­tion had been amended to turn it into a par­lia­men­tary-pres­i­den­tial repub­lic. Af­ter the 2002 tri­umph, the Or­ange camp proved suc­cess­ful enough to en­sure Vik­tor Yushchenko’s vic­tory in the 2004 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion af­ter the much-lauded Or­ange Rev­o­lu­tion. Af­ter a dirty cam­paign that in­cluded bal­lot-stuff­ing and other ma­nip­u­la­tions, Vik­tor Yanukovych lost and it seemed like his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was over. But

as the Or­ange suf­fered from ir­rec­on­cil­able dif­fer­ences and end­less squab­bles be­tween the two prin­ci­pals, Yushchenko and his PM, Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, and the na­tional democrats’ in­abil­ity to make good on key prom­ises like “Ban­dits to jail,” vot­ers were quickly dis­en­chanted and de­mor­al­ized. Their ig­no­min­ious de­feat in 2004 con­sol­i­dated the elites in south­east­ern Ukraine, who all looked to Rus­sia. Yanukovych him­self quickly re­cov­ered from the shock and mended fences with Yushchenko. All these de­vel­op­ments led to a sweep­ing vic­tory for Party of the Re­gions in the 2006 VR elec­tion, tak­ing over nearly the en­tire elec­torate of the CPU and be­com­ing the main pro-Rus­sian force in Ukraine. For the Com­mu­nist Party of Ukraine, 2006 was a night­mare: the 20% of the vote it had gained in 2002 col­lapsed to 3.6%. The Party only gained a seat in the Rada be­cause the thresh­old had been dropped to 3%.

In 2006, vot­ing took place for the first time on a strictly pro­por­tional ba­sis, mean­ing only ac­cord­ing to party lists. This ap­proach put an end to the free-for-all in the Rada. This time, only five par­ties met the thresh­old and they were clearly split into Or­ange and pro-Rus­sian. The ex­cep­tion was Olek­sandr Moroz’s So­cial­ist Party, which joined the Or­ange camp. It suc­ceeded in bury­ing the Fifth Con­vo­ca­tion of the Verkhovna Rada, which turned out to be the short­est-lived in the his­tory of Ukraine. Ini­tially, the so­cial­ists formed a coali­tion with Nasha Ukraina and the Ty­moshenko’s bloc, but then they sud­denly switched to the other side and formed a coali­tion with PR and CPU. Even this for­ma­tion failed to last long. Pres­i­dent Yushchenko soon dis­missed the leg­is­la­ture and called a snap elec­tion. Moroz’s be­trayal proved to be the SPU’s swan song: they never made it into the next Rada. 2007: AN­OTHER COME­BACK. The 2007 snap elec­tion did not end up sig­nif­i­cantly chang­ing the bal­ance of po­lit­i­cal forces in the Verkhovna Rada. Once again, five par­ties gained seats, with the so­cial­ists re­placed by the amor­phous Block of Volodymyr Lytvyn, a for­mer speaker. Its suc­cess was the big sur­prise this time. Like the year be­fore, Party of the Re­gions gained the most seats. BYT im­proved its po­si­tion con­sid­er­ably, gain­ing 8.4% over its 2006 re­sult to nearly match PR. In fact, Ty­moshenko was the big win­ner this time. In De­cem­ber 2007, she took on the post of PM once again. The re­sults of this vote looked like a suc­cess for he Or­ange camp and al­lowed them to re­gain con­trol of the Rada af­ter the be­trayal of the so­cial­ists. How­ever, this suc­cess also proved short-lived when Vik­tor Yanukovych won the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion barely 2 years later. Within days, the leg­is­la­ture turned from or­ange to blue and white. This time the main role in the swift change of the guard was played by Lytvyn. 2012: ON THE PATH TO DIC­TA­TOR­SHIP. In 2012, the VR elec­tion went back to the mixed sys­tem. The new pres­i­dent un­der­stood by then that he would not be able to con­trol the Rada as long as elec­tions were pro­por­tional, and so he re­verted to some of Kuchma’s old tricks: bring­ing a mass of FPTP deputies to the leg­is­la­ture who then helped him form a solid coali­tion to work on his agenda. In the end, PR and CPU gained fewer votes than the op­po­si­tion par­ties. Protest

votes went to Svo­boda, which sur­pris­ingly gained 10%. Even money and se­ri­ous ad­min­is­tra­tive lever­age did not guar­an­tee PR and its al­lies an un­mit­i­gated vic­tory, but the “ma­jori­tar­i­ans” came to the res­cue. Most of these sup­pos­edly in­de­pen­dent deputies rapidly joined the pro-ad­min­is­tra­tion par­ties. Now Yanukovych had a leg­is­la­ture that he was in full con­trol of. This helped him to strengthen his po­si­tion in a short time, but in the end it could not save him from a dis­grace­ful fall.

2014: A NEW ERA. Af­ter the Euro­maidan rev­o­lu­tion and Yanukovych’s flight from Ukraine, the is­sue of re­boot­ing the gov­ern­ment nat­u­rally came up. Once the pres­i­dent was re­placed, it was time to re­place the Rada as well. The oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea and part of Don­bas, armed con­flict in the coun­try’s east, and the col­lapse of Party of the Re­gions meant that any pro-Rus­sian forces had no chance of tak­ing power. And so, the 2014 elec­tion brought Ukraine its first Ukrainian leg­is­la­ture since in­de­pen­dence. The rump PR, which cam­paigned un­der a new brand as the Op­po­si­tion Bloc, was able to get only 27 deputies elected ac­cord­ing to party lists. This was a real take­down. The rest of the Rada seats went to na­tional-demo­cratic par­ties that made use of harshly anti-Rus­sian rhetoric and pro­moted Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion in their cam­paigns. The new ad­min­is­tra­tion de­cided to leave the FPTP half of the elec­tion in place, which helped many for­mer PR mem­bers to gain seats again and, as in the past, the “in­de­pen­dents” tended to co­op­er­ate with them. They formed sev­eral fac­tions in the Rada, but, in good po­lit­i­cal tra­di­tion, they be­gan to play the rul­ing coali­tion. The dra­matic events of 2014, which was the most dif­fi­cult year Ukraine had lived through, led to a ma­jor re­shap­ing of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape. Old par­ties and politi­cians lost sup­port and new he­roes took their place. In spring 2014, Oleh Lyashko’s star be­gan to rise, when ear­lier no one took him se­ri­ously. He ac­tively pro­moted him­self in re­la­tion to the con­flict in Donetsk Oblast and ini­tially used in na­tional-pa­tri­otic slo­gans. This, of course, pushed his rat­ings up quickly and he was able to get his party elected. The real “black swan” event in 2014, how­ever, was the suc­cess of a com­pletely new party, Samopomich or Self-Re­liance, which had been formed not long be­fore the elec­tion. Nar­o­d­niy Front also showed un­ex­pect­edly high re­sults, beat­ing out even the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, which had been ex­pected to come in first. 2019: COMING SOON... What the 2019 elec­tion will look like is any­one’s guess. The only thing that can be said with cer­tainty is that this will be the most un­pre­dictable elec­tion. Party rat­ings are scrap­ing the bot­tom like never be­fore and po­lit­i­cal forces are frag­mented. This means that any new al­liance could rad­i­cally change the bal­ance of forces on the po­lit­i­cal front. Whichever can­di­date wins the pres­i­dency is cer­tain to be suc­cess­ful in the Rada elec­tion as well, thanks to the usual un­de­clared mass of “ma­jori­tar­i­ans.” In the end, the mixed sys­tem was not changed, which means that the leg­is­la­ture will once again have dozens of deputies whose po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions are vague and who will be pre­pared to join what­ever force prom­ises the best terms.

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