In less than 2 weeks, Ukraine will hold a historical election with 36.7 million registered voters going to the polls. Their parliament, Verkhovna Rada, recently adopted a new electoral law that is more in line with international standards and builds on Ukraine’s successful efforts to move towards Westernization. The election, set for October 28th, will be a mixed voting system with 250 members of Verkhovna Rada being elected by party list and the other 250 members being candidates representing districts.
Traditionally, Ukraine parliament has been elected using party lists, in which citizens only voted for parties and the party leadership decided the actual representatives. Unfortunately, the party list system was plagued by corruption as party leaders abused the power that came with placing deputies in parliament. However, in a country with 22 political parties, there is a need to ensure that everyone has a voice in parliament. By using a mixed voting system, Ukraine’s parliament can include everyone and put a stop to the dishonesty that has shaken the people’s trust in their government. Electing half of parliament by a single member district system, as we do in the United States, is a new addition to their election process. Citizens will have the opportunity to choose who they want to represent their district in parliament. While there are so many political parties and over 3,000 candidates on the ballots, there are three major parties that dominate politics in Ukraine.
The Party of Regions, which is the current party in power, is led by President Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Originally, the party was supported Russian President Vladimir Putin but, to his disappointment, the Party of Regions has turned out to be more pro-Ukraine than pro-Russia. As previously noted, Yanukovych and Azarov have been working hard to achieve energy independence that is more beneficial to the people of Ukraine. They have had to overcome a gas contract with Russia’s Gazprom made by the previous administration, which was led by the United Opposition party, that favored Russia over Ukraine’s interests. Of course Ukraine’s efforts at independence have not gone unnoticed by Putin, who has created a new system of gas lines known as the North Stream. The new line redirects gas to the European Union (EU) and bypasses Ukraine which creates financial strain for the country. With his North Stream, Putin makes it all too obvious that he is trying to gain back political power in Ukraine and convince them to join his Customs Union instead of the EU.
The United Opposition party is led by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (who is currently in jail for the gas deal she brokered with Russia) and Arseniy Yatsenyuk from the Front for Change party. Despite the fact that the party can be seen as being largely pro-Russian, they recently joined forces with the more pro-Western Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) in the hopes of increasing their chances of winning against the popular Party of Regions. UDAR is the newest political party in Ukraine and is led by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
The new electoral law that created the mixed voting system was crafted by many different political parties in the Ukraine along with recommendations from European organizations. European leaders are already praising what is sure to be a successfully democratic election. The new election law has also given rise to more calls that the EU and Ukraine move forward with the signing of the Association Agreement. Whether the people of Ukraine want to go back to being under Putin’s hand or move further towards independence will be decided in this election.
Two back-to-back events today will highlight the struggle and pressure Ukraine faces in deciding the fate of their country with the world watching. The Atlantic Council will be hosting what is being seen as a more pro-Russian event entitled, “Ukraine’s Upcoming Parliamentary Elections: A Pivotal Moment for Democracy?” at 11:00 am. As shown in their 990 forms, the Atlantic Council has previously spent almost half a million dollars promoting Russian energy interests overseas. Following that at 12:00 will be the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, “Public and Political Outlook in Ukraine” which will be live-streamed.