Graham Sack in Kyiv -
Ukrainians have elected a pro-European parliament in snap elections on October 26, according to preliminary results. The results show pro-European parties headed by President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk respectively are neck-and-neck for first place, with 20% of votes counted. Both men said they would form a coalition with each other.
The results broadly tally with pre-election opinion polls and exit polls in giving a large majority to pro-Europe parties. But with parties registered by Poroshenko – the Petro Poroshenko Bloc – and Yatsenyuk – People's Front – hardly older than the election campaign itself, and around 30% of voters undecided down to the wire, the exact distribution of voters among the pro-European parties was always uncertain.
As it was, it seems voters have given a rebuke to Poroshenko, who took a barnstorming 52% in presidential elections held May 25 but whose eponymous party has now managed to garner less than half of that, following a lost war against Russian-backed insurgents in East Ukraine and the collapse of the currency in the intervening months. Poroshenko's votes went to Yatsenyuk's People's Front, who like Poroshenko is a pro-Western liberal technocrat, but has consistently taken a more hawkish position on Russsia than has the president.
Exit polls suggest that the two parties would take over 50% of seats in the Rada, which is elected using a mix of proportional representation and first-past-the-post constituencies.
Surprise performer of the day was the Samopomich party of pro-European Lviv mayor, Andri Sadovyi, which surged to third place with just over 10% of the vote.
The traditional opponent of Ukraine's pro-European groups – the pro-Russian East Ukrainian voters –were represented this time round by the newly formed Opposition Bloc, which came in fourth place with 9%. Pro-European nationalist populists Oleh Lyashko and his Radical Party, and Yulia Tymoshenko with her Batkyvschina party, were on 8% and 6% respectively.
The pro-European vote was helped by a turnout that neared the 70% mark in the West Ukraine regions of Lviv and Ternopol, which boosted the vote for Yatsenyuk's People's Front while also propelling Lviv mayor Sadovyi's Sampomich party to a surprising third place.
The collapse of the pro-Russian vote is the result of Ukraine's loss of control over its former pro-Russian heartland of Donbass and Crimea in the east, following Russia's annexation of Crimea and Russian-backed rebels seizing control of Donbass.
But there were worrying signs of political disaffection across the Ukrainian-controlled south and east. The voter turnout was low at just over 30% in the Ukrainian-controlled parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and around 40% in Odesa and Kharkiv regions. Exit polls showed that of those who turned out to vote across East Ukraine, around 30% voted for the Opposition Bloc, headed by figures associated with the former administration of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych's Party of Regions, which governed Ukraine until Yanukovych's ouster in February, did not run in these elections.
The only response of rebel leaders in Donbass to the Ukrainian parliamentary elections was to announce that they would not put the clocks back to winter time like the rest of Ukraine did on October 26, but retain summer time, thus switching to Moscow time, as Crimea has already done.
Pro-European forces announced that talks on a coalition had already started. The strong result of PM Yatsenyuk's People's Front means he is almost certain to retain his job. On the other hand, President Poroshenko has until now lacked his own political force in the Rada. While the result of his Petro Poroshenko Bloc came in lower than expected, it will still entitle him to put his own people in key parliamentary and government positions.
Yatsenyuk was staying mum about the demands his strong performance will enable him to make, saying only that the government should be "comprised exclusively of professionals able to conduct reforms needed to change Ukraine," in a statement at his party headquarters in the evening after the vote.
The new government will have to take responsibility for swingeing austerity measures demanded of Ukraine by the International Monetary Fund and EU, the country's main donors, to fend off a looming default.
One potential source of friction between Porosenko and Yatsenyuk in coalition talks, according to analysts, could be Poroshenko's drive to secure a coalition with a constitutional majority of over two-thirds of seats, in order to amend the current constitution. This would necessitate including in the coalition third place Samopomich and smaller parties. "We will offer [participation in the coalition] to very many parties… in order to attain a constitutional majority," Poroshenko said in the wee hours of October 27.
But Yatsenyuk is unlikely to see the necessity of taking on board smaller parties, and indeed in changing the constitution, which in its current position provides for a strong prime minister, Volodymyr Fesenko of Penta political consultancy told bne.
Yatsenyuk's strong showing is also likely to to complicate international talks over the terms under which Ukraine receives Russian gas, its trade relations with Europe and its foreign debt, say analysts. Under Ukraine's current constitution, economic matters are the competence of the prime minister, but foreign policy is the responsibility of the president. Yatsenyuk has until now allowed Poroshenko to deal with these questions, but this may change given his new personal mandate.
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