Will Ukraine Vote West?

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko is looking forward to a handy victory in Sunday’s elections, despite security concerns and the fact that most residents of separatist-held areas in the east will not be voting:

Poroshenko is seeking a mandate to press ahead with a plan for ending the conflict with separatists in Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern regions and establishing an understanding with Moscow while pursuing a course of European integration. Interfax news agency quoted him as saying on Thursday that he expected to be able to begin forming a new coalition by early next week that would be “pro-European, anti-corruption, without liars and populists.”

Stephen Sestanovich also predicts that mainstream, pro-Europe parties allied with Poroshenko will take a plurality or even a majority of seats, while the Communists and right-wing nationalist parties will be marginalized:

Recent polls show President Petro Poroshenko’s bloc likely to get 30% or so of the vote for party lists. (Half of the new Rada, or parliament, will be elected proportionally; the rest will be chosen in single-member districts.) Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front may get around 11%, and it’s possible that together he and President Poroshenko will command a majority of seats.

On both the left and right, parties hoping to collect protest votes are being disappointed.

This could be the first election anywhere in the former Soviet Union in which the Communist Party falls below the 5% minimum required to win a bloc of seats. Russian spokesmen have spent months screaming about the “fascist” nature of two Ukrainian parties, Freedom and Right Sector, that were prominent in last winter’s big demonstrations in Kiev. Both of these seem likely to get less than 5% too.

Robert Coalson expects the vote to “shatter the old paradigm of a country hopelessly divided between a pro-European west and a Russia-leaning east”:

It is not that the elections will produce a dominant party, but they will produce a solid bloc in favor of European integration and wary of Moscow’s intentions. And Moscow’s old appeals for ethnic solidarity with Ukraine’s Russophone population are increasingly ringing hollow. “The issue of language and identity has been used and misused and abused in Ukraine for many, many years,” says Natalya Churikova, senior editor of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service. “Ukrainians are much more united in issues of security — and I think the security issue is No. 1 now.”

But Balázs Jarábik has a less sanguine take on the likely outcome:

The mixed electoral system – half of MPs will be elected from single-member district and half from party lists – and the fact that one major party (the Poroshenko bloc) is likely to control the new Rada means that the parliament will be more split than ever, as party blocs will be able to assert less “centralised” will.

It is becoming clear that radicals will hold a significant number of seats in the new Rada. Polls suggest six other parties may enter, including the Radical party, which is composed of celebrities, fighters, singers, civic activists, sportsmen, and lesser-known businessmen. Like [Oleh] Lyashko’s [Radical] party, Batkyvshchyna is highly populist and pro-war: captured Ukrainian female pilot Nadia Savchenko is number one on Batkivshchyna’s candidate list. Her sister is running, too, emphasising the lengths to which Tymoshenko will go to drum up popular support. The right wing Svoboda will also likely to get in as turnout in western Ukraine, where the party’s support is mainly based, is expected to be higher than elsewhere in the country.

And Lucian Kim stresses the risks of holding a vote in the midst of a civil conflict that remains unresolved:

While the elections should help Poroshenko’s ability to push his pro-Western agenda, they will also solidify the division between the regions under Kiev’s control and those now under Moscow’s. The elections won’t take place in Crimea, which Russian President Vladimir Putin annexed in March, as well as large parts of rebel-held areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The separatists have called their own elections for Nov. 2 to lend a whiff of legitimacy to their shadowy, self-proclaimed leaders.

The cease-fire hammered out between Poroshenko and Putin in early September exists in name only, as the rebels try to wrest strategic Ukrainian holdouts, such as the Donetsk Airport, before a more lasting peace takes hold. Civilians continue to get killed in the crossfire. Paradoxically, the more the cease-fire line is respected by the combatants and monitored by international observers, the greater the risk it will become the de facto border of a frozen conflict.