Anti-Semitic Party Places Second In Kiev Vote, Ukraine Split
The graphic in Ukraine's English-language Kyiv Post said it all: The results of the parliamentary elections showed the East and South of the country, including cities with strong Russian populations such as Odessa, Sevastopol, Kharkhiv and Dnepropetrovsk, as a sea of blue - the color of president Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russia Party of Regions.
Somewhere in the middle of the country, the color scheme changed to the white of imprisoned former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) Party, and the yellow of the anti-Semitic Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda or Freedom Party, whose stronghold is Lviv. The most nationalist and anti-Russian part of the country is the west, that came under Soviet control only upon the outbreak of the Second World War.
The nasty surprise must be the strong showing by Svoboda in Kyiv itself, where it scored a second best 24% of the vote as opposed to 10% nationally. The leader of the party, Oleh Tyahnybok, has called for restoring the country to the Ukrainians and liberating it from the "Muscovite-Jewish Mafia".
What is even more worrisome than Svoboda's score, ascribed to economic difficulties, is a willingness on the part of other Yanukovych opponents to work with Svoboda. On October 19, Tymoshenko's party and Svoboda signed an agreement to form a coalition and prize fighter Vitali Klitschko, head of the aptly named Udar (punch) Party, also pledged to work with them rather than with the Party of Regions and their allies the Communists.
While the opposition came close to 50% in the party-proportional vote that accounts for half the seats, the Party of Regions took a disproportionate share of the single-member districts that supply the remaining 50% to the Ukrainian Rada. This accounts for their parliamentary majority.
While not approaching the levels of Belarus, outside observers of the OSCE claimed that the country had taken a step back in terms of democratic voting as the deck was stacked against the opposition (the Congress of Independent States observers, who take their cue from Russia, pronounced the elections fair).
The total number of voters declined by more than 10% since the last elections in 2010 and some polls reported that 11% of the voter population was willing to be bribed. Nearly 3/4 of those polled believed that the elections would not be free or fair.
A plethora of parties contested the election and some of them were straw parties designed to draw off the vote from actual contenders. The most prominent case involved Ukrainian football star Andriy Schevchenko, whose party was hastily formed after Klitschko started rising in the polls. The opposition accuses the government of being behind the Schevchenko party that failed to clear the electoral threshold.
The legacy of the elections is a very divided country and no legitimacy bounce for the government.