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Ukraine: The Post-Election Scene

Relations between Ukraine and EU are at an impasse. The last two years have been dom­in­ated by various arguments over the abus­ive prac­tices of the Yanukovich admin­is­tra­tion. Ukraine has experienced ser­i­ous set­backs to its demo­cratic devel­op­ment, includ­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of power in the hands of the pres­id­ent and his Party of Regions, select­ive justice, the pro­sec­u­tion of lead­ing oppos­i­tion fig­ures and an accel­er­at­ing trend towards a more author­it­arian and cor­rupt style of rule in Ukraine.

Con­cerns over its demo­cratic devel­op­ment were enough of a reason to return Ukraine again under the European ‘micro­scope’. The elec­tions were con­sidered a “demo­cratic test”. The gov­ern­ing party of Viktor F. Yanukovich has claimed vic­tory, des­pite strong elect­oral sup­port for the pro-western oppos­i­tion parties and an unex­pec­tedly big rise of the ultra-na­tion­al­ist Svoboda party known for its anti – Semitic and racist views.

Back­ground of the elections

All the votes were coun­ted by the Cent­ral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion (CEC) until Novem­ber the 8th. Cru­cially, Ukraine’s par­lia­ment has recently intro­duced a mixed vot­ing sys­tem (50% party-lists and 50% single-mandate con­stitu­en­cies) which allowed Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions to win more than half of the 220 seats (113 com­pared to 39 for the Tymochenko’s (Fath­er­land) Batkivschyna United Oppos­i­tion). In the list-vote PoR received 30% and 72 seats com­pared to 25.5% and 62 seats of the Tymochenko bloc. Boxer Klichko’s UDAR Party gathered 13.96%, bet­ter than expec­ted and nar­rowly beat­ing the Com­mun­ists who received 13.18%. What came as a sur­prise in these elec­tions was the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda (All-Ukrainian Union), which entered the par­lia­ment for the first time receiv­ing 10.44% of the votes.

The elec­tions were con­duc­ted under the strict super­vi­sion of 3,800 for­eign observ­ers employed by the European Par­lia­ment, NATO, OSCE and NGOs. On first sight everything seemed to be as it should in a demo­cratic regime and gen­er­ally the elec­tion day was calm and peace­ful. How­ever, accord­ing to OSCE observ­ers, the days before the elec­tions were char­ac­ter­ized by lack of a level play­ing field, caused primar­ily due to abuse of admin­is­trat­ive resources, lack of trans­par­ent cam­paigns, party fund­ing, and lack of fair media coverage.

The absence of strong per­son­al­it­ies from the polit­ical scene and the media dur­ing the cam­paign was notice­able. A good example is the former Prime Min­is­ter and heroine of the Orange Revolu­tion, Yulia Tymochenko. She was sen­tenced to seven years in prison for sign­ing gas deals with Rus­sia while still in power. This has cre­ated many doubts about the fair­ness of the elec­tions and puts ques­tion marks on the respect of demo­cratic val­ues. “Con­sid­er­ing the abuse of power, and the lead­ing role of fund­ing in these elec­tions, demo­cratic pro­gress appears to have reversed in Ukraine,” said Wal­burga Habs­burg Douglas, a Spe­cial OSCE coordin­ator who also stated that “One should not have to visit a prison to hear from lead­ing polit­ical fig­ures in the coun­try.”, she added.

No clear dir­ec­tion

Long before the elec­tions, the EU had expressed many con­cerns over the demo­cratic fail­ures of Ukraine. At the same time Rus­sia was push­ing fur­ther the Ukrain­ian gov­ern­ment to join the cus­toms union with Belarus and Kaza­kh­stan. Addi­tion­ally the ultra-na­tion­al­ists (Free­dom Party) accused the EU of cre­at­ing feel­ings of xeno­pho­bia to Ukrain­i­ans and that their ideas do not com­ply with the European val­ues. On the other side, the sup­posedly pro-Russian Pres­id­ent Viktor Yanukovych is act­ing con­tra­dict­or­ily. He made Rus­sian the offi­cial lan­guage in some parts of the coun­try des­pite protests in the cap­ital, while at the same time he con­tin­ues to claim that Ukraine has no interest in Russia’s cus­toms union (if he can avoid it).  And lastly, Tymoshenko addresses the EU for help­ing her coun­try, yet fires cri­ti­cism for freez­ing the Asso­ci­ation Agree­ment. Under these cir­cum­stances Ukraine’s future seems rather foggy.

Tiahnybok’s (leader of Svoboda), and Yanukovych’s beha­vi­ors are prob­lem­atic, but the pri­or­ity for the EU and U.S. should be to reduce ten­sion between the pro-western and pro-eastern parties whilst pre­vent­ing closer ties with Russia.

For Europe, Ukraine should be con­sidered a key-partner because of its geo­graph­ical pos­i­tion. More spe­cific­ally, Europe could bene­fit from its energy transit infra­struc­ture, the vast agri­cul­tural resources and aerospace industry as well as the soft­ware expert­ise. Fur­ther­more, Kiev could become the geo­pol­it­ical bridge between Moscow and Brus­sels. Ukraine is of great import­ance for the EU par­tic­u­larly as a transit state for energy, con­sid­er­ing that roughly 25 per­cent of the EU’s nat­ural gas comes from Rus­sia, and 80 per­cent of that gas trans­its through Ukraine.

For the time being though, Ukraine remains without the EU Asso­ci­ation Agree­ment. As Mr. Bar­roso has stated, the sig­na­ture of the Asso­ci­ation Agree­ment with Ukraine depends on Kiev’s com­mit­ment to European val­ues. For oth­ers this pos­i­tion is con­trary to the interests of the EU and the mil­lions of Ukrain­ian cit­izens, many of whom are voters in favour of Mrs. Tymoshenko.

Günter Ver­heu­gen, an ex-European Com­mis­sioner for Enlarge­ment, has emphas­ized that “Ukraine has made its choice. The European Union must now make theirs. We must state clearly that we want this coun­try to become a mem­ber of Europe as soon as it meets all neces­sary require­ments. Brus­sels must not let the Tymoshenko case decide the future of its rela­tions with Kiev.” Moreover, Ukraine’s rep­res­ent­at­ive to the EU, Kos­ti­antyn Yel­iseyev, said he is con­fid­ent that Brus­sels will not ignore the choice of the Ukrain­ian people and it should sign the Asso­ci­ation Agree­ment with the coun­try. “Brus­sels should not ignore the choice of the people of Ukraine in favor of the val­ues of European demo­cracy and acces­sion to the fam­ily of European nations […], he mentioned.

Final remarks

Some newly elec­ted mem­bers of the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Coun­cil of Ukraine) con­tend that European integ­ra­tion remains a top for­eign policy pri­or­ity. Nev­er­the­less, the EU needs to open chan­nels to cir­cum­vent the cur­rent situ­ation, by find­ing ways to mon­itor select­ive per­se­cu­tions, pro­tect busi­ness, encour­age greater involve­ment in edu­ca­tion pro­grams, and reduce the power of the “family”,(a term used mostly after the 2010 elec­tions to describe the dis­tri­bu­tion to and abuse of power by the lit­eral and meta­phor­ical “fam­ily” of Yanukovych). Finally the Union has to work hard to show it is on the side of Ukraine’s demo­cratic, lib­eral and eco­nom­ic­ally con­struct­ive forces, in order to develop proper rela­tions with Ukraine.

–  Zoi Stambolliou

(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works thisisbossi, Creative Commons, Flickr)

Dis­claimer: This art­icle was ori­gin­ally pub­lished as “Ukraine: The Post Election Scene” on Novem­ber 28, 2012 on The European Student Think Tank, a PB cooper­a­tion partner.

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