Forthcoming Parlimentary Elections in Ukraine: Competing Political Blocks and Public Opinion
In a recent meeting at the Kennan Institute, Oxana Shevel noted that the upcoming Ukrainian elections place the country at a crossroads. She added that the outcome of the elections would determine whether Ukraine will move towards becoming a democratic institution or if it will continue to consolidate into a semi-authoritarian state. According to Ms. Shevel, Ukraine's third parliamentary election will have implications for the next presidential election as well as for its relationship with the West.
Ms. Shevel began her discussion by describing the current political situation in Ukraine. She explained that scholars agree that Ukraine is in the "gray zone" of democracy; meaning that its political institutions have made some progress but not yet arrived at democracy. Shevel stated that in the past, many scholars measured the success of the Ukrainian transition according to communist and anti-communist policies. Some evaluations fail to take into account other factors that limit the success of democratic reform. She noted that there is no longer speculation about Ukraine returning to communism, but rather questions about transparency, political freedoms and corruption still need to be addressed.
Shevel explained further that despite Ukraine's new and improved electoral law, loopholes in its election process provide advantages to the parties that are currently in power. Pro-presidential parties are allowed better access to state-controlled media, giving them a distinct advantage over opposition parties. Shevel noted that nearly 63 percent of all Ukrainians receive information from state and national television sources, and the coverage given to the pro-presidential parties is almost always positive. The little coverage that opposition parties receive is typically negative, highlighting candidates' mistakes or faults. She noted that pro-presidential parties have greater access to state administrative resources for campaign purposes. Government authorities are able to use state resources to further their parties' respective agendas, as well as interfere with elections. Shevel pointed out that ambiguous provisions in the election law allow authorities to arbitrarily disqualify candidates from the election. She stated that just last week over 100 candidates, many of whom belonged to opposition parties, were disqualified from the upcoming elections on "procedural" ground. The law give political leaders a lot of "wiggle room" if they wish to disqualify opposition candidates. Finally, Shevel also explained that vote counting and polling stations are also suspect, especially at the so-called "closed" polling stations in correction facilities, hospitals, and military bases. In the absence of central voter registry, compilation of voter lists by authorities is also open to manipulation.
Ms. Shevel concluded by addressing the possible role that Russia and the West may have in Ukraine's elections. She stated that while Russian leaders seek to influence the outcome of the election by openly supporting the pro-presidential and the communist parties; Western leaders seem more intent on influencing Ukraine's election process, in particular on ensuring that it conforms to democratic standards. She predicted that none of the political parties would emerge from the elections with a clear majority. The opposition parties, she added, may capture a significant number of seats in parliament. She contended that no matter what the outcome of the election, the West and Russia must continue to aid Ukraine's efforts to introduce economic and democratic reforms.