Ukraine's ruling party has claimed victory in this weekend's election. The opposition held its own, including the party of boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. However, there are doubts the election was free and fair.
The parliamentary election in Ukraine on Sunday (28.10.2012) coincided with the clocks being set back an hour for Daylight Saving Time. Where Ukrainian politics are concerned, the country seems to have been set back by 10 years.
"This election is comparable to the national vote in 2002," Olexandr Chernenko, head of the Committee of Ukrainian Voters NGO, said in a television interview. He pointed out "systematic irregularities" in several constituencies that may have influenced the outcome of the vote.
According to preliminary results, voter turnout was at 58 percent. Official results were still pending Monday morning as ballots are counted manually.
Early results, however, clearly show President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions will be the strongest force in the parliament. On Sunday, several polling institutes interviewed voters at the ballot boxes, and estimated that the ruling party had garnered about a third of the vote.
Success for Klitschko's party
The opposition alliance that includes ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party came in second with about 24 percent of the vote; the Communist Party also polled strongly with about 11 percent of the vote.
The secret winner of the national poll, however, is the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), the new opposition party of heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.
The party won about 14 percent of the vote in its very first national election, and is thus placed third. An unsmiling Klitschko, however, appeared to be disappointed in his party's showing. "There was great potential, there were many undecided voters," he said Sunday in Kiev, adding UDAR must now examine why it didn't do better. "We'll analyze it," the politician, dressed casually in jeans, a white shirt and a sports coat, told reporters at the party's headquarters.
But the surprise came from the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, which exit polls said took more than 10 percent of the party list vote - twice as much as experts had expected. For the first time in recent history, a rightwing extremist party will be represented in parliament. Svoboda, based in the Ukrainian-speaking west, has a shady reputation among experts. "The name and the style appear to emulate the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ)," Andreas Umland, a Kiev-based rightwing extremism researcher, noted.
Svoboda's European partners include France's National Front and Hungary's nationalist Jobbik movement. There is "considerable Russophobia" embedded in Svoboda's party ideology, Umland said, adding that their message is: Ukraine for Ukrainians. The party's success is also attributed to Viktor Yanukovych's policies. Umland says the president supports Russian culture in Ukraine; many Ukrainians, he says, feel like strangers in their own country.
Svoboda plans to form a coalition with the Tymoshenko parties. While Klitschko says he will team up with the opposition alliance, the boxer also voiced concern over Svoboda's "rightwing radicalism."
Even if the three opposition parties join forces, it is not likely their combined votes will be sufficient to form a government. Only half of the Ukrainian parliament is elected via party lists. According to a new electoral law introduced by the president and endorsed by the ruling party and the opposition in parliament last year, the other half are direct candidates. Yanukovych's ruling party now hopes the direct mandates will give it a majority in parliament, political experts say.
Meanwhile, rumors of the buying of votes are making the rounds.
The accusations are not new to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which sent more observers to Ukraine for this election than ever before. In an interim report, the organisation criticized "abuse of administrative resources", usually benefitting the ruling Party of Regions. For instance, the party distributed food among voters, the OSCE says.
The biggest flaw observers are bound to detect in Ukraine's national poll, however, is the fact that well-known opposition politicians such as former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko were not able to run as direct candidates. It is highly likely OSCE observers will judge the election as undemocratic in basic elements - for the first time since the 2004 Orange Revolution.