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Europe

Opinion: A lesson for Ukraine's political class

Ukraine's opposition had hoped that the parliamentary election would bring change. But that's not on the horizon. The political split is even more pronounced and radical parties have benefitted, says DW's Bernd Johann.

Ukraine's parliamentary election on Sunday (28.10.2012) was a vote to determine the course of the country: democracy versus autocracy, rule of law instead of corruption and judiciary arbitrariness. More Europe, and less Russia.

Ukraine's opposition wanted change. The ruling Party of Regions had hoped for support for its course, from which mainly prosperous businessmen in the country's east have benefitted. Other Ukrainians have profited very little, and democratic reforms have been curtailed. In Europe, Ukraine has become increasingly politically isolated, and important bilateral agreements between Ukraine and the EU have been shelved.

No clear direction                         

The election has not decided which course Ukraine will take. According to current results, neither of the two political camps has clear backing from the people. On the contrary: voters have taught politicians on both sides a lesson. While President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions has emerged as the strongest force, it cannot be sure of achieving its desired majority in parliament.  It will be days before the distribution of the direct mandates is announced. Should the Party of Regions fall short of a majority, it will again depend on forming a coalition government with the Communist Party.

Johann Bernd DW Expert 2007

DW's Bernd Johann

The communists managed to double their share of the vote, profiting  from people's dissatisfaction with the economic situation, particularly in eastern Ukraine. The party is bound to demand more influence and a greater say in matters, should the Party of Regions need its votes in parliament. Thus, under the leadership of a pro-business party, Ukrainian policies might show communist tendencies in the future.

No power transition in sight

The opposition has missed its election goal – a transition of power. The Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of imprisoned ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko came in second, managing to mobilize voters even without its charismatic, albeit controversial, leader. But the party can only counter Yanukovych's power apparatus in cooperation with the new party led by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. Alone, Batkivshchyna is not strong enough. 

Klitschko UDAR ("Punch") party came in third - a sign of how much Ukraine's political landscape is changing. Young voters in particular hope for political renewal in their country, symbolized by UDAR's successful ascent. But Klitschko's party also won't be able to break the power monopoly of the Party of Regions. Even together, the two major opposition parties could not bring about a change of power - but they can form a strong opposition in the new parliament.

Surprise win for radical party

The nationalist Svoboda party will also form part of the opposition in Ukraine's new parliament. Like the Communists, they profited from the large number of protest voters. Thus, for the first time the radical party, based in western Ukraine, will enter parliament in Kyiv. Svoboda rejects Russian influence in Ukraine, is skeptical of Europe and harbors racist and anti-Semitic tendencies. Party representatives propagate state capitalism instead of a market economy.

Instead of pointing the way in any one direction, Ukraine's parliamentary election has deepened the political divide. Radical forces have been given a boost. The future parliament mirrors the country's political turmoil - Ukrainian politics will certainly not become more predictable in the future. Russia and the European Union both will have to adjust to the fact that Ukraine will remain a difficult foreign policy partner.

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