Ukrainians Vote To Face West
Parliamentary elections showed impressive support for pro-European parties. But the impasse in Ukraine's eastern cities is no closer to resolution. By Matt Schiavenza
Pro-Western parties have emerged as the big winners in Ukraine's parliamentary elections. According to exit polling, the Poroshenko Bloc—controlled by President Petro Poroshenko—earned 23 percent of the vote, while a party aligned with Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk secured 21.3 percent. Both parties favor policies designed to bring Ukraine closer to Europe, and in a statement issued on Saturday Poroshenko said that a parliamentary majority would help him govern more effectively.
“I have enough political will to implement the developed strategy of reforms. But I also need the majority in the Parliament. Reformist majority, not [a] corrupt one. Pro-Ukrainian and pro-European, not pro-Soviet,” he said.
The Kyiv Post reported that a total of seven political parties will be represented in the Rada, including the Batkivshchyna Party led by Yulia Tymoshenko, who has twice served as Ukraine's prime minister. One old standby, however, was conspicuously absent. For the first since since Ukraine became independent in 1991, the Communist Party failed to pass the five-percent threshold needed to guarantee a spot in parliament.
(Related: Why Sending Weapons to Ukraine Would Be a Terrible Idea for the US)
The results are good news for Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate magnate who assumed Ukraine's presidency after Viktor Yanukovych departed following a populist uprising in February. But the victory comes with an asterisk: Because of instability and violence, nearly three million voters in Donetsk and Luhansk, two regions currently under the control of pro-Russian separatists, were unable to participate. More than 3,700 people have died during the separatist conflict, including 300 after a ceasefire was signed in September.
Things are not going well in Ukraine, to say the least. The country's economy is in bad shape, with GDP forecasted to drop between seven and 10 percent this year. Russia cut off natural gas sales to Ukraine in June and claims Kiev owes Moscow a debt of $4.5 billion. (The two sides reached a tentative agreement earlier this month to resume gas sales, but differences remain.) Despite the ceasefire, Poroshenko has been unable to resolve the crisis in Donetsk and Luhansk, and his European allies have expressed little faith that Ukraine can free itself from Russia's grip.
But the elections signaled that Ukrainians are looking forward, not back. According to Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University and expert on contemporary Russia, the feeble performance of extremist parties is encouraging.
"With things this bad, one expects half-unhinged candidates and parties to get the upper hand. So far, amazingly, they haven’t," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal.