The general election to Ukraine’s parliament (the Verkhovna Rada – Supreme Council) on October 26 was another step by the country’s wealthy power brokers to consolidate their pro-Europe, pro-austerity economic course and related war against the rebellious population in the east of the country. A large, neoconservative and far-right majority now controls the Rada.
The election outcome continues the political course begun last February with the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of Regions. That course was affirmed in the May presidential election that saw Petro Poroshenko win a solid electoral majority from the minority of Ukrainians who took part.
Most ominous of all are the signs that Kiev is turning its back on its September 5 cease-fire agreement with pro-autonomy rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.
This latest election comes three years earlier than the traditional, five-year cycle of Rada elections. The gambit by President Poroshenko in convening the early vote succeeded admirably, but low voter participation as well as the course of events since February show that Ukraine is very far from achieving political stability, and there are no indications that the country’s calamitous economic situation will improve.
Most ominous of all are the signs that Kiev is turning its back on its September 5 cease-fire agreement with pro-autonomy rebel forces in eastern Ukraine.
Neoconservative and Far Right Win the Election
The electoral machines (1) of Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk topped the Rada election with similar results – 3.4 million and 3.5 million votes, respectively (each 22 percent). (2) The “Petro Poroshenko Bloc” won 132 seats in the Rada while Yatsenyuk’s “People’s Front” won 82 seats. That’s short of a majority in the 450-seat Rada, but not to worry – a large majority of the newly elected deputies share the program of the two leading blocs.
Yatsenyuk’s electoral machine includes Rada Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov and Interior (police) Minister Arsen Avakov. They represent a more openly pro-Western wing of the ruling class.
The third place finisher was another, new electoral bloc, “Samopomich” (Self Reliance). It won 1.7 million votes (11 percent) and 34 seats. It is headed by the strongly pro-Europe mayor of the city of Lviv in the west of Ukraine, Andrii Sadovyi. Sadovyi’s Lviv is a stronghold of the extreme right.
“The whole election campaign was held in the atmosphere of intimidation and terror of political opponents, reminding one of the election in Germany 1933 – ‘free and fair’ despite permanent attacks and terror against the left, trade-unions and dissenters.”
Another Samopomich leader newly elected to the Rada is Semen Semenchevo. He is a commander of the Donbas Battalion, one of the dozen or so rightist and fascist paramilitary battalions that have sprung up this year to fight alongside the conscript Ukraine army in the east of the country.
The right-wing Radical Party of Oleg Lyashko, also a paramilitary commander, gained 1.7 million votes and 22 seats. Lyashko was condemned by Amnesty International in a report several months ago for kidnapping and brutalizing leading supporters of political autonomy in eastern Ukraine (so-called separatists). His campaign posters featured him impaling a caricatured Jewish oligarch on a Ukrainian trident.
The Fatherland Party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko suffered a large setback, receiving only 6 percent of the vote. She came a distant second in the presidential contest last May with a campaign calling for total war against the “separatists.” (3) In March, she was caught on a telephone recording musing about using nuclear weapons against the rebel east.
Gone from the Rada is the only party that was speaking out against the war in the east, the Communist Party. It failed to reach the 5 percent threshold to win party seats. (4)
The “Opposition Bloc” won close to 1.5 million votes and 34 seats in the east and south of Ukraine. It is a coalition of small parties, including a rump of the shattered, former governing Party of Regions. The electoral alliance advocated dialogue to ease the war in the east. It is the only party in the new Rada supporting a continuation of Ukraine’s constitutional clause prohibiting the country from joining any military alliance, including NATO.
There were 29 parties or blocs running in the election. The media project VoxUkraine summarized the choices before the electorate in an analysis published on October 20, saying, “Despite the fact that [the nine largest parties] are political rivals, their programs are very similar . . . The main common feature of the party programs is the absence of ideology. Hence, they try to appeal to as many people as possible instead of promoting programmatic principles].”
Electoral Setback for the Far Right?
Much has been written about the seemingly poor electoral outcomes of two of the largest extreme-right parties – Svoboda and Right Sector. Both failed to reach 5 percent. Svoboda received 742,000 votes (4.7 percent, compared to 10.4 percent in 2012) while Right Sector received 250,000. But the numbers alone understate the situation with the extreme right.
The draft program of the new governing coalition spells out drastic measures against ordinary Ukrainians.
Svoboda elected at least six candidates. Party distinctions were blurred by a field crowded with neoconservative and extreme-right candidacies and by cooperation agreements between the parties. Thus, a leader of the fascist Social-National Assembly – Andriy Biletsky, an Azov Battalion commander – won direct election as an “independent” when no candidate of the Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk blocs ran in his district in Kiev. Some extreme rightists ran as candidates of the two large blocs.
Yatsenyuk’s bloc stood aside in the district in Dnipropetrovsk where Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh won. Two other Right Sector candidates were elected in the city, Ukraine’s fourth largest.
Another sign of far-right influence are postings to police and military positions. Since the election, Vadim Troyan of the Social-National Assembly has been appointed to head Kiev’s police force while Yuri Mykhalchyshyn of Svoboda has been appointed to head the propaganda and analysis section of the Ukraine Security Service (SBU). (5)
Ukrainian writer Dmitry Kolesnik, editor of the left-wing web publication Liva.com, has written an analysis of the election titled, “Quasi-parliament for the minority.” He explains, “The whole election campaign was held in the atmosphere of intimidation and terror of political opponents, reminding one of the election in Germany 1933 – ‘free and fair’ despite permanent attacks and terror against the left, trade-unions and dissenters.”
His article details the litany of attacks by the far right in recent months on civil rights and political parties. He describes the violent campaign waged by the far right against government officials and politicians who are not even left-wing. “Resembling lynching brigades, radical, right-wing gangs have taken to attacking elected officials in Ukraine by throwing them into trash bins,” Kolesnik writes, quoting RT News.
“The most dangerous trend of all [in the Rada election] is that mainstream, ‘respectable’ parties have adopted ultra-nationalist rhetoric and agendas while introducing neo-Nazis in their ranks and promoting them to the highest positions.”
Since the article, a court in the city of Odessa has banned rallies that were planned on November 7 to mark the birthdate of anarchist hero Nestor Makhno and the 97th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Elsewhere in Ukraine, rallies marking the Russian Revolution were attacked.
Weak Support for Government Course
The Rada election has revealed deep unease if not opposition to the political and economic course of the ruling elite. Voter turnout was the lowest in the history of independent Ukraine, 15.8 million. That’s below the previous election low: 16 million in the May 2014 presidential election. By contrast, 29.1 and 23.2 million voters cast ballots, respectively, in the presidential election of 2004 and the Rada election of 2007.
The turnout was especially low in eastern regions, where opposition to the civil war and the turn to austerity Europe are highest. In the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (provinces) under Ukraine government control, turnout was 32 and 33 percent, respectively. Turnout was low across the oblasts of eastern and southern Ukraine, including Odessa (39 percent), Kherson (41 percent), Mykolaiv (Nikolaev) (42 percent) and Kharkov (45 percent).
In Odessa and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts, Poroshenko’s bloc won 19 percent. The Opposition Bloc topped the polls in Dnipropetrovsk with 24 percent.
The city of Slavyansk in Donetsk oblast is under military occupation. Voter turnout was 31 percent, with 35 percent voting for the Opposition Bloc and 13 percent for the Communist Party. The combined vote of the Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk blocs was 24 percent.
The Sea of Azov port city of Mariupol in Donetsk is located close to the de facto cease-fire line declared on September 5. It has avoided the worst of fighting elsewhere in the region. Here, voter turnout was 30 percent. The Opposition Bloc won 61 percent while Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk received only 13 percent.
NATO Countries Welcome the Results
President Obama and leaders of other NATO member countries hailed the election results and pledged continued military and economic support to the Poroshenko-led neoconservative government. Obama issued a statement saying, “Yesterday’s parliamentary vote represents another important milestone in Ukraine’s democratic development. We look forward to the convening of the new parliament and the quick formation of a strong, inclusive government.”
The word “Ukraine” in the NATO countries’ welcoming pronouncements could easily be exchanged with the names of other countries where imperialist-backed electoral exercises have obtained similar, “positive” results for the big powers. In Haiti, for example, a two-round, presidential election in November 2010 and March 2011 resulted in a new president entirely subservient to the big powers and their plans for continued dominance in the country shattered by the January 2010 earthquake. That election was entirely financed from abroad and it featured the lowest voter turnout in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
“Elections” in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 10 years have produced a succession of weak and servile governments, one result of which has been the disastrous rise of the right-wing, ISIS movement in Iraq and Syria.
As the election exercise was playing out, NATO countries were preparing the latest in a series of military exercises in Eastern Europe aimed at intimidating the rebel movement in eastern Ukraine and its supporters in Russia and elsewhere. A two-week exercise began in Lithuania, which borders Ukraine, on November 2. It involves nine NATO-member countries, including the United States, Britain and Canada.
Russia is facing considerable economic difficulty as a result of sanctions by the West and the steep drop in world oil prices. But Ukraine’s situation is much worse. The election took place amidst an accelerating economic decline.
In 2013, there was no growth in GDP. This year, it has shrunk by 1.1 percent in the first quarter, 4.7 percent in the second, and 5.1 percent in the third. GDP in 2013 has still not recovered from the 2008 financial collapse.
Ukraine’s currency is the worst performing in the world this year, losing some 60 percent of its value. Foreign currency reserves are nearly spent.
Poroshenko is recommending to the new Rada that autonomy provisions he had announced in September for Donetsk and Luhansk regions be cancelled.
The draft program of the new governing coalition spells out drastic measures against ordinary Ukrainians, including changes to the labor code that further restrict workers’ rights, adopting the right to fire workers without trade union approval, lifting a moratorium on closures of hospitals and health clinics, privatizing coal mines and railroads, and rejecting price controls on essential foodstuffs.
The government is proceeding with a purging (“lustration”) of its civil service, stripping the jobs of as many as 1 million people who served under the previous government. The special law approved in mid-September has been termed a “legalized witch-hunt” and has been condemned by Ukraine’s prosecutor general and by Human Rights Watch.
The September 5 cease-fire agreement was very unfavorable to the pro-autonomy forces because it left Ukrainian forces occupying about half the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk provinces. Now Kiev is routinely violating its terms. Last week saw some of the worst shelling of the city of Donetsk by Ukraine armed forces since the agreement was signed. One particularly horrific violation was the shelling of a school on November 5 that killed two teenage students and wounded four others.
Poroshenko is recommending to the new Rada that autonomy provisions he had announced in September for Donetsk and Luhansk regions be cancelled. The announcement and his government’s stepped-up military moves are a bellicose response to the holding of elections by the rebel political leadership in the two regions on November 2. Voter participation was high. The fact that Poroshenko’s autonomy promise could be so easily cancelled shows how little it was worth in the first place.
Kiev’s turn to austerity Europe has already seen sharp cuts to health care and other social spending. The price of essentials such as food and home heating are rising sharply. Coincidentally, tens of thousands of workers demonstrated in Brussels on November 6 against Belgian government policies that will raise the pension age, freeze wages and cut into public services.
Ongoing military exercises by NATO in Eastern Europe, continued economic sanctions by the West against Russia and an emboldened, neoconservative government in power in Kiev make a very dangerous combination.
A broad solidarity movement is needed internationally to press for an end to the war in eastern Ukraine and the economic sanctions targeting Russia. These steps could lead to the self-determination (“federalization”) measures that are needed in Ukraine to pull the country back from the abyss.
1. It is much too generous to refer to the Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk electoral machines as “parties.”
2. The election figures are those of the Central Electoral Commission of Ukraine. https://www.cvk.gov.ua/pls/vnd2014/wp300pt001f01=910.html
3. The term “separatist” is used in Western propaganda outlets to denigrate pro-independence movements they dislike, such as in Quebec and now in the Donbas region of southeast Ukraine. By contrast, independence movements in Scotland and Catalonia receive favorable terminology. Thus, in reporting the unofficial referendum vote on independence from Spain just conducted in Catalonia, the chosen terms for the Catalan movement are “pro-independence groups” (The Guardian), “pro-independence organizations” (Reuters, in the Globe and Mail), “pro-independence supporters” on a “push for independence” (Associated Press, in Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) News online), and a “secessionist cause” conducting an “independence vote” (The New York Times).
4. Ukraine’s electoral process designates roughly half the seats in the Rada to candidates who win direct election. The other half is apportioned to parties that gain a minimum of 5 percent of the countrywide vote.
5. Yuri Mykhalchyshyn, 31, is a deputy leader of Svoboda. He was elected to the Rada in 2012.