KIEV - "If we don’t stop Yanukovych, we will lose Ukraine..."
Speaking in perfect Russian, one of Yulia Tymoshenko’s young supporters is talking about the upcoming election while working a shift at one of the protest tents set up along Kiev’s main street, Khreshchatyk. The stakes she sees in Sunday's election are high indeed.
The white tents featured a sign that read "Yulia Tymoshenko’s Coalition" and a red heart - the coalition’s symbol. A hero of the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko has been jailed on charges of overstepping her powers as prime minister when she signed a gas deal with Russia. Her supporters say the case was just a way to keep her from running against current President Victor Yanukovych, and Western governments have called for her release.
Still, though she personally looms large, Tymoshenko’s coalition is not participating as a separate entity in the parliamentary elections in Ukraine on Sunday. Instead, they have joined forces with the united opposition coalition.
Although the opposition coalition’s name is the same as Tymoshenko’s party, the All-Ukrainian Union Fatherland, their leaders include people who are not exactly Tymoshenko supporters. The opposition’s leader and former speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Arseni Yatseniuk was very unhappy about Tymoshenko’s attempts to lead the coalition from a distance - first from prison and now from the hospital.
Between the current and former leadership of the All-Ukrainian Union there are "serious disagreements, and personal antagonisms," explained a Ukranian political scientist working for the opposition, who asked to remain anonymous.
Open secrets and schisms
The researcher then revealed what he referred to as the open "awful secret" of the opposition: "I don’t believe that they will be able to form a real coalition if they are elected to the Parliament. I think they will fall apart at the first real difficulty and that there will be deserters from any coalition they form."
The only thing as obvious as the schisms in the opposition is the dissatisfaction with the current government. Internal polls done by the ruling party, the Party of Regions, offer no signs for optimism. In Kiev, about 10% of the population is planning to vote for the Party of Regions.
In the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, where current President Yanukovych, who belongs to the Party of Regions, once received 90% of the vote, now only half the voters said they planned to cast their ballot for his party. In other Russian-speaking regions of Eastern and Southern Ukraine the poll’s results for the Party of Regions is even lower.
"In total, the Party of Regions will get between 29 and 33% of the vote. Their coalition partners, the communists, will get between 8.5 and 12%," predicted Ukrainian sociologist Evgeny Kopatko. "None of the other pro-government parties have a chance at breaking the 5% needed to get a seat in parliament."
At first glance, the situation looks better for the opposition. Among Yanukovych’s foes, the parties expected to break the 5% barrier are the All-Ukraine Union Fatherland and Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms (UDAR). Those two parties are fighting for second place, with between 17 and 21% of the vote expected for each.
But the other opposition party expected to barely break 5% is called "Liberty," a nationalistic party that has strong support in Western Ukraine. The party’s leader doesn’t try to hide his anti-Russian and anti-Semitic opinions. The party has a strong chance of getting seats in parliament, and it’s presence would tip the balance of power towards the opposition.
But there is one key point that often gets overlooked. This whole exercise in arithmetic only applies to half of the parliament. According to Ukraine’s new constitution, voters no longer choose all 450 deputies by party - they only choose 225. The other half of the deputies are elected as individuals in their districts. So even if the Party of Regions and the Communists don’t get as many votes as their opponents, they could very well get to a majority through the independently elected candidates. Especially because those candidates are frequently not identified as coming from the unpopular party, in spite of receiving massive financial support from the party and it’s backers.
"Ukraine hasn’t had this system for the past 10 years, so we aren’t used to it anymore: 225 districts means 225 individual stories. That’s why there it is so unpredictable," explained Kopatko.
According to Anna German, an advisor to President Yanukovych, the party is working with it’s faithful to keep them in line. "In all this time, there hasn’t been a single instance when one of our deputies left and joined the opposition," she said with satisfaction.
Line-crossers have often moved in the other direction. Deputies from the "orange factions," those that supported the Orange Revolution, have often voted with the Party of Regions on essential issues. Kommersant’s sources say that loyalty has a price - sometimes as much as $1 million per vote. But the oligarchs behind the Party of Regions have never fear such pricetags.
It’s likely that this sort of bribing will continue with whomever the opposition brings in this time, especially those who are elected under the UDAR list - it’s a new political power and it’s exact platform is not yet totally clear.
Some of the leaders' moves have given the ruling party reason for optimism. For example, the party refused to sign a coalition agreement with "Liberty," the ultra-nationalistic party, although the All-Ukraine Union did. It’s hard to imagine UDAR’s leader, who grew up in a Russian-speaking military family, working with the anti-Russian leaders of Liberty.
According to the political scientist working for the opposition who asked not to be named, the opposition doesn’t have much chance of coming into power in the near future. “Maybe someone will be able to defeat Yanukovych in the 2015 presidential elections. But right now the opposition is not ready for its revenge.”