Ukraine‘s president remains on course for an absolute majority in parliament after winning elections that international monitors criticised as a “step backwards”.
Yanukovych’s Party of Regions and its allies were projected to get 240-260 seats in the 450-seat parliament following Sunday’s elections, well ahead of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
But the elections were also notable for the surprise breakthrough of a nationalist group called Svoboda (Freedom), which achieved 8% of the vote. More predictably, another opposition formation under the WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko won 13%, meaning the boxer will now take his seat in one of the world’s most combustible parliaments.
The upshot is likely to be a parliament which, though sympathetic to the president, promises vibrant opposition.
“Our parliament will be definitely more pluralistic than the Russian one,” said Oleksiy Haran, professor of political science at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.
But international observers said the elections were not as impressive as the vote two years ago that ushered Yanukovich into the presidency. Observers said the race was unfairly skewed in favour of the ruling party, citing Tymoshenko’s absence from the elections, the diversion of government resources to help the incumbents and biased media coverage.
“Considering the abuse of power and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine,” said Walburga Habsburg Douglas, the special co-ordinator who led the OSCE election mission.
Svoboda is believed to have cashed in on residual anti-Russian sentiment, particularly following a language law passed in the summer that gave more status to the Russian language. Many Ukrainian-speaking voters decided to vote for the Svoboda party, thinking it would be ready to protect the Ukrainian culture, analysts said.
Oleh Taihnybok, leader of Svoboda, dismissed concerns that some in the party hold extreme nationalist views. “We are no antisemitic, we are no xenophobic party,” he told the Guardian.
The political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko believes that thanks to Svoboda the new parliament will be even more turbulent than in the past. “This party will add more pepper into the Ukrainian borscht,” he said.