Pro-Western Parties in Talks Over New Ukraine Government
The Wall Street Journal
By Nich Schetko and Paul Sonne
President Petro Poroshenko ’s political party began hashing out a coalition deal with two other pro-Europe factions Monday, as the country awaited the final results of its first parliamentary election since plunging into crisis early this year.
Preliminary tallies showed that Sunday’s vote delivered a victory to moderate, pro-European parties such as Mr. Poroshenko’s, while dealing a blow to extreme nationalists who gained visibility amid Ukraine’s political tumult.
The results also marked a further decline in the political fortunes of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost to Mr. Poroshenko in the presidential election in May. The preliminary results showed her Fatherland party just scraping by the 5% threshold to win a faction in parliament.
Meanwhile, a party formed by past allies of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Russia in February after months of mass protests against his government, performed stronger than expected—forming a significant Russia-leaning opposition.
As officials continued to tally the votes, Mr. Poroshenko’s party was locked in negotiations with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, whose parties fared better than expected. The three parties looked set to win enough seats to form a majority without needing other partners.
“The head of state is engaged in forming a powerful democratic coalition in parliament,” Mr. Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, wrote on Facebook late Monday, noting that the president had met Mr. Yatsenyuk and Mr. Sadovyi. “The negotiations are ongoing.”
The vote ushers in Ukraine’s first overwhelmingly pro-Europe parliament since the former-Soviet republic became independent in 1991. The result also serves as a rough stamp of approval for the current government as it struggles to cope simultaneously with an armed conflict in the east and a downward economic spiral.
But some of the hardest months may be ahead. Since the spring, Ukrainian authorities have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Hundreds of deaths have been recorded there since a cease-fire brokered Sept. 5, according to the U.N., raising the prospect of a return to all-out fighting.
On the economic front, Ukraine’s gross domestic product could slide as much as 10% this year due largely to the turmoil. Russia also has cut off natural-gas supplies amid a payment dispute, foreshadowing a particularly cold winter.
In a positive sign, Russia signaled it would recognize the results of the election. “It is very important to us for authorities to arise in Ukraine that aren’t fighting among one another, or dragging Ukraine to the west or to the east, but rather engaging with the real problems the country faces,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s LifeNews.
President Barack Obama commended Ukraine for holding elections largely in line with international standards “despite a challenging security environment in certain regions.”
Voting didn’t take place in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March, or separatist-held Donetsk and Luhansk, meaning the parliament will have 423 members instead of 450. Countrywide, the official turnout figure was 52.4%, down from 58% in 2012.
Mr. Poroshenko has promised political reforms in Ukraine, including a crackdown on rampant corruption and an overhaul of the country’s shadowy judicial system. The last time a pro-Western government took power, after the 2004 Orange Revolution, internal disputes led to deep disappointment among supporters and the collapse of its agenda.
This time the government is in far more dire straits. “If Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk start quarreling publicly to sort things out, they won’t get any money from the [International Monetary Fund] or the [European Union], meaning economic, financial and political death for them—and for the state,” Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.
Each voter made two choices on Sunday’s ballot: an individual to represent the given district and a political party. District candidates make up half of the 450-person legislature, party-list candidates the rest. All parties that surpass 5% of the vote receive party-list seats proportionate to their percentage of votes.
Mr. Yatsenyuk’s party had won 21.9% of the party-list vote, while Mr. Poroshenko’s party won 21.6%, according to preliminary results covering 77.8% of precincts. The result marked a better-than-expected outcome for Mr. Yatsenyuk, who broke ranks with the president to form his own party and pursued a more hawkish line against Russia.
The rise of Mr. Sadovyi’s party, known as Samopomich, or Self-Help, came as one of the biggest surprises, with 11.1% of the party-list vote, according to the incomplete results.
Mr. Sadovyi, a media magnate turned mayor, put together a party comprised of young pro-Europe activists, entrepreneurs and volunteer fighters. He has called for Ukraine to decentralize power as a way to govern more efficiently, reduce corruption and account for regional differences.
“In Ukrainian cities, a mayor probably has about 5% of the power of a mayor in the U.S. does. But the (level of) responsibility is the same,” Mr. Sadovyi said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal before the vote.
Meanwhile, far-right nationalist parties fared relatively poorly.
Svoboda, which entered parliament for the first time in 2012 and played a prominent role in the Kiev protests, looked as if it would fail to surpass the 5% threshold, as of late Monday. Right Sector, which Russian propaganda had highlighted as evidence of a fascist menace in Ukraine, also appeared to have failed, with less than 2% of the vote.
Oleh Lyashko, a radical firebrand populist who tapped into nationalist sentiments during his campaign, saw his party win 7.4% of the vote, less than many polls had predicted.
Still, two radical nationalist leaders—Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh and Azov Battalion commander Andriy Biletsky —looked poised to win seats in their individual districts.
Former allies of Mr. Yanukovych and his Party of Regions, boasting a long-standing power base in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, will occupy a larger-than-expected swatch of the legislature.
Under the leadership of former Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko, they banded together to create the Opposition Bloc, which won 9.6% of the party-list vote, according to the incomplete results. A sizable number of candidates who won as independents in eastern districts appeared poised to ally with the bloc.
Mr. Fesenko, the political analyst, said the support for the Opposition Bloc in the east showed that a strong political divide persisted between east and west. He also noted that radical moves to force such Yanukovych allies from politics could result in violence.
Observers including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the International Republican Institute and Opora, a U.S.-funded Ukrainian election watchdog, said the vote met international standards despite some violations.
Opora said the number of violations had decreased compared with elections in 2012 and 2013, and that it found none “that would raise questions about the legitimacy of the election in its entirety.”