Ukrainian elections signal no real change


While we can expect some political changes from the parliamentary elections in Ukraine, government policy is not expected to change significantly.

According to preliminary data, the ruling Party of Regions won first place, but only secured 31.8 per cent of the vote.

Three opposition parties — Motherland (Batkivschina, led by former Prime Minister now political prisoner Yulia Tymoshenko), Punch (UDAR, headed by the world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko) and Freedom (Svoboda, the ultra-nationalist party led by Oleg Tyagnybok) — won 24.2 per cent, 13.5 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively.

In addition, the Communist Party scored 13.9 per cent of the vote to come in third place.

However, international observers have criticised President Viktor Yanukovych of the Party of Regions for using government resources to secure an election win.

According to Reuters, opposition parties are split over whether to recognise the ruling party’s victory, while Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe special co-ordinator Walburga Habsburg Douglas told reporters: “Considering the abuse of power, and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine.”

And on Monday Tymoshenko announced that she would be going on a hunger strike to protest claims of vote-rigging in the parliamentary elections.

Ukraine is a presidential-parliamentary republic meaning that the government is formed by the president rather than the parliament. Therefore, the current president Viktor Yanukovych has the right to disregard the results of the parliamentary elections.

But these fragmented results indicate a widespread dissatisfaction over the actions – or inaction – of the present government.

The Party of Regions has so far failed to maintain stability in the economy.

According to the State Statistics Service, industrial production for the nine months to September decreased by 1.2 per compared to the same period in 2011.

Agricultural production for the same period decreased by 4.6 per cent; construction was down 9.1 per cent and freight transport was down seven per cent.

The average salary, which is about US$384, decreased by more than three per cent in the last three months and many workers haven’t been paid for months.

In Ukraine, the consequences of the economic crisis are still being felt by the majority of workers. According to information from the latest ITUC Annual Survey negotiations between the IMF and the government have led to new structural reforms, including an increase in the pension age, and the elimination of state subsidies to the gas sector, which would cause a sharp rise in prices.

The Ukrainian trade union movement also had to fight in 2011 against proposed reforms demanded by the IMF, and against a new draft Labour Code, which would reduce the right of trade unions to protect their members from unfair dismissal.

But as Yanukovych plans to run for re-election for a second presidential term in 2015, he cannot ignore the will of the people.

In fact, his party has the option of undertaking a number of steps to placate voters (the majority of whom voted for change) including creating a parliamentary majority by forming an alliance with the Communist Party.

In these elections, however, the Communists sharply criticized the government’s social and economic policies.

In addition, the election program of the Communist Party doesn’t seem to be any more helpful to the country’s workers than that of the Party of Regions.

For example, the Communists want to make joining the Customs Union, the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Economic Union (created by Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan) a foreign policy priority but this would impede Ukraine’s path to the EU, which would open the country up to new markets, offer the possibility of a higher standard of living and the possibility of working abroad.

Also, the Communist Party has not proposed any measures to strengthen the labour rights of workers, in particular, to facilitate the adoption of the right to strike.

Communist leaders revealed their attitude to striking in 1994, when their parliamentary candidates supported a law banning transport strikes. This law is still valid today and the Communist Party has no plans to change it.

Instead, a part of their election program read: "Elimination of the socialist path was a fatal mistake. The only way out of [the current] situation…[is by] dismantling capitalist relations, [and] directing society and the state into a reliable stream of socialist development."

That is, the Communist Party still harks back to the days of the USSR. But workers in the Soviet Union had no right to strike.

So while the government may change this year, workers might have to wait until after the presidential elections in 2015 to see real change.