What we know about the parties aiming for Ukraine’s next parliament

During the swearing in of newly-elected President Zelenskyi in the Verkhovna Rada. Photo: Verkhovna Rada's Fb page 

Politics

It looks like Ukraine’s future parliament will be defined by Zelenskyy’s enigmatic Sluha Narodu and the “party of revenge,” representing the ex-Party of Regions of Viktor Yanukovych.

Estimates on which political parties will make it to the Verkhovna Rada, or Ukrainian parliament, in the 21 July snap elections are ongoing. So far, according to the polls, there are five forces which can safely expect to get seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The ultimate leader is Sluha Narody, the party of newly-elected president Volodymyr Zelenskyy – this high popularity is considered the main reason why early elections are being held in the first place. However, the composition of the rest of the future parliament is no less important.

The latest poll was presented by the Sociological Group Rating. It was conducted from 29 May to 3 June.

Graphic: Hanna Naronina / Euromaidan Press

According to it, Sluha Narodu (“Servant of the People”) has an overwhelming 48.2% support rate. Number two is the Opposition Platform Za Zhyttia (“For Life,” further in the text – Opposition Platform) with 10.7%. European Solidarity is third with 7.8%. Batkivshchyna (“Motherland,” 6.9%) and Holos (“The Voice,” 5.6%) are fourth and fifth correspondingly.

Despite such an advantage over the other parties, Sluha Narodu remains a mystery – the work on the party list is ongoing. At the end of May, the party announced a competition for candidates from single-mandate constituencies among.

But what are the parties number two, three, four, and five about?

The party of revenge

Vadym Rabinovych (left) and Yuriy Boiko (right) head the Opposition Platform. Photo: platform.org.ua

While the team of the leading party Sluha Narodu remains unclear, the party in second place is quite familiar.

The Opposition Platform of Vadym Rabinovych was created in 1999 and renamed in 2016. It focuses on the electorate which did not support the Euromaidan revolution, looks to restore friendly relationships with Russia, and in general felt offended by those who came to power after the revolution.

Rabinovych is an MP from the Opposition Bloc, the party which is the successor of runaway president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. In 2016, Rabinovych announced he was leaving the Opposition Bloc, citing its inability to be a “real opposition” in the parliament, and created his own party. Still, probably being afraid of losing his mandate, officially he remains a member of the Opposition Bloc.

Both the Opposition Bloc and Rabinovych’s Opposition Platform are perceived as revenge parties of Yanukovych’s rule. When they exist as separate parties, their common electorate is split as well. So after the 2019 Presidential Elections, information on their possible union started to appear.

On 27 May, a congress of the Opposition Platform took place. The main personalities of the party are all well-known in Ukraine. Apart from Vadym Rabinovych, it was co-headed by Yuriy Boiko. Boiko is another MP who has a love-and-hate relationship with the Opposition Bloc. In November 2018, he said that the Opposition Bloc is history and the future belongs to the Opposition Platform. He also announced about the creation of a parliamentary group with the corresponding name. As well as Rabinovych, Boiko is still on the official list of Opposition Bloc MPs. During the 2019 presidential election, he campaigned as a so-called single candidate from the opposition forces and landed in fourth place with 11.7%. Nevertheless, if there was really a single candidate, the results of the so-called revenge forces could have been even higher.

Boiko’s media coverage have been provided by the nationwide TV channel Inter which belongs to oligarch Dmytro Firtash (80%) and another Opposition Bloc MP Serhiy Liovochkin (20%). During the Opposition Platform Congress, Liovochkin was elected as head of the executive committee of the party. In Ukrainian politics, he is also known for heading the Administration of President Yanukovych in 2010-2014.

Another central figure of the Opposition Platform is a grey cardinal of Ukrainian politics, Viktor Medvedchuk. He now heads the party council and also its strategic council. Medvedchuk is considered the main voice of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s in Ukraine. Medvedchuk’s Ukrayinskyi Vybir (“Ukrainian choice”) public organization joined the Opposition Platform in summer 2018. Ukrayinskyi Vybir is known for the direct anti-Ukrainian campaigns.

In March 2014, the US imposed personal sanctions on Medvedchuk – he was included in the list of people who threaten the peace, security, stability, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, undermine democratic institutions and processes in Ukraine.

Recently, Medvedchuk confirmed that negotiations on a total reunion of the Opposition Bloc and Opposition Platform are ongoing. According to political expert Viktor Taran, in the case of such a union, the party can get from 90 up to 110 seats in the new parliament.

“It is hard to calculate the consequences of such revenge, but it for sure will significantly influence internal and foreign policy. As the parliament will consist of 422 MPs [actually, 424 – Ed] (not 450, as there are not enough MPs from the majoritarian constituencies because of Russia’s occupation of Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts), the ex-members of the Party of Regions will only need to find [an additional] 15-20 MPs to influence full-scale constitutional changes in the country,” says Taran.

However, the great union has not happened. On 6 June, at the Opposition Platform’s congress Medvedchuk said that his party will campaign without the Opposition Bloc.

Also, the Opposition Platform has significant resources for promoting its messages. After Rabinovych’s announcement of creating (in fact renaming) the party in 2016, it received significant coverage from two TV channels – NewsOne and 112 Ukrayina. Without media resources, political forces in Ukraine can hardly expect voter support.

The new Petro Poroshenko

Photo: European Solidarity’s Facebook page

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc, the party of ex-president Petro Poroshenko, was in second place with 21.8% of votes. Narodnyi Front of Arseniy Yatseniuk with 22.1% came first. Five years later, both lost their support. According to the polls, Narodnyi Front won’t make it to the parliament at all. Poroshenko’s force rates third so far. Its rating started to drop years earlier, when the first signs that the party places the interests of the then president, not the people, started to appear.

After being defeated by Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the second round of presidential elections, ex-president Poroshenko rebranded his political force. During a party congress on 24 May, Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc was renamed to European Solidarity.

This was not the only change. As Ukrayinska Pravda reported, old faces with a tarnished reputation will not have a place in the party. According to Poroshenko’s HQ staff, Poroshenko’s old cronies were suggested to campaign in the majoritarian constituencies, so they wouldn’t spoil the appearance of the party list.

“About 80% of people will be totally new. We will see. I personally sat in the headquarters and wrote my program for primaries,” Artur Herasimov, the head of the Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc faction, told Ukrainska Pravda.

As other members of the headquarters told, the president is personally responsible for forming the party list.

The procedure of primaries is a novel one for Ukraine. It was first introduced during the 2019 presidential elections. Two candidates, Oleksandr Shevchenko from UKROP and Dmytro Hnap from Syla Liudei, won the opportunity to campaign for president in an open competition. But the inner climate in most parties still remains uncompetitive and undemocratic. Decisions are made by the parties’ leaders and sponsors.

The eternal Batkivshchyna

Yuliya Tymoshenko while presenting her program for the 2019 presidential elections. Photo: ba.org.ua

The force of Yuliya Tymoshenko has a seemingly eternal presence in Ukrainian politics. In 2014 her Batkivshchyna party managed to make it to parliament with 5.7% of votes, just above the minimum threshold of 5%. During the cadence of this parliament, Tymoshenko supported the idea of holding early parliamentary elections. This would have brought her more seats, as according to polls conducted in 2016, the party had a support rate of 18%. But now, with the entrance of Sluha Narodu to the political scene, it is expected that she will get around 7%.

So far, it is not clear whose policy Batkivshchyna will support. Ruslan Stefanchuk, the representative of President Zelenskyy in parliament told journalists that in the future parliament, Sluha Narody could cooperate with Batkivshchyna and Holos of the rock-star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk. Tymoshenko has not reacted to that.

Recently, Serhiy Taruta, an MP and oligarch who lost a significant part of his assets because of the war in Donbas, announced that his Osnova party will unite with Batkivshchyna.

Parties on the edge

Before Vakarchuk announced he was entering politics, polls ranked his potential party below the 5% threshold. However, the last polls predict that Holos will get 5.6%.

Currently, Holos concludes the list of the parties which will enter the new parliament. Hromadyanska Pozitsiya of Anatoliy Hrytsenko with 3% and Syla i Chest of Ihor Smeshko are peering over Holos’ shoulder. Hrytsenko’s failed attempts to become president made him a target for jokes. His party also failed to enter parliament in 2014. However, this is more likely to have happened due to campaign mistakes, not to voters not knowing him.

On the contrary, Smeshko’s force seemed to have materialized from thin air, like Smeshko himself, who got 6.0% votes during the presidential elections and came in sixth. But he is not a new figure of Ukrainian politics. Smeshko is a Colonel general, former head of the Security Service of Ukraine, former head of intelligence, President Poroshenko’s advisor.

“Syla i Chest for the first time in the history of modern Ukraine united all ex-servicemen, law enforcement officers, employees of special services of Ukraine. This is a signal for the government: something is wrong when ex-professional law enforcement officers decide to take part in the political situation in the country,” Smeshko explained in 2009.

During the 2014 elections, it got 0.08% of votes. So his 6% during the presidential campaign this year was quite a breakthrough. Experts relate his phenomenon to the journalist Dmytro Hordon, who promoted Smeshko in different media – another example of the media’s importance for Ukrainian politics. Recently, Hordon headed Syla i Chest’s headquarters.

Among other parties which form the current parliament and have low chances to get to it in July is the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko (2.4%), Samopomich (1.4%), and Narodnyi Front (0.3%). The Opposition Bloc alone gets 1.5%.

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