The expression “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is the best way to describe the reaction in the Western media to the results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine.
The elections have been almost chorally characterized with the ambiguous “Pro-Western camp wins”, while at the same time admitting that the new parliament’s role will be to push through harsh and unpopular austerity measures; on a population already in a dire situation. This assertion also overlooks some significant divisions within the post-Maidan ruling class.
The elections took place in the context of censorship of the media (18 newspapers being de-registered, TV stations banned from broadcasting, attacks on Vesti newspaper offices), the impunity of fascist thugs in their attacks against opposition politicians and left-wing activists and the general glorification of the Nazi collaborating genocide perpetrators of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) by far right groups and the president alike.
With over 98% of the votes counted, the People’s Front (PF) of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, with 22.17% of the votes is slightly ahead of the President’s Poroshenko Bloc with 21.82%. It appears that four other blocs are set to receive enough votes to achieve the 5% threshold needed to get into parliament. These include Western Ukraine based Samopomich “Self-reliance” with 11%, the Opposition Bloc with 9.5%, the Radical Party of far-right populist Oleh Lyashko with 7.5% and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshyna “Fatherland” at a record low of 5.7%, according to the Ukrainian electoral commission. The election turnout was reported to be at 52%, yet another historic low for the country.
Six months of war and austerity
When Petro Poroshenko swept to power in the May presidential elections in the 1st round with an outright majority, his supporters – in both Ukraine and the West – were quick to claim that it was only he that could keep the country united in this time of civil war. After all, he was a man from the South, a Party of Regions (PoR )founder, serving in both the Kuchma and Yanukovich governments, while at the same time being a successful pro-Western “businessman”, supporting the Orange Revolution, Euromaidan and serving in the Yuschenko government. He was seen as a compromise between the embittered West and East of the country. With that, his main election promise was to end the civil war in the East in the space of a week.
These proclamations proved fruitless, as the civil war mobilization and the war on the rebels were only escalated, resulting in thousands of casualties and driving the refugee count to over a million. Following a rebel counter-offensive in late August, the Kiev government was finally forced to sign a ceasefire with the rebels on September 5th – in large part – to buy some calm for the elections.
The things that change yet stay the same
Seemingly new on the Ukrainian political scene is Samopomich, a Conservative party based around Lviv mayor Andrii Sadovyi, a former Yuschenko ally. It has its base in small to medium businessmen, and western Ukrainians looking to work overseas, due to the party’s declared EU integration agenda. The party’s score was helped by the high turnout rates in the Western regions where they have a base. Even this party is not immune to the wave of patriot chauvinist war hysteria in the country, having as its number two candidate the commander of the Donbas Battalion Semen Semenchevo.
Yet, the largest two parties are led by the current president Petro Poroshenko and current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. This represents continuity of the bloc now in power, consisting of pro-Western oligarchs and their government officials, who have held various positions in the Ukrainian government since its independence, while robbing the state and the people.
Poroshenko’s Bloc is an alliance with now Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko and his UDAR party. Yatsenyuk’s alliance is with various oligarchs and elements of the National Guard battalions. His Popular Front, including Parliament Speaker Turchynov and Interior Minister Avakov, represents the more openly pro-Washington wing of the ruling class, those who came to power after the overthrow of Yanukovich. The party has a Military Council including the commanders of many of the volunteer battalions, some of them openly neo-Nazis. Just as for Yanukovich during the parliamentary elections in 2012, they have been accused by election observers of using their power to increase the visibility of their blocs in the run up to the elections.
The Opposition Bloc is formed around some of the oligarchs and government officials formerly supporting the Party of Regions and the ousted Viktor Yanukovich. They are joined by other Ukrainian politicians who have chosen not to ally themselves with the President and PM, mostly based around the Eastern and Southern regions of the country. Although the turnout in the Kharkiv and Odessa areas was less than 50%, this was where the party had its highest scores reflecting a base of popular support the PoR had in those areas, as well as a heightened opposition to the Kiev government, which was mostly reflected through the abstentions. The Opposition Bloc also came first in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia and Kharkiv.
Although the Kiev government has not yet been successful in banning the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) legally – reportedly due to the reluctance of certain judges to see it through – in receiving around 4% (down from 13% in 2012) of the vote, the Communist Party will be out of parliament for the first time since Ukrainian independence, a fact Poroshenko has widely boasted about. There are different reasons for this. First of all, there has been a constant campaign of harassment against the KPU, with their offices being burnt down and their members attacked both by the security forces and by fascist gangs acting with impunity, their demonstrations banned and their parliamentary faction disbanded. Secondly, in their traditional strongholds of Crimea (now annexed to the Russian Federation), and large parts of Luhansk and Donetsk under rebel control, the elections did not take place. Thirdly, for many Communist Party voters these elections made no sense, taking place in conditions of political repression and the worst patriotic pro-war hysteria and they could not understand why the party still participated.
Opposition to the Kiev authorities was also expressed in very high levels of abstention in the South East of the country. Overall, the turnout was only 52.42%, down from the presidential election in May (60%) and also from the 2012 parliamentary election (58%). But in the South East the turnout was even lower: 32% in Donetsk and Luhansk (taking into account only those places which voted), Odessa 39%, Kherson 41%, Mykolaiv 42%, Kharkov 45%, Zaporizhyia and Dnipropetrovsk 47%, Chernivtsi 48%. Particularly significant are the figures for Odessa, where there was a campaign to boycott the elections, and even amongst those who voted, Poroshenko only got 19%, closely followed by the Opposition Bloc with 18%. Also worth noting is the result in Dnipropetrovsk, where the governor is oligarch Kolomoisky, who has funded the volunteer battalions and introduced a reign of terror in the region. Here the Opposition Bloc came first with 24% of the vote, while Poroshenko’s Bloc got only 19%. Another region with a low turnout but not in the South East was Transcarpathia, home to national minorities of Romanians, Hungarians and Ruthenians where there has been constant agitation against the “anti-terrorist operation”.
It is also worth noting the results in the district of Slavyansk and in Mariupol. Slavyansk was for many months a main centre of the Donbas uprising and was subject to a particularly brutal treatment by the Kiev authorities: shelling of civilian areas, a complete siege, etc. The city is under de facto military occupation. Here only 31% of the people turned out to vote, with 35% supporting the Opposition Bloc, 13% for the Communist Party, 18% for Poroshenko and 6% for the Popular Front.
In Mariupol, where there had been many protests against the Kiev authorities before the city was forcibly occupied in a bloody battle by the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, and which now is on the frontline of the war against the Donbas republics. Here turnout was 30%, with 61% for the Opposition Bloc in the 57 constituency, 6% for the Communist Party while only 9% for Poroshenko and 4% for the Peoples’ Front.
The right and the far-right
Before even half of the votes had been counted, the “experts” in Kiev and Western media were boasting that the elections represented a choice for “European values” and against the far-right, pointing to the fact that the traditional far-right party Svoboda seems to have a scored below the 5% mark (down from 10% in 2012). This analysis is superficial at best.
First of all, even with the pro-EU Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk blocs in power, Ukraine has not moved any closer to EU integration than it was last November, when Yanukovich delayed the signing of their free-trade agreement (reported misleadingly as a plan for EU integration). The EU has little interest in integrating the Ukrainian economy and the civil war into their sphere, having their own level of upheaval due to the austerity measures being imposed throughout. There could, of course, be interest from European capitalists in pushing their products (including military equipment) on the Ukrainian market, as well as participating in the privatisation schemes being organised by the new government.
Heralding of the defeat of the far-right is also very misleading. While Svoboda has been losing support, it certainly does not correlate with reduced influence of the far-right. In order to see this, one has to merely look at the election strategy of the People’s Front. As mentioned, the PF is an alliance between pro-Western oligarchs and leaders of the National Guard battalions, including many elements of the far-right such as Tetyana Chornovol, a far right activist who until recently was a leading figure in the far-right organization UNA-UNSO.
In another case, Andrey Biletskey, a notorious Social Nationalist Assembly neo-Nazi and commander of the Azov Regiment, was elected as an independent (although he participated in the PF founding conference) on a mandate in the Obolon region of Kiev; where the PF candidate withdrew in order to facilitate his victory. Similar agreements were made with Right Sector leaders Dmitry Yarosh and Borislav Bereza who were also elected with support from the Popular Front.
So now in the place of having one far-right party in parliament with a minority of 37 seats, the party with the highest number of votes is making electoral deals with neo-Nazis. Furthermore, the far-right demagogue Oleh Lyashko and his Radical Party took a significant part of Svoboda’s support.
The Popular Front also includes figures like the former Secretary of the National Defence and Security Council, Andriy Paruby, who was a founder of the neo-Nazi Social-Nationalist Party of Ukraine and led the Maidan self defence units, mainly composed of far right elements.
An escalation in the civil war on the horizon?
Within a few weeks of signing the ceasefire with the rebel republics, Poroshenko could be seen on CSPAN, asking a session of the US congress for more lethal military equipment. It is becoming clearer every day that the ceasefire was a way of establishing some domestic calm during the elections. The Ukrainian army has continued to wage war on the republics during this time, killing over 350 people since the ceasefire. It has even been reported by Western media that Ukraine has been using banned cluster bombs in the heart of Donetsk.
The PF and the far-right elements are even less keen on the ceasefire agreement openly criticizing it on many occasions. The Right Sector even threatened to march on Kiev immediately after the signing.
There are indications (see phone call between Nuland and Pyatt) that Yatsenyuk has the preference of US interests. The continuation of the conflict certainly is in the interests of US imperialism, who benefit by selling weapons to Ukraine, having access to shale gas in the Donbas region, weakening a regional imperial power in Russia. Furthermore, the gas shortage in the EU due to the conflict with Russia will be an opportunity for US gas corporations. In short, an escalation of the conflict after these elections remains likely, considering who has ended up in parliament.
It may be more difficult, however, for the government to mobilize the population as before. In addition to the Wives’ and Mothers’ movement, there was a mutiny of rebellious National Guard soldiers earlier this month in Kiev.
The main plank of the new government coalition will be the pursuing of “reforms”, as they are referred to by the capitalist media. That means, whole sale privatisation of all remaining state assets, cuts in social spending, lifting subsidies on heating fuel, mass lay-offs of civil servants, freezing of wages and pensions, etc. As the austerity measures increase and the mobilisation for the army resumes, this will only further incite the population against the oligarchs and technocrats in government. The fragility of their support is revealed partly by the low election turnout, and certainly this will grow in the coming months.
(October 28, 2014)