Much has been written and said about the March 26th Ukrainian elections. Some have questioned whether Ukraine is signaling a desire to work more closely with Russia, after the party of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the failed candidate for President in 2004, came in first. Others speculate whether former Orange allies, Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko, can patch up their personal and political differences and form a workable coalition to continue the path toward integration with the West.
In reality, the elections of March 26th show that Ukraine, much like the United States, is made up of essentially two political forces, each enjoying support from roughly half of the population. And, like the United States, each political force has regional and geographic strengths — in this case "blue and orange oblasts" versus "blue and red states."
The Orange coalition, made up of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the Our Ukraine Party and the Socialist Party, garnered 42% support from the electorate. The Blue coalition of the Party of Regions and Communist Party gained 36% of the vote. Conventional wisdom says these blocs will divide up the seats in parliament, with the Orange coalition controlling a 242-seat majority, and the Blue coalition filling 207 of the seats. A simple majority is made up of 226 seats. However, talks between party winners have begun and the results may bring surprises, with related risks and opportunities.
"Like politics in the United States, the focus is often on the political and policy differences between the two political forces, when in reality there is a lot more commonality of aspirations and vision for Ukraine among the political leadership," says PBN's Senior Vice President Myron Wasylyk. "One clear message that the voters of Ukraine delivered, whether they voted blue or orange, was a desire to see the country's leaders put politics aside and focus on solving the problems important to the average citizens — better health care, education, pension plans and accountability in government."
"The harmonious regional and socio-economic development of our country is a common goal upon which all parties should be able to agree," wrote Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial. He called for a "stability pact" signed by all parliamentary forces and outlining the principles of national unity, saying "cultural, religious and linguistic differences have no place on the agenda. Similarly, federalism and special economic privileges will narrow, not strengthen, Ukraine's economic opportunities and competitiveness."
"The biggest winner on March 26th was democracy, as Ukraine for the first time in its 14 years of independence held free and fair elections," says Myron. "And, like free and fair elections anywhere in the world, there were surprises and there were upsets. But the people have spoken; now it's time for our leaders to lead."
This edition of Access PBN examines Ukraine's March 26th elections — the results and the likely focus of the new government. It also gives a glimpse of what free and fair elections looked like in Ukraine.
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