Five political parties passed the 3% threshold to gain representation in the country's 450-seat legislature known as the Verkhovna Rada. The top vote-getter was the Party of Regions, led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, which captured 32% of the vote. Another former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, unexpectedly took 22% of the vote, finishing the race in second.
President Viktor Yushchenko and the government received high marks for organizing the poll from the international community. However, voters were less than generous in supporting his political force, Our Ukraine, which finished the race in third place with just under 14%.
Not unexpectedly, these three political parties combined took 68% of the vote to remain the dominant forces in Ukrainian politics. Voters aligned with the same political forces that battled for the presidency in 2004. Then, Yanukovych supporters gained the blue label, which represented their campaign colors. Supporters of the election winner Viktor Yushchenko, became known as orange. This election confirms the balance between these two political forces remains tilted in favor of the orange, which represent Ukraine's pro-European democratic movement.
Two smaller parties round out the circle of election winners. Pro-European Socialists took under 6% of the vote and are likely to continue participating in an orange coalition. Meanwhile, representatives of the pro-Russian Communist Party took just under 4 percent of the vote and are likely to side with the Party of Regions.
Yanukovych's victory in the race was well received by voters in the eastern and southern regions, which overwhelmingly supported him. However, given the make-up of the Rada, he lacks natural political allies among other parties to piece together a majority and seems unlikely to go on to form a ruling government coalition.
All eyes now turn to the orange coalition led by Tymoshenko, who was written off as politically insignificant at the beginning of this year. But she captured the electorate's disenchantment with the agreement finally brokered between Russia and Ukraine on gas prices, earning political points from both the general voters and business, which felt the impact of the price increase most acutely. She out-campaigned rivals and successfully focused on converting undecided orange voters to her side.
Our Ukraine recognized Tymoshenko's unexpected win on election night and said they would align with her. Socialists also announced their preference for joining the orange team. Nonetheless, both parties are keeping the doors open to possible cooperation with the Party of Regions.
Constitutional changes that went into effect last January shift some executive powers from the presidency to parliament. Ukraine moves away from post-Soviet one-man rule and closer to European multi-party parliamentary democracy. Accordingly, 30 days after election results are announced, parliament parties must form a legislative majority and then a ruling government coalition. The president maintains power to appoint the ministers of foreign affairs and defense. The president also gains the power to disband parliament under several specific circumstances.
Beyond the Bar
Ukraine's first democratic parliamentary election brought many surprises. Pre-election polls showed at least two more political parties had a fighting chance to pass the 3 percent threshold for seats in the parliament club.
Incumbent Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, who positioned himself as neither blue nor orange, tried to capture voters disenchanted with the dominant political players. Experts blamed his loss on two major campaign mistakes. First, shying from live public debates and instead relying solely on spot advertising and media features. And second, amassing a candidate list full of former Kuchma-era officials widely disliked by voters.
Natalia Vitrenko, Ukraine's pro-Kremlin anti-NATO warrior who lead the leftwing progressive socialists, fought a tough campaign, but fell shy of the votes needed to win seats in the Rada. Her campaign strategy was to take away votes from the communists. However, the electorate aligning itself with the communist party has dwindled so much in recent years that there was very little remaining to be divided.
Both are expected to file lawsuits for a recount of the election results