As Ukraine marks the official start of the campaign season this week for the October 28 parliamentary election, all eyes have turned to President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which will fight to keep its control over parliament amid growing criticism at home and abroad. “They need to show that the Party of Regions is still the number one party,” said Ukrainian political researcher Serhiy Kudelia. The Yanukovych regime has earned scorn for what critics say has been a steady lurch toward authoritarian rule. Its drive to centralize power and crackdown on public and political opposition has helped galvanize popular discontent with the government, leading to a dramatic slide in support and the piecemeal consolidation of the opposition.
The jailing of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for abuse of office has only intensified resentment against the regime. The ruling party needs to hold onto its electoral majority and reverse a double-digit drop in popular support, which plummeted from about 40 percent in early 2010 to around 20 percent currently, according to a survey of about 2,000 respondents conducted by the Kiev-based Razumkov Center think tank. The Party of Regions has relied on its control over parliament to ram through controversial legislation, such as a recent bill elevating the status of the Russian language in Ukraine, and will be focused particularly on scraping together a constitutional majority to adopt key changes in the constitution favorable to Yanukovych and the regime, experts say.