The ruling Party of Regions and its allies look set to win Ukraine’s parliamentary election on October 28th. They may even gain a constitutional majority with control of two-thirds of the parliament. This will likely happen despite the fact that most Ukrainians regularly tell pollsters their country is heading “in the wrong direction” and less than a quarter of them plan to vote for the Party of Regions. Perhaps the most important reason for this is that Ukraine has reverted to the mixed proportional and first-past-the-post system last used in 2002. Back then, it allowed Leonid Kuchma, an unpopular president, to secure a working majority in parliament thanks to a divided opposition and post-election defections to his camp. The same conditions are in place now for Viktor Yanukovych (pictured above), the current president. His candidates can come out on top in first-past-the-post constituencies where three or more opposition politicians are competing. On October 14th the two main anti-Yanukovych forces agreed to withdraw some of their candidates in some districts in order to limit this phenomenon, but they have stopped far short of a genuine alliance. It is testament to the current parliamentary opposition’s ineffectiveness that it allowed this electoral reform to pass last year, giving the ruling party a chance to retain power in an election that could be classed as free and fair (given that an elected parliament had agreed to its rules).
Still, it appears Mr Yanukovych’s team sees no compelling reason to take that chance: there are plenty of ways to skew the vote before international observers, who see this election as a crucial test for Ukrainian democracy, arrive to observe the polling itself. Evidence from various quarters suggests this machinery is in motion across the country. In the eyes of many in the West, the election is already fundamentally flawed because Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the main leaders of the opposition, is in jail and barred from running – as are several of her colleagues. The European Union and America have repeatedly condemned this as a case of selective justice.
Ukraine’s media climate also falls short of the requirements for a truly free and fair election. Independent television channels face pressure while mainstream media overwhelmingly favour the ruling party, as monitoring of 230 news outlets carried out in August showed. That is according to Ukrayinskiy Tyzhden, a magazine that has reported extensively on press freedom violations (and incorporates some content from The Economist. Last month the magazine saw its distribution blocked at several key outlets.