The latest parliamentary elections in Ukraine have been characterized in the West as a victory for pro-European forces.
But the terms “pro-European” and “anti-European” no longer serve as useful reference points in Ukrainian politics. In these elections, after all, not one of the twenty-nine parties that stood for election was officially opposed to EU entry.
The real issue in this election was war or peace.
President Petro Poroshenko called for snap elections just before going to Minsk to meet with Vladimir Putin on August 27 to request a cease-fire. Subsequent negotiations led to the signing of two documents, on September 5 and September 19 outlining terms for the ceasefire and for a future political settlement in Eastern Ukraine. The terms of the Minsk accords, however, split his government. The prime minister, minister of interior and speaker of parliament even set up their own political party—the Popular Front—which won the elections.
This election was thus, first and foremost, a referendum on Poroshenko’s decision to halt the military campaign and grant de facto autonomy to the rebel controlled regions.
The results must be disappointing to the supporters of peace. The parties that opposed the Minsk accords (Popular Front, Fatherland, and the Radical Party) got more than 35 percent of the party list vote, while the Poroshenko Bloc, which at the outset of the campaign was projected to get nearly 40 percent of the vote, actually got fewer than 22 percent. The only other party in the Rada to endorse the peace plan, the Opposition Bloc, barely got 10 percent of the vote.
These results underscore the rise of militant nationalism among the Western and Central Ukrainian electorate. That is where the parties opposed to the Minsk accords did especially well. By contrast, the parties that placed peace first on their campaign agenda (Opposition Bloc, Communist Party and A Strong Ukraine) did especially well in the East and South. The Opposition Bloc, the successor to the now defunct Party of Regions, won in five of the eight predominantly Russophone regions.
The seating mechanism used in Ukraine, which is not at all unusual among parliamentary democracies, actually served to reinforce this regional division. In the Russophone regions, for example, the Communist Party received 9.2 percent of the vote on average, while Strong Ukraine received 8.2 percent. This combined 17 percent, however, will not receive a single seat in the national parliament because neither party managed to get five percent of the total national vote. That is also why the nationalistic Svoboda and Right Sector parties will not be seated in the next parliament, though it is worth noting that their percentage of the local vote in nine Western and Central regions of Ukraine, was less than 7 percent on average. Thus, the results inflate the significance of nationalistic parties that are strong in the west and center, while muffling the voice of parties popular in Russophone Ukraine.