Message from Ukraine's voters: no surprises

October 29, 2012
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

In the immediate aftermath of Ukraine's parliamentary vote, domestic and foreign voices are busily engaged in "spinning" the results. One thing is notable: both the results and the spin are closely in line with what was expected before the election.

First the results. According to information available on Monday, Party of Regions (PoR) was pulling in 35 percent in the proportional share of the vote, followed by Batkivshchina in second place with 22 percent. The Communists placed third with 15 percent, with Vitaly Klitschko's "Udar" -- losing an earlier advantage over Batkivshchina -- with 13 percent. Svoboda comfortably passed the cutoff for entering the Rada, garnering a respectable 8 percent. With expectations that PoR would effectively win more than half of the 225 seats allocated by individual races, a bloc supporting President Yanukovich stands to control a comfortable simple majority, though not a constitutional majority. These results are well within the range of prediction by pre-election polls.

Likewise the spin: Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were critical less of the actual mechanics of balloting and counting votes than of the overall context of the campaign: "Considering the abuse of power and the excessive role of money in this election, democratic progress appears to have reversed in Ukraine," said said OSCE mission leader Walburga Habsburg Douglas. Some foreign observers cited the continued imprisonment of Yulia Timoshenko and her inability to participate in the campaign -- as though this was somehow news as of October 28. On the other hand, other observers, notably members of the European Parliament, emphasized the absence of significant irregularities in the balloting and counting. Former French Foreign Minister Thierry Mariani, who headed a delegation of current and former European MPs and Senators, stated ""The Ukrainian parliamentary elections were held in compliance with democratic norms...There were no reports of systematic violations."

In short, neither from the point of view or critics of the elections nor from those welcoming the results do we hear much of anything new. Most comments could have been written a week before the ballot, and in some cases possibly were.

No doubt the next days and weeks will see an intensification of rhetoric from all sides, and possibly a scandal story or two (like the disappearing ink report). But already it seems clear there will not be a "smoking gun" consisting of a major violation of democratic norms that would justify Western capitals in questioning the legitimacy of the results or of the newly elected Verkhovna Rada. When the new Rada is seated, it will be a legitimate and pluralistic expression of the dissonant voices of the Ukrainian people, and likely to be even more contentious than the old Rada.

While outside observers are entitled to their opinions about Timoshenko's treatment, they hardly are in a position to declare, after the fact, a verdict on the elections they could have announced weeks or months ago, if that had in fact been the litmus test of electoral legitmacy. The fact is, Ukraine's election was not perfect but it will stand, as will the new Rada. The outside world -- the EU, the United States, Russia -- will now have to figure out how to work with the results.