Ukrainian voters continue to look west, choosing to elect a new parliament that gives President Petro Poroshenko the opportunity to form a government committed to continuing the process of looking westward, as much of the country seeks to adopt European standards and values. Exit polling on Sunday indicated that Poroshenko will be shed of the former Party of Regions dominated parliament of ousted ex-president Viktor Yanukovich.
Ukrainian voters also rejected the idea of a majority of hard-line nationalist leaders, preferring instead to allowing those minorities to have a place in parliament, but without control. Polling data indicates that the People’s Front party of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, a Poroshenko ally, also did well in the voting. Ukraine’s parliament is called the Verkhovna Rada, or Rada for short, a single-house legislative body with 450 seats.
Most of the three million residents living in the contested Eastern republics claimed by pro-Russian rebels were not allowed the opportunity to vote. Self-proclaimed leaders in the Luhansk and Donetsk republics, called Novorussiya (New Russia), have scheduled polls for next month on independence. Ukrainian voters are a majority in the East, but punitive actions and threats by pro-Russian terrorists have caused most of them to remain silent.
Ukrainians in annexed Crimea were not permitted to vote unless they crossed the border into Ukraine, but in the rest of the country the Election Commission reported a more than 51 percent turnout. The highest numbers were in the western half of the country while the lowest numbers were from the east in areas still controlled by the Ukrainian army.
Ukraine voters have given the Poroshenko the green light to continue moving west, but some observers caution that a unified vote does not guarantee unity in governance. Many issues are clearly divisive, from government corruption, rebuilding of the fragile economy, and how to prosecute the war in the eastern republics. Ukraine’s economy has been in serious decline due to the war and political upheaval with economic experts saying that the GDP will fall somewhere between seven to ten percent by the end of 2014. With winter just weeks away and light snowfall already a regular event, Ukraine and Russia are still disputing unpaid heating gas bills.
As preliminary numbers began to emerge, President Poroshenko made a statement thanking Ukrainians for participating in the election, saying that he had asked citizens to vote for a democratic, pro-Ukrainian, reform-minded and pro-European majority. He thanked voters for hearing him and supporting his call.
Poroshenko had flown by helicopter to the town of Kramatorsk, a city recently liberated from pro-Russian rebels. He inspected two polling stations after first visiting fortified installations where members of the Ukrainian army are still fighting to liberate Ukrainian citizens in the area.
Voters not only want to look west, but they want to find an end to the fighting in Ukraine’s east. As the votes begin to trickle in, Reuters investigative journalists published new evidence of regular Russian troops sent to fight in Ukraine. Some of the more recent Reuters revelations include the identification of certain T-72 tanks, a type of the Russian tank reserved exclusively by the Russian army, and never shared with Ukrainian units.
By Jim Hanemaayer