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  • Ukraine: A Land in Between
  • Nadia Diuk (bio)

Although parliament has heretofore exercised relatively little power in Ukraine, parliamentary elections nonetheless provide an important indicator both of public opinion and of Ukraine’s progress toward developing a coherent party system. On 29 March 1998, Ukrainian voters chose a new parliament in the second national election to be held since their country became independent of the dissolving Soviet Union in 1991, and the first to be held under the 1996 Constitution and a new electoral law adopted in September 1997. In accord with the new law, modeled after Russia’s 1993 election statute, half the seats were filled from party lists on the basis of proportional representation (PR), while the other half were allocated by first-past-the-post voting in single-member districts (SMDs). The nearly 26 million citizens who took part accounted for almost 70 percent of the country’s 37 million eligible voters.

The final tally for the 450-seat, unicameral Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) revealed a surprisingly strong showing by the three most left-wing parties, which together won more than 37 percent of the PR votes and totaled 173 seats of both kinds (see Table 1). The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) led the way with 123 seats and 24.7 percent—43 seats more than they had in the last Rada, and seven percentage points more than even the most generous pre-election opinion polls had predicted that they would win. Of the two other avowedly leftist formations, the Socialist-Peasant Bloc garnered 34 seats and 8.5 percent, while the Progressive Socialists took 16 seats and 4 percent. Counting the 40-seat total won by two center-left parties, [End Page 97]Hromada (23 seats and 4.7 percent) and the Social Democrats United (17 seats and 4 percent), the total won by parties falling toward the leftward end of the political spectrum added up to an impressive 213 seats. The March 30 edition of the Kyiv Post,an English-language weekly published in the capital city, ran the alarmed-sounding frontpage headline “Reds to Rule Roost in New Rada.”

Table 1.
The 1998 Rada Elections
Party or Bloc Percentage of PR Vote Number of PR Seats Number of SMD Seats *
Communist Party of Ukraine 24.7 84 39
Rukh 9.7 32 14
Socialist-Peasant Bloc 8.5 29 5
Green Party of Ukraine 5.4 19 0
People’s Democratic Party 5.0 17 11
Hromada 4.7 16 7
Progressive Socialist Party 4.0 14 2
Social Democrats United 4.0 14 3

Note:Figures provided by the International Foundation for Election Systems.

* The remaining 144 seats were won by smaller parties or blocs and independents, or are still in dispute.

The center-right Ukrainian National Movement (better known as the Rukh) is generally considered to be the most prodemocratic of Ukrainian political parties. It won 46 seats in the course of polling 9.7 percent, running a distant second to the Communists. Rukh was followed by the People’s Democratic Party (28 seats and 5 percent) and the Greens (19 seats and 5.4 percent), two parties that appear to be centrist, insofar as they have expressed their views. Only these eight parties—out of 30 formations that had registered to compete—topped the 4 percent threshold that had to be exceeded in order to receive PR seats in the Rada. Of the 22 registered formations that fell below the PR threshold, 14 managed to win at least one SMD seat, while 15 seats remained in dispute at the end of May.

Yet the most noteworthy trend revealed in the SMD races was the failure of candidates affiliated with parties to win more than half the races—they took 111 seats while independents won the remaining 114. In previous parliaments, the independents were usually well-known politicians who had left one party and were often in the process of forming another. Most of the independent candidates elected to the new Rada, however, do not fit this pattern. Most of them describe themselves as businessmen. Very few appear to have had any previous political experience, making them an unknown and unpredictable...

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