Tags: Ukraine | Russia | crisis | vote

Divided Ukraine Votes Under Shadow of War

Sunday, 26 October 2014 07:42 AM EDT

A divided Ukraine voted Sunday in parliamentary elections expected to back President Petro Poroshenko's pro-Western reforms and test support for his plan to negotiate with pro-Russian insurgents threatening to break up the country.

Reformers and nationalists supporting a drive to steer Ukraine out of Russia's sphere of influence were expected to dominate, with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc the biggest party, although needing partners to form a ruling coalition.

The snap election came eight months after a street revolt overthrew Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, sparking conflict with Russia and a crisis in relations between the Kremlin and Ukraine's Western allies.

The war with pro-Russian rebels in the industrial east, in which 3,700 people have died, and Russia's earlier annexation of the southern Crimean region, overshadowed the election.

Voters in Crimea and in separatist-controlled areas of the eastern Lugansk and Donetsk provinces -- about five million of Ukraine's 36.5 million-strong electorate -- were unable to vote.

Twenty seven seats in the 450-seat parliament will remain empty. 

Dressed in camouflage, Poroshenko helicoptered in for a surprise visit to Kramatorsk, a government-held town in the heart of the conflict zone.

The dramatic gesture was clearly meant to show that the beleaguered region has not been forgotten.

However, the disenfranchisement of the separatist areas and Crimea seemed likely to further cement the once peaceful, but now bloody faultline between Ukraine's Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west.

After casting a vote for the radical nationalist Svoboda party in the capital Kiev, Tatyana Kryshko, 75, reflected the grim national mood.

"I know things will be hard financially. I think that we won't live to see a rich and strong Ukraine, but that our children and grandchildren will," she told AFP. 

Polls show a majority of Ukrainians support economic and democratic reforms -- especially a crackdown on corruption -- leading eventually to European Union membership.

On the eve of voting, Poroshenko promised "an entirely new parliament" that was "reforming, not corrupt, pro-Ukrainian and pro-European, not pro-Soviet."

For the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party was not expected to clear the five-percent barrier for entering parliament under proportional representation. Poroshenko, elected president in May with 55 percent of the vote, hopes that failure will symbolise his attempts to remake Ukraine.

However, there is less unity over how to resolve the dismemberment of the country in Russia's occupation of Crimea and the separatist battle in the east.

A Moscow-backed truce signed by Kiev and the separatists on September 5 has calmed the worst fighting, although there are daily violations around the largest rebel-held city Donetsk.

Insurgent leaders, who are not allowing polling stations to open in their areas, have announced their own leadership vote, which Kiev does not recognise, on November 2.

In theory, residents in places like Donetsk could leave and vote elsewhere, but one young man in the rebel-held city said that wasn't happening.

"I don't know anyone who has any intention of leaving Donetsk to go and vote," he said.

Ukrainian soldiers deployed nearby said that even they had been left out.

"I think it's really not right that we don't have a chance to vote. Everyone should, especially people who are dying for this country," said Volodymyr Derchak, 62, a member of the volunteer Artemovsk battalion.



Poroshenko insisted Saturday that there can be "no military solution" to the conflict and renewed his pledged to seek a political compromise.

That message was likely to be welcome by Ukrainians alarmed at the prospect of open-ended war against rebels that most people here believe are backed by Russia, although Moscow denies this.

Valentina Pavlova, a 65-year-old pensioner voting in Mariupol, a city near the separatist war zone, told AFP she had voted for one of the few parties opposing the radical nationalists.

"I don't like the radical parties that think they can just beat anyone up," she said. "I think a lot of people here will vote the same as myself. We are at the frontier now, we watch the news every night in fear."

Poroshenko's softer line could meet resistance in the new parliament, where deputies are set to include members of hardline nationalist groups and soldiers turned politicians.

In Kiev, Tamara Kovalko, 62, said she had voted for one of the country's best known nationalist firebrands, Yulia Tymoshenko, because "she's a strong leader -- she can take care of the east." 

The new parliament will have broad new powers that include the right to name the prime minister and most of his cabinet.

Parties expected to pass the five-percent threshold include the Radical Party of the populist Oleg Lyashko and former defence minister Anatoliy Grytsenko's Civil Opposition group.

Poroshenko would likely prefer to strike an alliance with the more moderate People's Front of current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- an ally instrumental in securing a $27 billion rescue package designed to cut Kiev's economic dependence on Moscow.

Polls opened at 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and close at 8:00 pm (1800 GMT).


© AFP 2024

A divided Ukraine voted Sunday in parliamentary elections expected to back President Petro Poroshenko's pro-Western reforms and test support for his plan to negotiate with pro-Russian insurgents threatening to break up the country.Reformers and nationalists supporting a...
Ukraine, Russia, crisis, vote
Sunday, 26 October 2014 07:42 AM
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