Ukraine election: What to look for

Posters of Anatoliy Hrytsenko (left and Arseniy Yatseniuk in Kiev, 22 October Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Posters of Anatoliy Hrytsenko (left and Arseniy Yatseniuk in Kiev

Ukraine will elect a new parliament on 26 October but now with the borders and very survival of the Ukrainian state at stake.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in the war in the east and 300 more since a ceasefire was agreed on 5 September, as the rebels try to grab more land, resources and supply lines.

The Ukrainian economy is collapsing, with a fall in GDP of between 7% and 10% forecast for this year. Yet the elections are still supposed to reboot the political system and begin reform. Here are six key things to look for as Ukraine goes to the polls.

Who votes

No elections will be held in the 12 seats in Russian-occupied Crimea. Crimeans can, in theory, vote elsewhere but they might not be allowed back. In the Donbas, the central election commission accepts no elections will be possible in rebel-held areas, which would be 15 out of 32 constituencies. So in total, 27 out of the 450 seats in the new Ukrainian parliament may be empty. But the rebels' area of control (and threat) keeps changing.

Turnout elsewhere in eastern and southern Ukraine will be crucial. If voters in areas next to the Donbas look alienated from Kiev, Russia may be tempted to go after other targets. Three parties are targeting the east and south, but none is sure of winning the necessary 5%. Many Russian-speaking voters in eastern and southern Ukraine, in other words, have few options to vote for and may be disinclined to vote anyway.

Old faces or new

The elections will be held using the same flawed rules as last time, in 2012. Half of MPs will be elected by proportional representation on national lists, which will be the "headline" result in the exit polls announced on the night.

But the other half will be elected in territorial constituencies, where the spending power of old-style oligarchs will make the difference, and where no less than 159 sitting MPs are standing. Only about 50 MPs are forecast to be new faces.

The war's effect on the vote

Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Poroshenko (left) is counting on ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko to lead his bloc to victory

President Petro Poroshenko has set up his own bloc, which leads the polls, but he wants to win big to avoid the struggles with parliament that plagued previous presidents. But he also has potential allies - most of the other parties are patriotic and pro-European. Civic Platform and Self-Help are the activists' favourites. Fatherland is the party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, released from jail with the fall of Viktor Yanukovych in February.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Internet Party of Ukraine activists dress as Star Wars characters

Another interesting sub-plot is the vote for and against the war in the east. President Poroshenko supports the ceasefire he negotiated but Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk has set up a new party, the People's Front, which does not rule out a "military solution" to the problems in the east and is rising in the polls. Several army commanders are standing for election. Veterans of the volunteer battalions, in particular, are a new factor radicalising Ukrainian politics.

Only three parties are concentrating their efforts in the south and east. The Communists have narrowly escaped an attempt to ban them while the Opposition Bloc contains many figures from the former ruling Party of Regions. Strong Ukraine claims to be a centrist party but is headed by two oligarchs.

The far right or the street

None of the extremist parties beloved of Russian propaganda is scoring well in the polls. Right Sector is barely at 1%. Svoboda may just make the 5% barrier but is increasingly behaving like a powerless opposition force. One or two individuals like Andriy Biletsky, commander of the Azov Battalion linked to the far-right Social-National Assembly, may win seats but are more likely to make trouble on the streets than in parliament, especially as the volunteer battalions claim to have been "betrayed" by the regular army in the east.

The only significant nationalist party is Oleh Lyashko's noisily populist Radical Party which is second in the polls. But Mr Lyashko is often accused of taking money from the oligarchs who give airtime on their TV channels. Ukraine has passed a "lustration law" and reformed its prosecution system, and the oligarchs want to see plenty of MPs in the new parliament who will work to blunt the effect.

The rebel vote

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The fighting rages on: explosion near Donetsk on 20 October

According to the ceasefire agreement, the rebel areas in the Donbas are supposed to hold Ukrainian local elections on 7 December but they are ignoring that date and fast-forwarding their own unsupervised and unconstitutional vote to 2 November.

Factories are idle, energy supplies intermittent and most public services only a memory. The rebel republics want the vote before a difficult winter, when Russia may not pick up the bills as it is finding paying for Crimea hard enough. Neither election is really discussing the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the east, with more than one million people displaced within Ukraine and many more having fled to Russia.

Will it last?

The new parliament may be unstable. An apparent pro-Poroshenko majority could turn into the opposite by the spring, especially if there is renewed conflict with Russia or the economic collapse accelerates.

The new parliament may be more patriotic but, with so much influence from the old regime and the oligarchs, may prove unable to agree and drive forward the reform agenda the country so badly needs. In which case, many predict that a "new Maidan" - a new round of even more radical protests in Kiev - could be on the cards.

Ones to watch - Vitaliy Shevchenko, BBC Monitoring

Image copyright AP
Image caption Oleh Lyashko
Image copyright EPA
Image caption A poster for Nadiya Savchenko in Kiev
  • Vitali Klitschko, mayor of Kiev and former heavyweight boxing champion, heads the list for the Poroshenko Bloc
  • Nadiya Savchenko, a female Ukrainian pilot held prisoner by Russia after being captured in eastern Ukraine, heads the list for Fatherland
  • Oleh Lyashko, Radical Party leader, promises to run oligarchs through with a pitchfork and wants to re-arm Ukraine with nuclear weapons; his stunts include dumping an official into a waste bin as part of an anti-corruption campaign
  • Anatoliy Hrytsenko, the outspoken former defence minister who leads Civic Position, portrays himself as a champion of Ukraine's middle class and says he wants to bring Ukraine closer to Europe
  • Seven military commanders from the war in the east are running as People's Front candidates

Andrew Wilson's book Ukraine Crisis: What it Means for the West was published on 14 October