On Sunday, Ukrainians went to the polls to elect a new national parliament, the first time since former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled the country after protesters clashed with the police in February of this year.
Since its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1990, Ukrainian politics have wrestled with the question of closer ties with either Europe to the west, or Russia to the east. In 2004, a protest called the Orange Revolution challenged the validity of Yanukovych’s presidential bid, and successfully declared his election to be rigged. He returned to power in 2010, and later halted talks with the European Union to start talks with Russia on economic cooperation deals instead.
Protesters began occupying the main square in Kiev since November 2013, and in February of this year violent clashes with the police left at least 98 dead and thousands injured. The parliament recalled Yanukovych as president, and pro-Europe Petro Poroshenko was elected in May as his replacement.
However, as the eastern portions of Ukraine are more supportive of closer ties with Russia, pro-Russian separatists have armed themselves and taken control over the major cities in the region, including Luhansk and Donetsk. As early as March, the region of Crimea, a stronghold on the Black Sea with sea access to the south, was annexed by Russia through a referendum that the West has deemed illegitimate.
While the pro-Russia separatist controlled regions will hold separate elections next Sunday, half of the votes have been counted in the rest of Ukraine, and pro-European parties are looking to sweep the parliamentary elections.
Ukraine has gone through many electoral system reforms, and current employs a system like Taiwan’s, with half of its 450 parliament elected from party-based lists. Also like Taiwan, parties must pass a 5% minimum to win seats. The top two party blocs are led by current president Poroshenko and his ally Arseniy Yatseniuk, both at 21% each, and the pro-Russian opposition at 9.7%. The Communist Party, long a dominant force in Ukrainian politics, may not enter parliament at 3.9%.
900 observers oversaw the elections, where 52% of the voters turned out to vote. As pro-European parties could possibly enjoy a super-majority in the parliament, real changes to its policies as well as how it handles pro-Russia sentiments and separatists movements remain to be seen.
For previous coverage of Ukraine on Ketagalan Media, click here.
(Feature photo of the Ukrainian parliament chamber, on Wikicommons)