Table tennis rackets with pictures of Ukraine's President Yanukovych. (Gleb Garanich / Courtesy Reuters)
On October 28, Ukrainians will go to the polls for parliamentary elections. Just about everyone in the country believes that the result will be a victory for the ruling Party of Regions (PR), which, at first glance, would seem to reinforce the legitimacy of the increasingly authoritarian president, Viktor Yanukovych.
But few expect greater stability or effectiveness to follow. Up for grabs are 450 seats in Ukraine's parliament, the Rada. Of those, 225 will be filled from party lists. The other 225 will be filled by individuals campaigning in first-past-the-post districts. Polls suggest that the PR will win around 20 to 25 percent of the party-list seats. The Fatherland coalition, headed by the imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the ex-boxer Vitali Klitschko's Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) will each likely get about 15 to 20 percent, and the Communists -- offering simple, clear, attractive, and unworkable solutions to Ukraine's many woes -- will double their electorate and win around 10 percent. The PR's share of the majoritarian deputies might be as much as 75 percent, thanks to its enormous financial resources and its domination of local electoral committees. All in all, the PR should win about half of the Rada's 450 seats.
A truly free and fair vote -- this will be neither -- would not produce a victory for the PR. Virtually every Ukrainian believes that the PR has done, and will do, everything it can to manufacture a win, including gerrymandering districts, buying votes, manipulating the vote count, stuffing electoral committees with loyalists, intimidating the opposition, restricting the freedom of the democratic press, and engaging in outright fraud. International observers will get to monitor only a tiny portion of the overall electoral process: the actual casting of ballots.
The PR has much to lose. The party elite's untrammeled accumulation (and continued retention) of wealth is dependent on its holding office. If it loses power, the elites lose