Parliamentary Democracy in Ukraine

Volodymyr Kish

Ever since Ukraine freed itself from the shackles of the USSR some two decades ago, it has struggled to establish a parliamentary democracy similar to that found in the established free states of the western world. Sad to say, it is still struggling and has a long way to go.
Here in the west, most countries have settled into either a presidential republic or a parliamentary system of governance. At the core of both of these systems is an elected body of representatives of the people known typically as a congress or parliament. Such bodies are endowed with the power to formulate laws that govern how the country is run. Within these congresses or parliaments, representatives form political groupings or parties based on shared political principles or ideologies. In most established and mature democratic countries, there are two or three major parties that represent the political spectrum from right wing or conservative, through centrist liberals, to the left wing or socialist camps. Over the course of time, power alternates between these parties as political, economic and social opinions change, but continuity and stability with regards to the essential political structure remains.

Political stability is something that has been conspicuously absent in Ukraine over the twenty five years that Ukraine has been an independent nation. Part of the reason for this is that we have not yet seen the evolution of stable political parties. Ironically, the only stable political party with a defined ideology that has existed in Ukraine for most of that time was the Communist party. As for the rest, there has been a veritable cornucopia of parties and factions that form, consolidate, merge, disappear, reform and rebrand with a speed and frequency that make your political head spin. Most of them are artificial creations of the power brokers and oligarchs that use political parties as instruments to gain power and control of the Ukrainian economy and the government to further their personal financial interests. Their strength waxes and wanes with the personal popularity of their leader. The core ideologies behind such parties are usually only as deep as the political slogans they use at election time, and there is no substance or philosophical underpinning behind them.

The number of parties that have taken part in Ukraine’s parliamentary elections is truly staggering. In the 2007 elections, no fewer than thirty nine parties took part. As well as the major contenders such as the Party of Regions, Tymoshenko’s Fatherland Party and the Our Ukraine Party, that election saw such parties as the Republican Christian Party, the Party of Pensioners, the Rural Revival Party and the Social Christian Party.

By the time of the 2012 and 2014 parliamentary elections, the party mix had changed considerably. Most of the major parties from previous elections had disappeared and new ones such as the UDAR Party and Svoboda had entered the mix. A whole slew of new fringe parties were also formed, including the Radical Party, UNA-UNSO, the Russian Bloc, the Liberal Party and the Party of Greens. Although the number of parties has diminished from thirty nine to twenty nine in the 2014 elections, there was obviously little continuity from the one election to the other. If one goes back to the first free parliamentary election in Ukraine in 1994, one would find that of the thirty two parties that contested for that one, almost none lived to see the light of day two decades later.

This ever shifting political landscape has not given the Ukrainian citizen and voter the opportunity to identify and support a stable political party with an identifiable and understandable ideology and approach to governance. Ukrainian elections have become a populist, personal popularity circus. Within such an environment, those with deep pockets and personal wealth can easily manipulate the system to achieve power and perpetuate oligarchic and kleptocratic rule.

What Ukraine desperately needs is the establishment of a small number of stable parties with a well defined platform and political ideology that does not revolve around charismatic or wealthy leaders, and which does not change with the political winds. So long as Ukrainian politics is dominated by the Poroshenko Bloc, or the Tymoshenko Bloc, or any other kind of Bloc, it is doomed to wander in the political wilderness.