Reading this very interesting article about this autumn’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine (as you do), the predicament of the opposition movement struck me as a game of risk similar to the board game of that name. Of course, the main opposition parties will have little choice but to size each other up and fight their corner like a couple of middleweights. An alliance with the nationalistic Svoboda (Freedom) Party is undesirable, yet arithmetic may determine it as necessary.
In fact, the position of the only real boxer taking part is most interesting. Vitali Klitschko, who leads the aptly and subtly named Strike Party, is polling just over the 5% required to obtain a share of the seats in the Rada (the Ukrainian parliament). However, many do not quite believe the precipitate decline in the governing Party of Regions’ share (currently a third of its 2010 peak) and the approach of the elections may consolidate support behind the larger parties, depriving Strike of a share in the seats.
Your candidate is a charismatic, popular national figure with a bit of money (but not as much as the other, oligarch-backed parties). Multipolar politics means that while you have run as an independent against the government, you are not necessarily of the opposition. You have to decide how to play the other parties in the run up to the elections – complete independence is an option, but the introduction of new/old rules allowing parties to decide on closed lists for the elections means that you have more to gain from cooperation.
Assumption one – you are not going to get over the 5% threshold. This is easy – you identify the prevailing mood in the country and stick so closely to the representative party that you may even merge at some point. At least, they put you on their list.
Assumption two – you get over the 5%, however, the opposition do not constitute the majority in parliament. Do you sell out to the governing party, believing that an entrenched majority could keep them in power for the next decade, or do you plough your own furrow outside of the major political blocks. This risks irrelevance, although the third option, a vigorous attempt to lead the opposition parties through policy choices (dragging them either left or centre) also entails risks.
Assumption three – you get over the 5% and the opposition do constitute a majority (albeit with Svoboda as part of the majority). Strike will be attractive in this scenario – both mathematically and politically. The major parties will try to manipulate Klitschko into fronting their own vehicles, but concessions are also a possibility. In this scenario you can either:
a) Cleave to one or other of the major opposition parties, adopting most of their policies and accepting a relatively fixed quota of seats; or
b) Seek to exacerbate divisions between the two major opposition blocs, establish yourself as a national personality and ultimately get both to support you as a Presidential Candidate in two or three years time.
Quotes in the article referred to above suggest that Klitschko may be more inclined towards the latter, yet the really interesting feature of Ukrainian politics is that this sort of horse trading takes place before the elections, forcing the opposition to show its hand. Neither scenario is perfect, given that the opposition has not imposed itself as a force on Viktor Yanukovych’s administration. Sviatoslav Khomenko, however, appears to believe that Yanukovych may be worried enough to try dirty tricks. With the eyes of the world on Ukraine during the Euro 2012 Championships and with the EU Association Agreement in limbo, that would be a form of social suicide, yet it is far from impossible.
Klitschko’s record in the most compelling saga in Ukrainian politics is worth an in-depth look, which I do not intend to do, having bored you, dear reader, for too long. Following the arrest of former Prime Minster and Presidential Candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, Klitschko has been vocal in calling for her release. Yet, while the major opposition parties have coordinated but not combined using an association called the Dictatorship Resistance Committee, Klitschko has so far refused to sign his party up.
Could it be that Klitschko is gambling on there being a political resonance to the Tymoshenko case wider than the political battle between her party and Yanukovych’s and is unwilling to estrange the latter? His pro-European stance fits in well with the opposition, and yet he has kept his distance. Only time will tell what the fight will ultimately look like.