Thankfully, not all of the media are saying such things, but I heard on the BBC yesterday a report saying that Ukraine was heading back into Russia's orbit and that Yanukovych has made a big comeback. Um, excuse me, but the man (Yanukovych or Ya for short) has not yet become PM again and it is no surprise to anyone who knows anything about Ukraine and these elections that he performed as he did. Those reporters hollerin' today about Ya's performance are a bit like that person in the car ride who wakes up and starts excitedly pointing out the approaching mountain range that everyone else in the car already spotted 45 minutes ago. . .
Then there was the Washington Post article that was reprinted in our local Minneapolis paper with the headline, "Voters turn away from Orange Revolution."
The article as printed in the Post was a slight bit more accurately entitled, "Ruling Party Suffers Rout in Ukraine" by Peter Finn, who nonetheless did talk about the election as Yanukovych's big comeback. . .
Because of all this, I had the following chat tonight with some Latvian friends (of varying ages, from 30 somethings on up to 50 somethings) about the elections. "My god, what's happening in Ukraine?" one fellow asked. "We [Latvians] all know that the long-term Russian plan is to swallow Latvia whole again, but my god, we thought you Ukrainians would slow the Russian machinary down a bit!"
I told him to hold his horses, that there would be no need anytime soon (hopefully never) to send his sons, with their Latvian scouting skills, to the motherland to defend against an eminent Russian invasion. For as we all know: Nothing is said and done until we see who emerges as PM. I am loath to make any prediction.
Thus there is no comeback as of yet for Yanukovych and Ukraine's voters have not turned their backs on the OR. Neither Ya nor the Regions party disappeared after the OR, and in fact, Ya has recieved fewer votes (vis-a-vis his party) in this parliamentary election than he did in the presidential election. So this is all premature talk. There is the chance that he may return as PM, but that will in very large part depend on Yushchenko's response to the bigger news story of this election (see next paragraph). Furthermore, there are those pundits out there who argue that it is inaccurate to assert that, without a doubt, Ukraine will necessarily race back into the Russian orbit and redevelop a pre-OR political culture in the event that Ya becomes PM again. . .I am not entirely convinced of this, but anyway. . .
So the big story here (since it's not news that Ukraine has an East-West divide and that Ya performed as everyone expected him to) is the protest vote against Yushchenko's handling of reforms embodied by Tymoshenko's and the Socialist's performance.
In other words, the story is not that Ya has made a comeback (yet), nor that Ukrainians have turned their backs on the OR; the story is that the majority of pro-Orange Ukrainians have told Yushchenko that they don't want further compromise with the Party of Regions and that they want a harder pro-reform line.
The next big story will be all about coalition building, of course. I don't pretend to be saying anything original here.
[Update: just noticed that bob at abdymok and One Eyed Cat at OrangeRevolution have made similar points here and here.]
Btw, there is some good journalism out there on the elections. Via Dominique Arel's Ukraine List, I spotted a good article in the Guardian entitled "The Future's Still Orange" (WOW! In the Guardian! A good article on Ukraine!), and in the Warsaw-based Gazeta Wyborcza there's "The Revolution is not Lost."
For those of you who don't get the Ukraine List:
a) You can write to Mr. Arel at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a free subscription;
b) A thought-piece on the elections via the Ukraine List from Taras Kuzio:
Ukraine's 2006 Elections (Taras Kuzio):
1. The elections will be declared to have been held in a free and fair manner, the first in Ukraine since 1994. This will be contrasted to elections in Belarus and the generally poor democratic situation in the CIS. The OSCE/Council of Europe/EU have given high remarks to the elections.
2. Yushchenko can take great credit for this progress.
3. The holding of free and fair elections will put pressure on the EU to change its passivity which is in place since Yushchenko's election.
4. Voting patterns resemble 2004, except Yanukovych will not obtain 44% as he did then. But, it's still early as only 20% of the votes have been counted.
5. Yushchenko (and thereby Our Ukraine) is a "kamikaze" president. He made countless mistakes in 2005, including sacking the Tymoshenko government and dividing the Orange camp, signing a Memo with Yanukovych and keeping Prosecutor Piskun until October, thereby not following through on instituting charges against high level officials, and he mishandled the gas contract. Yushchenko also wasted a year when he had Kuchma's powers and failed to use them to stamp his authority on the country.
6. Tymoshenko came second because of Yushchenko's "kamikaze" mistakes that led to a Orange protest vote going to her, rather than to Pora. Our Ukraine proved to be arrogant, both vis-a-vis Orange voters and vis-a-vis Yushchenko himself. Senior Orange businessmen accused of corruption in September refused to back down from standing in Our Ukraine, ignoring Yushchenko's advice. Political parties in Our Ukraine refused to merge into a single pro-presidential party.
7. Economics never did, and did not in these elections, drive Ukrainian voters. Whether Ukraine has 2% or 12% GDP is not something that guides Ukrainian voters. Negative voting s always a major factor in Ukraine's elections.
8. An Orange coalition was always the most realistic choice for Ukraine for two reasons:
a) to send a signal to the West and Russia about the sustainability of the Orange Revolution and democratic change
b) any deal with Yanukovych/Regions would have been the political death for Yushchenko. This is what I have been saying for weeks and it is echoed by comments from Lytvyn, Tymoshenko, Ryabchuk and others. Our Ukraine coming in third have no political strength to do a deal with Regions which have a lot more votes.
9. Yushchenko failed to understand an important, perhaps most important, factor driving the Orange Revolution - the sense of feelings of injustice against abuse of office, corruption and "Bandits" running Ukraine. Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov totally misunderstood this feeling, as seen by his invitation to Ukraine's oligarchs to a meeting in October where he described them as "Ukraine's national bourgoiese." The Rule Of Law cannot move ahead without dealing with these issues from the past - election fraud in 2004, high level corruption, who ordered the Gongadze murder and Yushchenko's assasination.
10. Yanukovych is not a reformed leader:
a) he sent greetings to Lukashenko on his "victory." Yushchenko and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs followed the Western position on the Belarus elections.
b) he has never acknowledged his defeat in 2004. The top five in Regions included Yanukovych, the crazy Taras Chornovil, separatist Yevhen Kushnariov, and others who were a poor choice if Yanukovych wanted to show a conciliatory position. Throughout the elections they have continued to denounce the legitimacy of the Orange Revolution as a "illegal coup," "Orange rats," etc, etc.
c) US comment on Regions is confusing: should we take their program for its face value (Anders Aslund) or should we ignore the program as there are pro-European businessmen ready to change the face of Regions (Adrian Karatnycky). If it is the former then Regions is (in addition to economic reform) against NATO membership, for full membership in the CIS Single Economic Space, and Russian as a state language. Regions voted against WTO legislation.
d) Regions will vote with the government on certain issues dealing with economics.
11. Tymoshenko might become Prime Minister or Rada speaker. Her record in office is mixed, not purely black. Much of what Yushchenko/Our Ukraine have taken credit for economically was initiated under her government.
12. These elections show Ukraine's democratic progress has consolidated after the Orange Revolution. The choice of an Orange coalition makes it more likely Ukraine will obtain a MAP in Riga in November. Judgements about Ukraine's democratic progress should not be influenced negatively by dislike of the ensuing parliamentary coalition.
13. I doubt parliament will last its full term of five years. The contradictions inherent in particular insides the Party of Regions will lead it to implode.