Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ukraine: New Rada, New Era

Check out my previous work on Ukraine below! Like Mind of Menyhert on Facebook

Two interviews with a student in Lviv

A guide to Ukraine's Presidential Election

A rebuttal to an article in The Nation

Yesterday, Ukrainians headed to the polls to elect a new Verkhovna Rada, or Parliament.

The country finds itself tired and bandaged since the War in the Donbas, which still sees occasional flare-ups after a ceasefire was declared on September 5th.

The election may not unite the divided country after the tumult of the EuroMaidan Revolution and the War in the Donbas, but it could substantially change the political landscape in Ukraine. Exit polls point to a much different Verkhovna Rada than the one that took office in the 2012 elections

In the east, two breakaway pro-Russian republics find themselves relatively independent of Kiev. The Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic are intact, but are unlikely to get formal recognition from the west, meaning the two republics may end up like the frozen states of Transnistria, Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia, the products of conflicts on or near the Russian border since the fall of communism. None of these states have significant international recognition, but they are more or less de facto countries today. 

The disputed region, called "Novorossiya" (New Russia) is a far cry from its original namesake, which stretched from Odessa to Luhansk when it was part of the Russian Empire. It is small in area, but holds nearly three million people. If we add Crimea into this equation, Ukraine has effectively lost around four million people, from a previous population of about 44 million. Before the war, Donetsk was home to nearly a million people, and Luhansk about 450,000. Elections for the Verkhovna Rada will not be held in rebel-controlled areas, meaning the size of the Verkhovna Rada will be effectively decreased by 27 seats out of a previous 450.

The two states that make up "Novorossiya" are planning their own elections for the 2nd of November, and they will effectively have to start from scratch, though it's fairly likely pro-Kremlin parties will win elections since the breakaway republics are founded on being pro-Kremlin instead of pro-Europe and pro-Russia parties like the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and Fmr. President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions were popular in past elections.

Exit Polls indicate the voting in the rest of Ukraine is shaping up to look as such:  

Petro Poroshenko Bloc: 23.1%
People's Front Party: 21.2%
Self-Reliance Party: 13.4%
Opposition Bloc 7.6%
Radical Party 6.4%
Svoboda/Freedom Party: 6.3%
Fatherland Party: 5.6%

Data from Radio Svoboda. 

Meet the Parties

The Petro Poroshenko Bloc is fairly self-explanatory. The current president of Ukraine is Petro Poroshenko, a rich businessman who made millions in the chocolate industry. His pragmatic, pro-European views received widespread support from Ukrainians in May when he was elected in the first round of voting, easily beating the 2nd-place candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko. His allies include Vitaly Klitschko, the former boxer and founder of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party, usually shortened to UDAR ("Strike") and present mayor of Kiev. 

The party's platform includes, as outlined on their website (in Ukrainian)

Promotion of open list elections
Decentralization of the Ukrainian state
Creating a public television network
Bringing attention to the plight of the Crimean Tatars
Ensuring language rights for Russian speakers while maintaining Ukrainian as the sole official language
Full membership of Ukraine in the European Union
Welfare and social protection for poor citizens
Law enforcement reform and creation of an independent judiciary
Ending corruption
Ensuring Ukraine's territorial integrity

Energy independence for Ukraine

Photo credit to Mikola Lazarenko of RIA Novosti. 

Photo credit to Wikipedia. 

People's Front 

The People's Front performed surprisingly well in exit polls considering previous polling data. A recent poll conducted by Gorshenin earlier this month had the party winning 7.9% of the vote. The Party won three times that according to exit polls coming in at 21.2%. This party is only a few months old, created in March by interim President Oleksandr Turchynov and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Expect the People's Front to be part of a coalition with the Poroshenko Bloc, as Yatsenyuk and Turchynov were important players during and after the February Revolution. 

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk(left, photo by Sergei Supinsky of AFP) and Fmr. President Turchynov (photo from Wikipedia)


Another surprise out of the exit polls was the success of the Self-Reliance Party, headed by L'viv mayor Andriy Sandovyi. The party was created in 2012, but this is the first time it's been seen in Ukrainian national politics. The party aims to join "Christian morality and common sense", and will likely be allied with the Poroshenko Bloc and the People's Front. Second on the party's list is Syemen Semenchenko, a native of Donetsk and the head of the volunteer Donbas Battalion which fought the separatists.  Speaking of politicians directly involved in the Donbas War...

Radical Party of Ukraine

Oleh Lyashko

The Radical Party of Ukraine, led by Oleh Lyashko, received around 6.4% of the vote in exit polling, slightly less than that of Gorshenin's estimate. It is a left-wing party that has taken a strong stance against the oligarchs that wield considerable influence in Ukraine. The party has nationalist and populist overtones to it, and Lyashko himself has been influential in establishing volunteer battalions in eastern Ukraine to fight against the pro-Russian separatists, even taking part in the fighting himself. He was a member of Batkivshchyna until 2012, but received one seat in the 2012 elections to the Rada. His party wants to restore Ukraine's nuclear status and "end the War in Donbas by force". Lyashko received 8.32% of the vote in the May presidential election, a distant third to Poroshenko, and the party's continued influence will likely depend on Lyashko himself. This may be the party Poroshenko chooses to consult when dealing with the corruption that plagues the country. 

Opposition Bloc

Led by Yuriy Boyko, this imaginatively-named party is a coalition of members of previous parties that did not endorse the Euromaidan Revolution. It received 7.6% of the vote according to exit polling, and is populated by some former members of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions, including Boyko himself, who ran for president earlier in the year. The party received substantial support in the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, not far from the separatist fighting, which raised some eyebrows. It will wield some influence despite the heavily pro-European parliament as its constituents are largely Eastern Ukrainians, and Poroshenko may seek its help in compromising in future deals to ensure legitimacy with voters in eastern regions. 

Svoboda/Right Sector

Oleh Tyhanybok, leader of Svoboda/Freedom. 
Picture from David Mdzinarshvili, Reuters. 

Svoboda means "freedom" in Ukrainian (and many other Slavic languages), and is Ukraine's nationalist party, led by the wild-eyed and oftentimes crass Oleh Tyhanybok, whose party is commonly accused of being fascist. 
Like the more moderate Fatherland party, Svoboda and by extension its cousin Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) lost considerable power. Svoboda won 35 seats and  slightly more than 10% of the popular vote in 2012, but only 6.3% of the vote this time around. 

Right Sector, another nationalist organization in Ukraine and a favorite target of Russian state media smear campaigns, is barely more than an afterthought at this point if we are to take the numerous polls at face value. The Gorshenin poll had Right Sector winning barely more than 1% of the vote. It's important to remember that Right Sector is against integration with Europe, an odd outlier of a revolution commonly referred to as "EuroMaidan". 


Yulia Tymoshenko, photo from Reuters.

A surprising loser in these elections, Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) barely scraped past the 5% threshold. By contrast, Fatherland was the 2nd largest party to win seats in the 2012 Parliamentary election, winning more than 25% of the vote and over 100 seats in the Rada. Perhaps it is the party's outdated image and leader, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is partially responsible for this change. Tymoshenko made an emotional speech to Maidan protestors after President Yanukovych was ousted and her release from prison generated considerable fanfare, but some Ukrainians, as I learned in an interview (link at the top of the page) that Tymoshenko is considered excessively proud and a symbol of the old guard by some Ukrainians, despite her pro-European views. Fatherland's party platform may still enable it to join a coalition with the Poroshenko Bloc and People's Front, but the party has severely declined since 2012.


"With 45.03% of electronic voting reports processed, the People's Front has 21.62% of the vote, while the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko has 21.47% of the vote in Ukraine's early parliamentary elections.
The Samopomich Union received 11.13% of the vote, the Opposition Bloc got 9.76%, Oleh Liashko's Radical Party 7.36%, and the Batkivschyna All-Ukrainian Union 5.71%, according to the information board at the Central Election Commission's (CEC) press center.
The Svoboda Party is close to the 5% election threshold, having scored 4.68% of the vote at the moment."

UPDATE 2: (From Interfax Ukraine)

"The results of processing 60.69% of the protocols obtained by the Central Election Commission (CEC) from elections commissions have shown People's Front winning 21.59% and Petro Poroshenko Bloc 21.41% of the votes in the parliamentary elections held last Sunday.
The Samopomich Union has mustered 11.16% of the votes, the Opposition Bloc 9.91%, the Radical Party 7.36%, and the Batkivschyna 5.64% of the votes, according to information posted on an interactive display at the CEC press center.
The results so far show the remaining parties and blocs falling short of the 5% election threshold, with the Svoboda all-Ukrainian Union coming closest with 4.7% of the votes."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Somalia May be rising from the ashes (SCARR Article)

When one hears “Somalia”, people usually think of the movie “Black Hawk Down”, pirates, countless sides of violence and strife, and Islamic fundamentalism. The country still suffers from poverty and violence in other areas, but the capital of Mogadishu, once a war-torn shell of a city plagued by hatred and arbitrary blood-spilling, is starting to rise from its painful past.  Earlier this month, a new airport and seaport started construction with help and investment from Turkey. The Somali government started their first postal service in twenty years, devising a postal code system for the East African nation-the first they've ever had. 
To an outsider, this probably sounds extremely basic, almost primitive. After twenty years of religious and clan-instigated conflict, Somalia has nowhere to go but up. The Civil War and Islamic fundamentalism ravaged the already impoverished country into anarchy and utter disarray. The economy wasn’t just hurt, it was wiped out. What was left of Mogadishu was terrorized by wild-eyed groups of thugs with Kalashnikovs slung over their backs. These are basic infrastructural needs, but they are vital to functioning society, and are the first step to developing a country that desperately needs it.

Somalis that have moved elsewhere are also returning to their homeland to help, assisting new businesses and recruiting skilled laborers for further development. The national currency, the shilling, has been regaining its value, shooting up from an exchange rate of 15,000 shillings to the dollar in May of 2013 to just over 1,000 to the dollar in March of 2014. Right now it’s dipped under 800.  This is excellent news for a people desiring to invest-it will inspire confidence, and for the first time, Somalis in Mogadishu can withdraw shillings from an ATM in their capital city. Progress is being made in resolving the territorial dispute with Puntland with international observers standing by.

Some credit is definitely due to the work of Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who was elected in September 2012, and promised strong anti-corruption measures. However, security isn’t perfect; only two days ago a bomb went off near a popular cafe killing six, and the UN has condemned what they described as a possible escalating crisis. Al-Shabaab is a very real threat, and the government still lacks strong authority outside the capital. The country is severely underdeveloped, with a GDP per capita of $600, and the northern section of the country considers itself independent. Somalia’s got a very long way to go. But every journey begins with one step. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tunisia Tests Democracy

In early 2011, a fruit vendor in Tunisia lit himself ablaze, provoking mass anger in the small North African state. This act of desperation started the Arab Spring, which ended the regimes of dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. In Tunisia, Former President Ben Ali is living out his days in exile. But Tunisia has a claim most of the other Arab Spring nations can attest to. They’ve weathered the storm well and seem to be on an imperfect but determined path to true representative democracy, while Libya is a lawless mess, and Egypt seems to have come full circle by electing Abdel Fateh el-Sisi
Tunisia faces an important test this year with Presidential and legislative elections quickly approaching. Scuffles between Islamists and liberals are still a very real threat and the country is still plagued by terrorist attacks and assassinations. Elections are scheduled for October and November of this year. Four parties, along with a sizable contingent of independents, make up Tunisia’s parliament. The Islamist party Ennahda is the largest party in Tunisia’s constituent assembly, but the interim president is a liberal nationalist who has worked as a human rights activist.

Islamism could be a very real threat to democracy in Tunisia, especially with the problems in next-door Libya and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Tunisia’s economy is still sputteringfrom the revolution-budget deficit that has risen sharply since the revolution. However, if Tunisia is able to have a peaceful and free election, their economy will likely get a boost. The country also has a considerable tourism industry due to the ancient city of Carthage, Roman ruins, and affordability compared to Europe. While Tunisia does depend on oil, it is far less attached to black gold than other Arab nations, which is rare. Some within Tunisia have complained that none of the present parties have a solution to the economy, but perhaps a clean election will be the boost the country needs.

On September 30, the news broke that 27 candidates will be running in Tunisia’s presidential election, and that the polls are currently led by Beji Caid Essebsi, an elderly secular candidate with background in the previous regime who wants to lead Tunisia in a step-by-step fashion. He is quoted in the New York Times, claiming the transition will be a slow one: “When someone is hungry asking for food, you only give him what he needs...You don’t give him more, or else he might die, so we offer a step-by-step approach.”

Essebsi has a reputation of trying to change the old dictatorship from within but has dealt with protesters in questionable ways as interim prime minister, but one could wager that it’s not who wins, but the process of the election that matters. If Tunisia pulls these elections off fairly, cleanly, and quickly, whoever wins could gain legitimacy among the electorate even if they voted for another.