PREVIEW - Snap Elections In Ukraine To Show If Zelenskyy's Party Serves People Alone Or In Coalition

PREVIEW - Snap Elections in Ukraine to Show If Zelenskyy's Party Serves People Alone or in Coalition

MOSCOW (UrduPoint News / Sputnik - 21st July, 2019) As Ukraine prepares to vote in Sunday's snap parliamentary election and polls suggest that the Servant of the People party of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will lead the vote, experts discuss possible configurations of the future ruling coalition and the vectors of its post-election policies, in particular on relations with Russia.

The election was initially scheduled to be held in October. On May 17, the ruling coalition broke down after the People's Front party announced its decision to leave. Parties had 30 days to form a new coalition, as required by law, but failed to meet the deadline. In light of these developments, Zelenskyy dissolved the legislature and called a snap election.

The Ukrainian parliament, Verkhovna Rada, has 450 seats, of which 225 will be taken through party lists and the other 225 by a majority vote in single-mandate electoral districts. The minimum vote threshold to win a seat is 5 percent.

WINNER TAKES ALL OR FORMS COALITION?

Recent polls suggest that voter support for Zelenskyy's Servant of the People party (Sluha Narodu) has reached nearly 50 percent, meaning this brand new party with currently no representation in the Rada is likely to lead the vote.

Jaromir Kohlicek, a Czech member of the European Parliament's Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee, explains it by the fact that the old parties became largely unpopular after pursuing a failed economic policy. Plus, Zelenskyy's party presently enjoys a "clean" reputation and the support of several oligarchs, he added.

Yet, experts hesitate to say whether Sluha Narodu will manage to achieve a clear majority on its own or will have to form a ruling coalition with another party.

Dr. Anton Friesen, a member of the German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee from the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, believes the party will need a coalition partner to reign, and, therefore, the upcoming election will be much more significant than the recent presidential election, since Ukraine is a semi-presidential constitutional republic.

Should a coalition be formed, it will be with one of the other front runners, including the Opposition Platform For Life party, the European Solidarity party of former President Petro Poroshenko, the Fatherland party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and the Voice party of rock-musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk.

Depending on which coalition partner Zelenskyy's party potentially chooses, one may infer his intended political course, an international relations and security analyst, Mark Sleboda, told Sputnik.

"The Opposition Platform - Party of Life, which is essentially a reformed Party of Regions party strong in East Ukraine which is currently polling second nationally, is a possibility if Zelenskiy intends to try to seriously attempt political reconciliation with the Donbass and to crackdown on the rampant far right ultranationalist militias empowered since the Maidan Putsch seized power, but doing so would probably result in civil unrest and another violent attempt to overthrow the government by the ultranationalist who are already warning against any such 'revanche,' or any step back, as they call it," Sleboda said.

He added that Zelenskyy's party might decide to form a coalition with the Fatherland party if it decides to continue down Ukraine's ultranationalist path.

The expert finds other coalition configurations unlikely due to two key reasons. First, he doubts that Vakarchuk's party will make it above the minimum threshold. Second, the ongoing personal animosity between Zelenskyy and Poroshenko is likely to render partnership between their parties impossible.

In fact, Zelenskyy has earlier suggested to permanently deprive Poroshenko and his associates of the possibility to ever govern the country again.

ZELENSKYY'S POSSIBLE MOVES AFTER PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS

Calling the snap election, Zelenskyy aimed to change the currently pro-Poroshenko decision-making forces in the parliament, in particular, through securing a ruling coalition that would support his policies, according to Marcello Ferrada de Noli, the founder and professor emeritus of Swedish Doctors for Human Rights and the editor-in-chief of The Indicter geopolitical magazine.

"If Zelensky manages to change the status-quo mainly represented by the Poroshenko-led coalition at the parliament, indeed changes are to be expected in both state and foreign policies. These are closely associated issues in Ukraine," de Noli told Sputnik.

While experts agree that Zelenskyy has been somewhat nebulous in formulating his domestic political priorities, there is a number of issues he is likely to tackle, they say.

One such example would likely be the revision of the so-called "State language law" passed by the Ukrainian Rada in April and enforced by Poroshenko's signature in May this year.

In 2012, then-President Viktor Yanukovych signed a law granting Russian and other minority tongues the status of regional languages in different parts of the country. It meant authorizing these languages to be used in Primary schools, courts and other state institutions. The law was applied mostly in Ukraine's southern and eastern regions, where predominant or significant parts of the population speak Russian as their first language. On May 22, Poroshenko annulled this policy by signing a law that made Ukrainian the only authorized language of education, the judiciary, healthcare and all major state services.

Yet, experts agree that the central issue for Zelenskyy's party will be the economic blockade of Donbas, which Poroshenko declared in March. In April 2014, Ukraine launched an offensive against its breakaway eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known together as Donbas, after they proclaimed independence following what they considered a coup in Kiev in February that year. Ukraine has accused Russia of interfering in its domestic affairs and being involved in Donbas conflict, claims Russia has denied. Since then, the conflict has been mediated through a number of mechanisms, including the Minsk format talks.

Ukraine, among other signatories of the Minsk protocols, committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Donetsk and Luhansk, de Noli explained.

"How would this be possible under a blunt economic blockade exercised by the Ukrainian authorities? Obviously, economic blockades are aimed to the destruction, not reconstructions of economies," he says.

While the Opposition Platform - For Life party has repeatedly urged Zelenskyy to launch a direct dialogue with Donbas, he remained largely reluctant to do so. Both de Noli and Sleboda think that Zelenskyy should engage in such a dialogue as soon as possible in order to progress with the peace process.

"Further and perhaps even more importantly, Zelenskiy refuses to meet with the leadership of the breakaway Donbass republics, DNR and LNR, the most basic initial requirement of the Minsk accords, indicating that political reconciliation with the Donbass is not on the horizon. If he holds to this belligerent position, then I would expect that the "frozen conflict" status quo in eastern Ukraine and combative relations with Russia will continue for the foreseeable future," Sleboda said.

Friezer stressed that peace and prosperity in the region will depend on Kiev normalizing ties with Moscow.

In the meantime, Zelenskyy has repeatedly emphasized his commitment to continuing the geopolitical course toward rapprochement with the European Union and NATO. Last week, he even proposed to discuss Donas in an extended format that would also engage the United States and United Kingdom, which are not formally party to the existing formats of peace talks on Donbas.

WIND OF CHANGE FOR UKRAINE-RUSSIA RELATIONS OR NOT

Whether the upcoming snap elections per se will influence the Ukrainian-Russian relationship is a matter of little debate among the experts. According to Freizen, because the majority of the Ukrainian parliament remains pro-Western regardless of the elections' outcome, Kiev's stance toward Moscow is unlikely to alter.

"The outcome will not change the Ukrainian-Russian relationship, because there will still be an overwhelming majority in the Verkhovna Rada for a pro-western foreign policy. Therefore, Ukraine will probably continue its course towards the European Union and NATO. But this will create new tensions with Russia, I'm afraid. And this is a problem for everybody," Friezen said.

Furthermore, rapprochement with the European Union and NATO, which is seen to ensue estrangement from Russia, is something Zelenskyy has articulated repeatedly as his priority, and his party is likely to continue this course, according to Sleboda.

"All indications thus far is that relations between Moscow and Ukraine will not significantly improve if Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party wins big and becomes the dominant party in the Rada, as expected from polling. Zelenskiy has clearly articulated that he intends to continue to pursue Ukraine's post-Maidan Putsch geopolitical reorientation to the West, seeking association and eventual membership in the EU, and militarily joining NATO, which is actively hostile to Russia," Sleboda said, adding that the Ukrainian leader should not be expected to hold a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin unless the Western states authorize it.

In the meantime, experts agree that normalizing ties with Russia is in the cornerstone of advancing the regional stability and of peace in Donbas, in particular. There exists a number of issues pertaining specifically to bilateral Kiev-Moscow relationship, such as exchange of prisoners or the symmetrical adversary policies of granting passports under a facilitated scheme to each other's citizens. Such matters can potentially facilitate the peace process in Donbas, according to de Noli. Yet, there are matters that can bear danger at a larger regional and international level, should an escalation between Russia and Ukraine occur, Freizen warned.

Experts agreed that is the Minsk agreements that might serve as a convergence point for Kiev and Moscow.

"I would name it 'moderate hopes.' First signals are not very clear, as we are facing elections, but 'Minsk' can be a good basis to start negotiations," Kohlicek said.

Talks in Minsk were launched in 2014 in the 3+2 format (including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Russia, Ukraine plus the People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk) and re-launched in 2015 in the Normandy Four format (including France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine) to mediate peace in Donbas. Moscow has been consistent in promoting the Minsk agreements.

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