In the midst of an angry citizenry, crumbling political consensus, and an atmosphere of power-brokering and deal-making, Ukraine has still managed to take important, if hesistant, steps into a new phase of political life. Facing economic collapse, an ineffective state, high levels of corruption, and Russian aggression, on October 26th Ukrainian citizens headed to the polls to elect members of a new parliament.

The parliamentary election in Ukraine is of great importance, as it will define the country’s ability to follow a democratic, pro-European course. Ubiquitous political campaigns for the twenty-nine parties indicated serious competition and desire for change. And in addition to the reincarnation of many recognizable names, the campaign also featured new heroes of the Maidan: activists, media figures, and battalion commanders who seek an equally glorious political future.

Ukraine’s parliamentary elections happen under a mixed electoral system, which means that of the 450 seats in the Rada, or parliament, half will be proportionally distributed to political parties that receive above 5 percent from all votes. The other half will be filled from single-seat constituencies by candidates not required to reveal their party affiliation. Further complicating matters, the number of seats in the new Parliament may only be 423 because voting did not take place in at least 27 constituencies in Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, and the war-torn east of Ukraine.

Among the positive signs, however, are the presence of more than thirty civil society activists and pro-democracy fighters on party lists. This brings hope for the rise of a new, responsible political elite – even though at the same time it is important to understand from where these newcomers draw their credibility.

Meanwhile, armed clashes and military operations are still ongoing in Eastern Ukraine.

In the midst of an angry citizenry, crumbling political consensus, and an atmosphere of power-brokering and deal-making, Ukraine has still managed to take important, if hesistant, steps into a new phase of political life. Facing economic collapse, an ineffective state, high levels of corruption, and Russian aggression, on October 26th Ukrainian citizens headed to the polls to elect members of a new parliament.

The parliamentary election in Ukraine is of great importance, as it will define the country’s ability to follow a democratic, pro-European course. Ubiquitous political campaigns for the twenty-nine parties indicated serious competition and desire for change. And in addition to the reincarnation of many recognizable names, the campaign also featured new heroes of the Maidan: activists, media figures, and battalion commanders who seek an equally glorious political future.

Ukraine’s parliamentary elections happen under a mixed electoral system, which means that of the 450 seats in the Rada, or parliament, half will be proportionally distributed to political parties that receive above 5 percent from all votes. The other half will be filled from single-seat constituencies by candidates not required to reveal their party affiliation. Further complicating matters, the number of seats in the new Parliament may only be 423 because voting did not take place in at least 27 constituencies in Crimea, annexed by Russia in March, and the war-torn east of Ukraine.

Among the positive signs, however, are the presence of more than thirty civil society activists and pro-democracy fighters on party lists. This brings hope for the rise of a new, responsible political elite – even though at the same time it is important to understand from where these newcomers draw their credibility.

Meanwhile, armed clashes and military operations are still ongoing in Eastern Ukraine. The independent civil society group the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) made a statement that it is impossible to conduct the elections process which would meet international standards in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. This raises questions about who will speak on behalf of eastern Ukraine in the newly elected parliament, since these separatist-held regions will hold their own polls.

From the initial results, the political faction led by current President Petro Poroshenko, the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, the People’s Front of Arseniy Yatseniuk, and the Sampomіch Association of Andriy Sadoviy will have the most representation in parliament. Poroshenko’s “Party of Peace” is a recently created development based on his 2001 Solidarnist (“Solidarity”) party, and advocates for a range of issues including curtailing corruption, decentralization of the Ukrainian state, ensuring language rights for Russian speakers, full membership of Ukraine in the European Union, and energy independence. The party includes prominent representatives of Ukrainian civil society, including Olga Bohomolets, Maidan activist, physician, and Vitaliy Klischko, UDAR Party leader and Kyiv Mayor.

Another leading figure, the more hawkish Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, seems to be distancing himself from Poroshenko. Yatsenyuk has been more skeptical of the Minsk Peace Agreement, arguing that the intentions of President Putin are far more sinister than currently appreciated. As a result, Yatsenyuk created the People’s Front Party along with co-founder Olexander Tyrchynov, and the party also includes Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko, former secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Andriy Parubiy, and civic activist Tetiana Chornovol. The party’s political program includes integration into the European Union and NATO, decentralization, independence of judges, deregulation of business, and reliance on foreign aid in restoration of eastern areas damaged by war. But it gives priority to security reinforcement and army reform that will target the creation of a 150,000-stong modern army equipped with 500,000 reserve soldiers.

The Batkivschyna party, led by former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, has lost significant support compared to the 2012 elections. This is primarily due to the once heavyweight Batkivschyna party losing Arseniy Yatseniuk and Olexander Turchynov, its most prominent members. Tymoshenko has called Poroshenko’s peace plan a capitulation to Putin and she has openly called for a referendum on NATO membership. The appeals to nationalism are largely an attempt to regain popularity – for Tymoshenko, this election is her chance to return to big-time politics.

Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party deserves some attention as well – having steadily gained momentum, the party could be playing kingmaker in post-Maidan Ukraine. Lyashko, perhaps Ukraine’s most contentious parliamentary deputy, argues that his party emphasizes the need to fight with Ukraine’s “internal enemies” – separatists and corrupt officials, and also defends the idea of bringing nuclear weapons back to Ukraine. The rise of his populist party can be explained by months of war and hardship, as well as by mounting patriotism among Ukrainians.

Then there is Samopomych (or Self-Help), headed by the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovy. The party boasts a number of Western-educated professionals, entrepreneurs, and civic activists. Among them are Hanna Hopko, democratic activist; Yehor Sobolev, a Ukrainian journalist who heads Ukraine's Lustration Committee; and Oksana Syroid of the Ukrainian Legal Foundation. 

To many, the Samopomych Party represents the potential for the renewal of Ukrainian leadership. Its members are not just bureaucrats, but rather young professionals in areas as diverse as information technology and law. The group arose out of civic cooperative unions focused on regional economic self-organization and political self-administration. Like other political forces in Ukraine, the new group accepts the principles of European integration and the strengthening of national defense. What sets it apart is that together with these principles, it is pushing actively for the development of local autonomy and even considers this the basis of stability.

Finally, the Strong Ukraine party of Serhiy Tihipko, a former central bank chair, as well as the anti-Euromaidan Opposition Bloc could also sneak into the parliament. Both parties represent remnants of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions – with that party’s old faces, methods, and grievances. The Party of Regions itself decided to withdraw from the political race with the fear that it will not pass the 5 percent cutoff point.

In the aftermath of the vote, the interplay of the forces of President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatseniuk is likely to dominate the new political scene in Ukraine. Western-oriented parties will likely be able to quickly form a broad reformist coalition. At the same time, the likelihood of the far right party Right Sector controlling a parliamentary force is low, demonstrating the relatively weak support for extreme nationalists in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna Party – which collected just a bit over the 5 percent required threshold – and the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko both surprised some observers with weak showings. Perhaps their populist bravado and ambitious slogans raised concerns and turned voters towards more serious and stable pro-EU politicians.

What comes next for Ukraine? International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have stated that the election met democratic standards and gave people a real choice. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also stated that Russia was likely to recognize the poll.

Despite continuing internal political clashes and an unstable domestic situation, the parliamentary election was a necessary step for the Ukrainian people to begin building a political foundation for a post-war era. The rich diversity of reform-minded candidates does not necessarily mean that there are no internal clashes between the candidates, and the new parliament will have to quickly learn a more constructive political culture based on healthy dialogue. Even recognizing these challenges, however, this election has the potential to reinforce the country’s precarious stability and strengthen Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s mandate to implement painful reforms.