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The 2014 Elections
The 2014 Parliamentary Elections
26 October 2014 elections to the Ukrainian parliament produced several results that can be considered to be ground-breaking and that have a potential to set the Ukrainian political process more firmly on the pro-European trajectory than at any point prior since independence. This paper examines the results of the 2014 Rada elections, identifies what can be considered as particularly consequential outcomes, and analyze reasons for their emergence and their possible impact on Ukraine’s political future.
Election results: expected and unexpected
As of this writing, with 99.4% of the votes counted, six parties cleared the 5% threshold: People’s Front (22.17%), Petro Poroshenko’s Block (21.82%), Samopomich (10.99%), Opposition Block (9.38%), Radical Party of Oleh Liashko (7.45%), and Batkivshchyna (5.68%).
Because the elections were conducted under a mixed system, with 50% of legislative seats filled under proportional representation based on the party list vote and 50% in the single-member district races, the composition and size of fraction in the parliament will be affected by the outcome of single member district races. Graph 1 shows how many seats each party would get based on the results of the party list vote and single member races as of 29 October 2014:
The graph above shoes 94 “independent” candidates getting elected. These are the candidates who ran without formal party nomination, but they are not really independent but for the most affiliated with the rump Party of Regions of the former president Viktor Yanukovych. s, based on slightly earlier official results with 97 “independent” winners, estimates the size of the parliamentary groups once the self-nominated independents are allocated to fractions, with most of them joining the Opposition Block.
The likely composition of the parliament is thus likely to be as follows (Table 1):
Note: Ukrainian parliament is composed of 450 members, but only 423 seats were contested in these elections, with the open seats held for the electoral districts located in Crimea and in the rebel-held areas of Donbas where elections did not take place.
The results summarized above are not surprising in as much as all the six parties that secured representation based on the party list vote were also the ones polling as such in pre-election polls. Still, there were a few surprises.
For one, the president’s party did worse than expected, coming second after the party of prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk. This indicates decline in support and disillusionment with President Poroshenko who won presidency in May 2014 in the first round – possibly because some of the key campaign promises, such as ending the war in the east, have not been fulfilled. Yatseniuk’s Popular Front, by contrast, did significantly better than expected since in most pre-election polls the party was not even coming second. Since according to pre-election polls there was a very large number of voters who were going to participate in the vote but were undecided as to what party to vote for – 33% as of the middle of October. It is likely that most of these voters were broadly supportive of the post-maidan government, and how they decided whether to vote for the party of president or of prime-minister needs to be further studies. Among factors influencing such decision may have been desire not to hand the president too much power, perceptions of the degree of corruption in the party, and the extent of party’s links with the Yanukovych-era elites (Poroshenko’s party list, for example, included member of the outgoing parliament who voted for the infamous laws of January 16 that nearly outlawed protests during Euromaidan and led to escalation in violence).
Relative to May 2014 presidential elections which Poroshenko won in the first round receiving 54.7% of the votes, 22% for his party in October is a noticeable drop in support. In the context of Ukraine, weakened standing of the president may prove to be a double-edge sword: on the one hand, it makes usurpation of power by the president nearly impossible. On the other hand, it opens the door and increases the likelihood of protracted battles between the president and Yatseniuk’s party over the terms of post-election coalition and posts in the new government. Poroshenko and Yatseniuk already produced alternative coalition proposals.
In addition to poorer than expected showing of the president’s party and better than expected showing of the party of the prime minister, surprises of the elections are also about some the parties that failed to clear the 5% threshold to enter the parliament based on the party list vote. Left outside the cutoff were parties that at various times polled close to the threshold, most notably the far right Svoboda party which was represented in the outgoing parliament and according to the exit polls was expected to clear the 5% threshold, but at the end fell short with 4.71%. Also left outside the parliament – for the first time in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history – were the Communist Party which secured 3.86% of the vote. Strong Ukraine headed by Serhiy Tyhypko, a former banker and one-time deputy chairman of the Party of Regions, won 3.10%, and Civic Position party headed by former minister of defense Anatolii Hrytsenko got 3.11%. The far-right Right Sector party which gained prominence in media coverage during the Euromaidan protests also failed to enter the parliament on the party list, securing just 1.81% of the vote. While it was polling below 5% in pre-election polls, some believed that its real support be higher and that it had a base of hidden voters who were not forthcoming in the surveys about their preferences.
The consequences of these failures are two. First, there is going to be a much smaller size of the “pro-Russian” contingent in the Rada. Second, the strength of the far right has also been reduced.
The lopsidedly pro-western parliament in Ukraine –
causes and consequences.
Given that the Communists and Strong Ukraine failed to clear the 5% threshold, and decline in support for the Opposition Block relative to the support of the Party of Regions in the 2012 elections, the new Rada is going to have a much smaller number of what can be called pro-Russian parties and individuals, and as a result a larger majority of what can be called pro-western parties. This lopsided composition where pro-western parties together form a constitutional majority, while the pro-Russian parties control just over a quarter of the seats at best, as illustrated in Table 2 and is a dramatic shift in Ukrainian electoral landscape. (The 112 or 26.5% of the seats of the pro-Russian parties in Table 1 is based on the analysis that assumes that the independents who have had connections will join the Opposition Block in the past will support it in the parliament. In reality, some of these independents can decide to form separate fraction(s) and balance between the government and opposition to extract various payoffs and otherwise hedge their bets. So after the parliament convenes and divides into fractions, the reliably pro-Russian/anti-western group may well be less than 26.5%.) The causes of this shift are several, but none more important than Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
The annexed Crimea and the insurgent-controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are the areas of Ukraine that have historically had the most solidly pro-Russian electorate, and removing several million of pro-Russian voters from the voter rolls deprived pro-Russian parties of their voter base. Elections did not take place in 12 electoral districts of Crimea, in nine out of 21 electoral districts in Donetsk oblast, and in six out of 11 districts in Luhansk oblast. Given the number of registered voters in these 27 electoral districts, nearly 4 million people who would have voted overwhelmingly for the pro-Russian parties (some 1.8 million in Crimea and 1.9 million in Donetsk and Luhansk) were unable to participate in the elections as a direct result of Russia’s actions vis-a-vis Ukraine.
The annexation of Crimea and Russia’s role in the Donbas also led to major shifts in Ukrainian public opinion which further helped pro-western parties to win. This is not to say that regional differences in Ukraine have disappeared: as the district-level voting results available on the Ukrainian Central Electoral Commission Web site show, the Opposition Block won on the party list in every single district in Luhansk and Kharkiv in the east, in nearly every district in Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia, and did well in several other eastern and southern regions, in particular Odesa and Dnipropertrovsk. Given historically low voting turnout in these elections (52.42%), and especially low turnout in the east and the south (from 32.4% in Donetsk to 47.9% in Dnipropetrovsk), the pro-Russian sentiment in this part of the country is certainly stronger than the support registered for the Opposition Block in this election, as after the implosion of the Party of Regions there was a void in the party landscape with few attractive options from which voters in these regions could choose. One of the challenges for the new government will be how to win trust of voters in these regions and craft policies that will not alienate those who did not vote for pro-European parties.
Still, polling data shows that the public sentiment in Ukraine has become decidedly less pro-Russian than it has been previously. For example, according to a survey conducted in Ukraine by Gallup on behalf of the International Republican Institute, in September 2014, 59 percent favored Ukraine’s membership in the European Union versus just 17 percent in the Customs union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, while a year ago the figures were 42 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Even more tellingly, support for NATO has substantially increased in Ukraine. According to a September poll by two leading Ukrainian polling agencies, the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, in a hypothetical referendum on NATO membership 44 percent would have voted in favor (35 percent against, while 22 percent were undecided). This is significantly higher than at any time prior. By contrast for most of the time between 2002 and 2009, less than 25 percent of Ukrainians supported NATO membership.
The growing support for pro-western rather than pro-Russian political forces is also evident in the electoral maps based on comparisons between the 2014 and 2012 parliamentary elections presented in Table 2. These maps show electoral districts where either pro-Russian or pro-western parties combined won in 2012 and 2014 respectively. The maps clearly illustrate the shift of dozens of electoral districts in southern and eastern regions from pro-Russian to pro-western parties.
Combined vote for pro-Russian vs. pro-Western parties in 2012 vs. 2014
The implications of this dramatic shift in the Ukrainian parliamentary landscape whereby the pro-Russian parties are in control of only a quarter of the seats while the pro-wester parties can form a constitutional majority are profound. For one, Ukraine is guaranteed to form a pro-western coalition government, even if uncertainty remains over whether Poroshenko’s party of Yatseniuk’s party will become the main partner in the coalition, and which of the smaller parties will be included (the inclusion of Samopomich which brought many new faces and young reformers in the parliament seems assured, but whether the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko will be included is not certain). This pro-European coalition, whatever configuration it takes, will put Ukraine’s course towards Europe on a more solid footing than the orange revolution of 2004 that brought to power pro-western president Viktor Yushchenko. During Yushchenko’s tenure, pro-western parties could form at best a very slim majority based on the outcome of 2002, 2006, and 2007 legislative elections. Stalled reforms of the Yushchenko period were in part due to the fact that infighting between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko perpetually threatened to break the coalition between their parties, and the breakdown of the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko alliance handed power in the legislature to the coalition of the Party of Regions and the Communists. Power struggle between pro-western parties over the coalition terms are quite likely this time too, especially between the two front-runners (the presidential block and the People’s Front). But such conflicts are likely to be less destabilizing for the overall political process and less likely to derail the pro-western course that the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko conflict have been during 2005-2010 due to the sheer strength of the pro-western majority in the Rada. With several possible configurations for the majority, a substantial number of deputies, and even entire parties, can drop out of a coalition without a coalition collapsing, or with a different but still pro-western coalition forming in its place. The pro-Russian Opposition Block is virtually relegated to be what it name says – an opposition.
The shrinking far right
Finally, the failure of far-right parties to clear 5% threshold for representation is also a significant development of these elections. Svoboda entered the parliament for the first time after 2012 electeions where it won 10.45% of the vote on the party list, another 12 seats in the SMD races. With 37 seats, it controlled 8% of the total seats in the Rada. Neither Svoboda or the Right Sector got enough vote to get elected on the party list this time, but several of their candidates won in SMD races including Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the far right Right Sector party, who won in a single-member district in the Russian-speaking eastern region of Dnipropetrovsk. Additionally, the Radical Party roster also includes individuals who have associations with the far right organizations. Overall, the number of the far right candidates in the Rada elected on 16 October 2014, will be 13, or just 3% of the total, according to the calculation by Anton Shekhovtsov, a scholar of the Ukrainian far right – a notable decline from the strength of the far right in the previous parliament.
Reasons for, and implications of, this result deserve further study, but several preliminary observations can be offered. First, the failure of either Svoboda or the Right Sector to win representation on the party list vote shows that even after the Euromaidan which increased the visibility and of these parties given their actions – including violence – in the protests, radical nationalist ideology of these parties remains minority view in Ukraine. The victory of several far right candidates in the Russian-speaking regions was likely due to these candidates being active fighters in volunteer battalions in the east, and they drew support for their service in defense of Ukraine and despite of – rather than because of – their ideology. Secondly, the rise and decline of Svoboda was related to the rise and decline of Yanukovych possibly more so than to the rise of nationalism in Ukraine following the Yushchenko period. At the time of 2012 parliamentary election, Yanukovych was on the offensive, busily consolidating power and elimination opposition. With the 2004 constitutional reform annulled, Tymoshenko imprisoned, the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s lease extended, and authoritarianism creeping, the mainstream opposition was widely perceived as toothless and unable to stop Yanukovych’s power grab, and Svoboda capitalized on this sentiment getting elected as primarily an anti-Yanukovych rather than a nationalist party. With Yanukovych out and Svoboda mired in corruption allegations and no specific reform accomplishment to show for, many of the voters who elected it to oppose Yanukovych in 2012 had little reason to vote for it again in 2014.
 The victory of Yarosh in the heart of what Putin has called “New Russia” or Novorossia will be hard to the Russian propaganda to explain.