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Europe Watches As Ukraine Gears Up For Second Round Of Elections

    18 January 2021 Monday

    Now that I’m back in the UK, its time to reflect on the final results, which have to be made official by Friday. Campaigning for the second round can then begin – it’s one of the quirks of Ukrainian law that posters have to come down and politicians stay off TV till then (though prime ministers still tend to be on).

    The voters could do with a rest. The final results have Viktor Yanukovych on 35.3% and Yuliya Tymoshenko on 25%, with Serhiy Tihipko (note the spelling, which I will explain later) on 13.1%, with turnout of 66.8%. (There is a table of the full results at the end of this piece.)

    First a word about the vote for the top two.

    Tymoshenko. With the orange vote split and turnout down 8% on the first round in 2004, Tymoshenko scored four million less votes than Yushchenko at this stage five years ago. Her optimistic reading, however, is that the total ‘national-democratic’ vote is around 60%, and that she suffered from having a second round strategy in round one. That is, she was already trying to cross regional divides, which cost her votes in the west. But she didn’t advance in the east (except for Crimea), where her vote was down on her party vote in 2007. Tihipko was number two in most places in the east and south. Moreover, Tymoshenko has few really high scores: only one is over 50% (Volyn with 53.8%). Significantly, her campaign for round two is supposed to kick off with a big rally in Lviv. She still thinks she has to shore up the core vote – and bitter attacks on Yanukovych as the ‘anti-state’ candidate seem inevitable.

    Yanukovych won a big base score and one first place in the west (Transcarpathia). There is plenty of evidence of ‘diffusion’, i.e. of respectable votes for the minority candidate in most regions of Ukraine (26.7% for Yanukovych in Kirovohrad, etc) – Ukraine is certainly less polarised than in 2004. But Yanukovych’s team only has a ‘first round-lite’ strategy for round two. They don’t want to do anything novel to appeal to voters in the west, as they would risk losing their base in the east, both for this election and for possible early parliamentary elections.

    But the 40% who voted for the other candidates will obviously be key and there are three ways of looking at how their vote might split.

    1. Voter Camps, and why the spelling of Tihipko may matter

    Tymoshenko is right. The definitively ‘orange’ candidates outnumber the ‘blue’ ones. The main other orange candidates are Yushchenko, probably Yatsenyuk, Tyahnybok, Hrytsenko and Kostenko, who together have 15.3%.

    Yanukovych only has three significant ‘other blues’: Symonenko, Bohoslovska and Moroz, who have a much smaller 4.4% of the vote between them.

    The key independents are Lytvyn, who will sell himself to the highest bidder; possibly Yatsenyuk and obviously the biggest winner of the vote so far Serhiy Tihipko. One important piece of news is that he has settled on a Russian-leaning spelling of his name – with an ‘h’ in the middle, but with two ‘i’s. His political intentions are less clear, however. When his campaign first took off last autumn, he was sometimes accused of being a Tymoshenko ‘project’; but now his main priority is to make the best use of his new support. Tymoshenko could offer him the premiership, but would he really want to take it at such a difficult economic period? An alliance of the two would also be ideologically awkward: Tymoshenko has strongly emphasised welfare spending for two years, Tihipko appeals to the new middle class.

    Yanukovych, on the other hand, needs Tihipko for this election, but he cannot deliver the votes that Yanukovych would need in parliament to construct a new government or governing majority. But if there were new parliamentary elections instead, Tihipko would grab a big share of the Party of Regions’s vote.

    2. Regional Splits, and nose-holding votes

    Another (over-lapping) theory is that the ‘other’ candidates’ supporters will follow past regional traditions. In other words, voters in the west will back Tymoshenko and eastern voters will back Yanukovych. There are two question-marks about this theory, however. First, Tymoshenko needs a lot of orange votes in the west, but it will be a nose-holding vote. Turnout may stay low. On Sunday the vote was 73.7% in Lviv, which is above average; but normally turnout is a lot higher than average in patriotic west Ukraine. Turnout went up in 2004, from 74.9% to (a dubious) 80.8% in the second round and 77.3% in the third. This time turnout could even go down, given the predominance of negative sentiment and voting for the ‘lesser evil’ in this election.

    Second, Tihipko did well in all regions of Ukraine. Ironically, this may mean that his vote is bound to split in round two.

    3. Political Technology, and votes for Mr ‘Against all’

    The OSCE and Ukrainian civil society did a great job in ensuring such a clean election in round one. The formal vote went off with few problems. But dirty tricks are still possible. For example, it is alleged that the Communist leader Symonenko is backed by businessmen close to Tymoshenko, and may prove surprisingly neutral in round two.

    There were three Yanukovych ‘technical candidates’ (Ratushnyak, Brodsky and the famous Mr ‘Protyvsikh’ – the Ukrainian spelling of ‘against all’, designed to siphon off a few disillusioned orange voters in the west). Their job was only to add to Yanukovych’s supporters on the election committees. By definition therefore they don’t have many votes to pass on.

    Both camps fear ‘provocations’ that could shift voters’ mood, if normal campaigning won’t work.

    The Winner….

    …is still difficult to predict. But we can be sure the second round will be close. Tymoshenko will reduce the gap, but can she close it? Observers are hoping for a big margin to settle the outcome, but they may not get it.

    Most types of fraud were minimised in round one (the voting lists were ‘washed’ of duplicate names and dead people, voting at home was only 3%). The loser may complain in the courts, but therefore may not have too much to complain about. The key court, the High Arbitration Court, is divided and politicised. Protestors may hit the streets, but they will be more partisan and politicised than in 2004.

    Disillusioned voters are not about to turn out in their hundreds of thousands. An international mission could mediate, but Ukrainians will mainly have to sort things out themselves.

    And here are those results in full:

    Viktor Yanukovych (Party of Regions) 35.3%

    Yuliya Tymoshenko (PM, Tymoshenko Block) 25.0%

    Serhiy Tihipko (banker) 13.1%

    Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Front for Change) 7.0%

    Viktor Yushchenko (President) 5.5%

    Petro Symonenko (Communist) 3.6%

    Volodymyr Lytvyn (Chair of Rada) 2.4%

    Oleh Tyahnybok (Freedom Party, far right) 1.4%

    Anatoliy Hrytsenko (former Defence Minister) 1.2%

    Inna Bohoslovska (pro-Russian) 0.4%

    Oleksandr Moroz (Socialist) 0.4%

    Yuriy Kostenko (ex-Rukh) 0.2%

    Lyudmila Suprun (People’s Democratic Party) 0.2%

    Vasyl Protyvsikh (changed name) 0.2%

    Oleksandr Pabat (Kiev ‘Civic Active’) 0.1%

    Serhiy Ratushnyak (Mayor of Uzhhorod) 0.1%

    Mykhailo Brodsky (Free Democrats) 0.06%

    Oleh Ryabokon (independent) 0.03%

    Against all 2.2%
    Spoiled or rejected ballots 1.6%

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