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5 June, 2012  ▪  Andriy Skumin

Political Deuces

Pseudo-opposition and unpopular projects could steal as much as 10% of the opposition’s votes and play a destructive role in electoral commissions

In this year’s elections, every percentage point of votes cast for the opposition may have a decisive impact on the country’s future. In the worst-case scenario, it may turn out to be crucial in preventing the government from forging a constitutional majority with the help of MPs elected under the first-past-the-post (FPP) system. In the best-case scenario, it will help the opposition to form its own majority or at least make it difficult for the Presidential Administration to put together a stable simple majority. The pro-government camp is interested in spawning numerous pseudo-opposition or outright futile political projects which will be instrumental in the government’s efforts to retain and strengthen its grip on power.

These projects could influence the election in various ways. First, there will be chameleons which will join the pro-government majority in the parliament – de facto, if no de jure, but this is sufficient under the current Constitution. Second, some parties will work to win over opposition supporters. Third, there will be mud-slingers tasked with hurting the key opposition forces. Finally, pseudo-opposition parties will be used to take control of territorial and especially district electoral commissions.

The country is essentially facing the threat of repeating its past. In 1999, the personal ambitions of a number of opposition politicians, particularly Yevhen Marchuk and Oleksandr Moroz, led to President Leonid Kuchma’s re-election, even though the Kaniv Four[1] could have secured the election if they had chosen one candidate from their own number. The Kuchma Administration also engineered a split in the People’s Movement of Ukraine (Narodny Rukh) in the late 1990s, which demoralised the centre-right camp prior to the 1999 presidential campaign. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Natalia Vitrenko’s Progressive Socialist Party and the Green Party became classical examples of technological projects aimed at dissipating support for the opposition. In the 2002 parliamentary election campaign, the Team of the Winter Generation emerged. Led by Inna Bohoslovska and Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, it claimed to have new political quality and won the sympathy of a part of the opposition-minded electorate.

BYUT SPINOFFS

The most promising project of the Presidential Administration today is Natalia Korolevska’s Ukrayina-Vpered! (Ukraine – Forward!) party. The smaller, mostly puppet projects beneficial to the government include several other political forces founded by Tymoshenko’s former fellow party members.

The scandalous Oleh Liashko founded the Radical Party of Ukraine and launched a vigorous, albeit bizarre, advertisement campaign, even though he declared he would not participate in the 2012 elections. It appears that his project is geared towards compromising Tymoshenko’s staff policy: if such an inadequate figure as Liashko was a member of her team, why vote for her opposition? Liashko could reveal many secrets about members of Tymoshenko’s team who will be running under the joint list made by Batkivshchyna and the Front of Changes. At a recent by-election to the Vinnytsia Oblast Council, a Radical Party candidate handed out flyers executed in Batkivshchyna’s trademark white and red colours with the slogan “Freedom to Yulia!” printed in a large font. The fine print at the bottom of the page identified him as a member of Liashko's party. As a result, he received 10% of the votes. Had these votes gone to the true opposition candidate, he would have confidently beat his pro-government rival.

The government may also make use of the Ukraine of the Future party led by former BYuT MP Sviatoslav Oliynyk. He used to be a member of Andriy Portnov’s group which focused on legal support and political raids during Tymoshenko’s premiership. Today Portnov is an advisor to the Yanukovych Administration, while Oliynyk is working on his own “opposition” project. His financial and organisational assets are modest, and his party was only able to run in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast in the recent local election.

GROWING ON THE RUINS

Second among political forces that have slim chances of entering parliament is Hromadianska pozytsia (Civil Position) led by former Nasha Ukrayina-Narodna Samooborona (Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense, NU-NS) MP Anatoliy Hrytsenko. If it fails to find a good option to integrate with other parties, it too will syphon off votes from the rest of the opposition. Another electoral threat to the opposition comes from the right-wing where national democratic forces led by Our Ukraine and Yuriy Kostenko’s Ukrainian People’s Party are slowly coming closer to a union. The “old national democrats” are quite capable of trimming 1-2% from the opposition’s electoral pie. Moreover, Viktor Yushchenko seems to be embracing, rather than dismissing, his role, viewing it as his next “mission”. According to sources in Our Ukraine that spoke to The Ukrainian Week, he clearly set the agenda for his party’s run when he recently spoke to his party’s political board: the goal is not to win but to "expose to society the criminal essence of the opposition gathered in the Dictatorship Resistance Committee under Yulia’s guidance.” Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, chairman of Our Ukraine’s political board, recently made a decision to agree with other opposition forces on a united list of candidates under both the proportional and FPP systems, but it is unlikely to have any effect, because Yushchenko still controls most regional organizations.

TURNCOATS

The pro-government camp may soon accept several more projects that grew out of NU-NS: Viktor Baloha’s United Centre, Davyd Zhvania’s Christian-Democratic Union and Vladyslav Kaskiv’s PORA. The United Centre has an extensive local network, especially in Zakarpattia. The party polled 0.7% in the local elections. According to information obtained by The Ukrainian Week, Baloha wants to actively engage in politics and run in the parliamentary election. However, the precise format of his participation is still unknown. Zhvania’s party played a key role in bringing NU-NS defectors to the pro-government coalition in 2010. Apart from diluting votes, his main objective in the 2012 campaign may be putting his own people on district election commissions to help the Party of Regions control them. Under the new law, parliamentary factions take part in forming territorial and district election commissions. The Christian Democratic Union is a founding party of the NU-NS bloc and thus will have its own quota. PORA also has a similar quota. It never was a full-fledged political party, but the brand evokes some nostalgic associations in some segments of society. Its leader, Vladyslav Kaskiv, is completely controlled by the government. He heads the State Agency for Investments and National Project Management. His political force is likely to make an independent run and will thus be used by the Presidential Administration as a technological project.

The most modest estimate shows that the opposition may lose at least 10 % of its votes to pseudo-opposition and low-popularity opposition parties. These fall into two categories. One includes professional spoilers that are consciously working to bring down the opposition's popularity rating. The other embraces determined candidates whose ambitions prevent them from integrating with like-minded parties. Importantly, voters – and not just the ruling party – need to be aware of this fact, because in the long run everything will depend on voters’ ability to make informed decisions that will prevent their votes from being wasted. The leaders of the true opposition who do not have a chance of making it to the parliament on their own should refuse to run.



[1]The Kaniv Four group was set up by Oleksandr Moroz, Oleksandr Tkachenko, Yevhen Marchuk and Volodymyr Oliynyk before the presidential election in 1999. 


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