The impressive victory of pro-European forces in the party lists must be put to work toward rapid and irreversible reforms, otherwise it will quickly turn into an equally impressive defeat
The parliamentary elections were a dizzying success for pro-European candidates. Yet a cursory look at the results created a misconception among the public that the domination of Parliament by pro-European political forces is permanent, and the threat of revenge by former Party of Regions members and the pro-Russian project has passed. However, deeper analysis reveals the fallacy of such findings and the serious dangers hidden beneath the surface.
Indeed, pro-European candidates won party lists in every region except the liberated areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. This seems to finally put to rest the popular narrative of Ukraine as a nation divided by regional pro-European and pro-Russian leanings. The margin of victory was least pronounced in Odesa and Kharkiv oblasts, but even there, pro-European parties garnered more votes than the three pro-Russian parties in most electoral districts. The exceptions are five districts in the Kharkiv region (171-173, 176, and 178) and one in the Odesa region (143).
This year’s parliamentary election results show significantly greater gains by pro-European candidates in southern and eastern regions than were made in previous elections. Pro-European candidates with party affiliations and independent candidates with similar views gained at least 26 seats. Victories in Mykolayiv and Kherson regions formed a large part of these gains (10 out of 11 seats). Another interesting feature of this election was the success of the nationalists in central and eastern Ukraine, and their devastating defeat in most districts of western Ukraine.
Overall, pro-European political forces won 198 seats on party lists, while the “opposition bloc” ended up with only 27. If the election were held on a proportional basis, the corresponding ratio of deputies in Parliament would be 396 to 54. In this example, the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko (BPP) and Arseniy Yatseniuk’s People’s Front could form a coalition without the involvement of other political forces, holding 126 and 128 seats respectively for a stable 254-seat majority. However, each of these two parties could separately attempt to form coalitions with other “Maidan parties”.
However, the strong gains by pro-European political forces were fed by the temporary demoralization of the pro-Russian electorate, which resulted in low voter turnout in the southern and eastern regions (32-42%) and higher mobilization of the electorate in western regions (60-70%). Therefore, the longevity of the changes affecting the country’s electoral landscape should not be overestimated: change is taking place, but it is not as significant as the elections of October 26 would suggest. After all, of the 30.4 million registered voters, less than 10.9 million voted for the five pro-European parties that joined the Parliament (12.4 million including Svoboda (Freedom) party, Anatoliy Hrytsenko’s Civil Position party and the Right Sector).
The fact that the pro-Russian triad (United Opposition, the Communist Party, and Serhiy Tihipko’s Strong Ukraine) garnered only 2.6 million votes in this election does not mean that they will not reap three or four times more in the next elections—not due to changing preferences, but simply better mobilization of pro-Russian voters. At the same time, the disappointment of pro-European voters could significantly reduce their participation in the next elections. This dangerous process is already clearly visible. In the May 25 presidential election, pro-European candidates received 14.3 million votes, while that number had shrunk to 12.4 million by the October 26 elections. Thus, 95% of the reduction in overall voter turnout between the two elections from 18 to 16 million was due to the decrease in support for pro-European candidates.
It is a dangerous illusion for the President and Prime Minister to assume that they have four years until the next election. Nothing and no one can guarantee that the next elections will not take place four months from now: last winter, Yanukovych also believed that he still had a year until the presidential election and nearly three years until the parliamentary elections. It would be similarly short-sighted for the favorites of this election (People’s Front or Andriy Sadovyi’s Samopomich (Selfreliance)) to think that they were “on top of the world” to stay. Credit quickly erodes trust. 9.9 million people voted for Poroshenko on May 25, and on October 26 only 3.45 million chose his party. Thus, this is no time for the pro-European forces to relax and rest on their laurels.
The rapid, even feverish change of public sentiment that was reflected in the significant decline in support for the BPP and the growth of the People’s Front and Samopomich is an excellent example of the complete confusion in which the Ukrainian public finds itself, ready to jump from the known to the unknown without any certainty that it will better fulfill their expectations. This situation demonstrates the dominance of political infantilism, messianic illusions and simple emotions over common sense among the majority of voters: while avoiding grassroots organization and refusing to accept greater responsibility themselves, they frantically scan the proposed political menu for the next victim upon which all responsibility for their fate and the fate of the state can be shifted.
Meanwhile, other “new” political projects are successfully exploiting this situation of confusion. Established shortly before the election, Zastup (Spade) agrarian party led by former Yushchenko Chief of Staff Vira Ulyanchenko won the support of 3-6% of voters in 10 oblasts - from Zaporizhia and Odessa to Vinnytsia, Sumy, Transcarpathia and Chernivtsi. The project garnered 10-16% of the vote in some agricultural constituencies.
In the future, this electoral volatility and exaggerated infatuation with “fresh faces” increases the threat that Moscow’s puppet masters might employ manipulative techniques to exploit the current Ukrainian spirit of dissent.
The new coalition’s first priority should be to change the electoral system in order to put an end to the majority, of first-past-the-post system, and, ideally, to introduce a system of open lists.
The FPTP component strongly distorted the election results this time around. Several nominees were able to get into parliament with only 15-25 thousand votes and as few as 1,500-7,000 votes in some Donbass districts liberated by the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation). For comparison, parties needed 55,000 votes to get a single seat in parliament. With their excess of voters, FPTP candidates “compensated” for lower turnout in the southeastern regions formerly dominated by pro-Russian and Party of Regions forces, greatly increasing their level of representation in Parliament.
This was accomplished not only by bribing voters, establishing a critical mass of sympathizers among district and oblast electoral commissions, or through the support of administrative resources (because the same ex-Party of Regions members still control local government in the southeast). The number of electoral districts is determined by the number of voters registered in a given area. Due to the lower actual turnout in southern and eastern electoral districts, the party lists garnered significantly fewer votes than those in central and western Ukraine. However, this rule did not hold true in the FPTP districts, where one MP was elected for each district regardless of the number of voters.
As a result, in the part of the Donbas controlled by Ukraine, 598,000 voters (3.7% of voters nationwide) elected 17 FPTP MPs to parliament (8.6% of 198 elected). Meanwhile in the western Ternopil region, 574,600 voters (3.6%) will be represented by just 5 members (2.5%). Thus, a single FPTP candidate from the Ternopil region will represent 115,000 voters, while in the liberated districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, one FPTP MP will represent just 35,000. The situation is similar in other regions: 973,300 voters elected 14 majoritarians in the Kharkiv region, while 1,371,800 voters elected 12 in the Lviv region.
Pro-European parties have garnered 110 seats through FPTP districts. 69 ran as BPP nominees, 18 represented People’s Front candidates, 11 MPs are members of different nationalistic parties, while 4 pro-European FPTP MPs were nominated by Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna, 2 – by the Ukrainian People’s Party, and 1 – by Samopomich.
The owners of big regional businesses who declare their pro-European orientation have made it into the parliament as well: 4 out of 6 FPTP MPs elected in Zakarpattia are brothers and cousins of the Zakarpattia ex-governor and multimillionaire Viktor Baloha. 3 out of 5 Volyn FPTP MPs represent the group of the local multimillionaire Ihor Yeremeyev. Poltava oligarch Kostiantyn Zhevaho has made it into the legislature through his FPTP constituency; Serhiy Taruta, ex-chair of the Donetsk Oblast Administration and co-owned of the ISD corporation won in the Donetsk region, while Borys Filator who is close to Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Governor Ihor Kolomoyskiy won the election at home.
Western and central regions voted for many Maidan or ATO activists who ran independently in FPTP districts and distanced themselves from any party. However, many of them will soon have to join other groups. Some could unite with nationalists from Svoboda and the Right Sector. Both parties have failed to beat the 5% threshold this time around. Still, at least 9 of their nominees or members have made it through in FPTP districts.
Both party-nominated candidates and independent ones include many agrarian lobbyists, although they are not yet solidly organized.
Compared to the previous general elections, this year’s race shows higher popularity of pro-European parties in southern and eastern regions. They have won at least 26 seats in FPTP districts in Mykolayiv, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhia oblasts.
Surprisingly, nationalists enjoyed considerable success in FPTP districts in Central and Eastern Ukraine, and a bitter defeat in most western districts that had previously been their core electorate. Some Svoboda candidates had won a sweeping victory in Western Ukraine in 2012 but failed to even come second this time. In Central Ukraine, by contrast, five Svoboda members and two representatives of other nationalistic parties got through in the FPTP voting. Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector, won in the FPTP district in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.
Some FPTP-elected MPs were or still are members of political parties but ran independently. These were, first and foremost, ex-Party of Regions MPs who were trying to distance themselves from their discredited party brand even in their core southern and eastern regions, as well as representatives of a number of pro-European parties. This was partly due to the low popularity of their parties in the given region. Some preferred to have free hands in the new parliament.
Two of the four nationalists (Boryslav Bereza, PR chief for the Right Sector, and Andriy Biletskyi, commander of the Azov battalion) elected to parliament in Kyiv ran as self-nominees. Svoboda’s Serhiy Rudyk got through as a self-nominated candidate in Cherkasy Oblast. Members of Batkivshchyna won in Khmelnytskyi and Dnipropetrovsk oblast districts as independents.
Some new MPs, such as Khmelnytskyi Mayor Serhiy Melnyk known as member of Batkivshchyna, is already listed in parliament as a BPP member. Similar cases could soon emerge in other parties of the coalition, Samopomish and People’s Front, who have decided to accept only factions, not individual MPs, into their majorities.
FPTP-elected MPs nominated by pro-European parties are unlikely to start switching to other likeminded groups in parliament anytime soon. Some will be held back by the negative perception of crossovers as elements of political corruption in society. In the future, however, this scenario is quite possible, especially if the President and Prime Minister enter into a sharp public or covert confrontation. In the last years of Yanukovych’s rule, some MPs from what were then opposition factions voted in line with their Party of Regions opponents. They did not need to leave their factions to do this. Similar risks exist in the current parliament.
71 ex-Party of Regions MPs or members of the pro-Yanukovych majority in the previous parliament got through to the new one through FPTP districts: 50 won in south-eastern regions, 20 ran in Central Ukraine, and 1 did in Zakarpattia. Only two were nominees of the Opposition Bloc, and one represented Serhiy Tihipko’s Strong Ukraine. A few others never quit their Party of Regions membership.
It is currently difficult to say what they will do in parliament. On the one hand, an MP has to be part of a faction or a group of MPs in order to have at least some influence in the legislature. On the other hand, just like members of the Opposition Bloc, they represent different groups of influence that had been hostile towards each other even under Yanukovych (including many people of Rinat Akhmetov and Dmytro Firtash, Serhiy Liovochkin, as well as those who earlier leaned towards Andriy Kliuyev, Yuriy Ivaniushchenko and Oleksandr Yanukovych). This circle also includes people of Viktor Pinchuk (Yakiv Bezbakh), Oleksandr Hereha, the owner of the Epicenter retailer for construction materials, Viktor Rozvadovskyi and Serhiy Labaziuk, both close to ex-speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and two representatives of the “young team” of Kyiv’s ex-mayor Leonid Chernovetskyi – Oleksandr Suprunenko and Oles Dovhyi.
MPs elected through the Opposition Bloc party list and self-nominated ex-Party of Regions MPs could eventually rearrange into several parliamentary groups. Some ex-Party of Regions MPs, especially those running in Central Ukraine, distanced themselves from the Yanukovych regime already in this campaign, publicly supporting ATO participants as part of their promotion campaigns, and advocating immediate imposition of martial law to end the conflict in the Donbas. Most MPs elected in Central and South-Eastern Ukraine are likely to try and create conformist groups alternative to the Opposition Bloc just to become part of the parliamentary majority, to find their spot in the government, or to lobby their interests.
The danger is that they could also support the freezing or restoration of the rules that dominated in Ukraine before the Maidan, the downplaying of the Maidan accomplishments, and the hampering of reforms necessary for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. With the worsening socio-economic situation and dismay of part of the electorate with the winners of the latest elections, these people could mobilize into a solid fifth column of the Kremlin, further reinforced by representatives of the previous regime who got through to the parliament in the party lists or as nominees of pro-European forces.