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22 July, 2018  ▪  Andriy Holub

Multiple variables

UAH 6,659, 11,951 and 7,451, an equivalent of $256, 450 and 280 – this is how an average Ukrainian sees desired subsistence, average wage and pension across Ukraine, according to SOCIS, a sociology center. According to the State Statistics Bureau, the real numbers are UAH 1,777, 8,725 and 2,479 respectively, or around $68, 335 and 95.

Political experts tend to believe that socio-economic issues cannot deliver victory in Ukraine’s elections. They claim that the voters prefer to be offered an idea that will reach out to them emotionally. The truth is that no government yet has managed to decrease the gap between real and desired socio-economic numbers. 

These indicators draw far less attention than politicians’ rates. What they do show is that, in the eyes of Ukrainians, the country’s problems and their own are not identical. According to Rating’s June survey about what problems Ukrainians believe to be key for the country, 78% of the polled listed military conflict in Eastern Ukraine, while 55% chose bribery and corruption in government. 29% mentioned unemployment. 

When asked about the most important personal problems, the respondents deliver a different result. 54% choose growing prices, 54% list growing utility rates and 51% choose low wages or pensions, followed by only 29% indicating the war in the Donbas. Bribery and corruption are barely visible in the list of personal problems indicated by Ukrainians (15%). What matters at the end of the day is whether the country’s problems or personal issues will define the choice in the voting booths.  

The same survey by Rating asked the respondents about where they expect the next president to deliver change in first and foremost. In this one, the civil aspect seems to be winning over the personal one as 63% respondents said that they expected the next president to stop the war in the Donbas, followed by 49% choosing intensified fight against corruption. 40% chose the revival of industry while 30% opted for higher social standards. As a result, one might think that Ukrainians are not voting with their wallets. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Iryna Bekeshkina: “We’ve never had this kind of existential political crisis before”

In fact, these figures point to a different conclusion. A candidate offering a realistic plan for stopping the war in the East tomorrow would be most likely to win the upcoming elections. A candidate offering an effective action plan for immediate elimination of corruption would win, too. However, such plans do not exist, nor will they appear anytime soon. The only actor that can stop the war is the one that started it – that actor is not running in Ukrainian elections. The fight against corruption is an ever-lasting problem – it cannot be eradicated once and for all. In other words, new unprecedented recipes are impossible to invent even if the candidates wanted to do so. That leaves us with reality comprised of all those personal problems reflected at the beginning of this article. 

Therefore, the key question of the upcoming elections is whether those currently in power have a resource to decrease the gap between what Ukrainians have and what they want to have in their wallets. Hardly anyone can offer more in the time left until the elections. 

“To me, it’s obvious that in the next round of elections, presidential and Rada, Ukrainians will be voting for the lesser evil,” sociologist IrynaBekeshkinatoldin a recent interview for The Ukrainian Week. “We can see that every candidate has a stable core of supporters who are impossible to influence either way. No scandals, no dirt, or anything of that nature. However, this core is not very substantial. The rest will largely decide based on the situation closer to the election.” The rates of all realistic candidates for presidency have hit the bottom and cannot go lower. This opens an opportunity to take unusual steps. So far, however, none has managed to improve their rates.

Yulia Tymoshenko as a leading candidate among all others with generally low rates has recently offered a “new deal” with many components that sound alien to most Ukrainians. She spoke about “blockchain”, “Linux” and “constituante” at the recent presentation of the “new deal”. The result was quite predictable: the speech triggered a surge of memes in social media and barely anything else that can qualify as an asset in Tymoshenko’s campaign. The “new deal” will hardly survive until winter as a strategy while Tymoshenko is more likely to further focus on her usual role of guardian for the miserable. 

Those in power represented by Petro Poroshenko are waiting it out while experimenting from time to time. On June 28, the Constitution Day, the President proposed to amend the Constitution, including in it the norms about Ukraine’s integration with the EU and accession to NATO. This triggered a fairly weak response and the news came largely unnoticed. One other asset in his portfolio is getting autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church. Here, too, his expectations may be overplayed. In late May, the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation held a survey about how Ukrainians saw the establishment of their independent Church. 31% supported the idea while 34% were indifferent. 14% didn’t know how they wanted to respond to this. Out of the supporters, only 33% said that this was a priority issue. Another 50% described it as “important but not a priority.” 

The second line of the opposition is more confusing. Firstly, how many candidates will run as opposition to those currently in power? Anatoliy Hrytsenko, a candidate that could become the representative of the entire group, has the highest rates for now. He has two serious stumbling blocks ahead. One is the pathological inability of the “democratic” or “reform-minded” camp to reach agreements. For now, at least two other possible candidates are on the forefront, including Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy and MP Viktor Chumak. Dmytro Hnap, an investigative journalist who has recently announced his march into politics, does not rule out his own bid for presidency. All those involved declare that they are prepared to make compromises, but at a later stage. Hrytsenko’s other stumbling block is that sooner or later he will have to answer the questions he is currently avoiding, such as who makes Hrytsenko’s team other than himself, and what exactly he offers apart from criticizing the current administration.  

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Wannabe “new leaders” are making their plans public, too. While singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk has somewhat folded down his public activities and placed “Nothing but music” as a slogan on the posters for his band’s upcoming gig in Kyiv, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has posted a video on social media that went viral. It’s hard to understand what he is trying to say in that video, but he was certainly addressing Vakarchuk, completing the video with the phrase: “If it’s me and you, that means us, do you get it? And if it’s us, it’s everybody.” 

Various candidates from the ex-Party of Regions are the only ones in a relatively safe place. They can’t improve their current position or make it worse. All they need to do is appear in shows at TV channels owned by friendly oligarchs, talking about their inspections of summer camps for children, social security departments and factories. All this to make sure their loyal electorate remembers that they still exist. 

Translated by Anna Korbut

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