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30 August, 2019  ▪  Hanna Chabarai

Who’s ticking the boxes

A portrait of voters by party in Verkhovna Rada elections over the last 20 years

In 1998, the first exit poll was taken in a Ukrainian election. It was organized then and continues to be organized to this day by the Democratic Initiatives Fund (DIF) in collaboration with well-known pollsters. The 1998 vote was done under a mixed system and the threshold for parties to sit in the legislature was 4%. Turnout was 70%. For the last time, the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) gained the most seats in the Rada that year. Exit polls showed that voters who hadn’t finished public school were most likely to support the CPU. Moreover, the party had more support among Russians and other ethnicities than among ethnic Ukrainians. Half of Crimea’s voters and one third of voters in the east, north and south of Ukraine supported it, while only 16% of Kyivites and 6% of western Ukrainians voted for the communists. That year, the Regional Revival Party of Ukraine, formed just a year earlier, participated in an election for the first time – and got only 0.9% of the vote. It was to go on to become Party of the Regions.

In the Rada elections of March 31, 2002, turnout was down to 65%. The CPU was squeezed out of first place by the newly-established Nasha Ukraina Bloc headed by Viktor Yushchenko. Nasha Ukraina included Narodniy Rukh and seven other political forces that were in opposition to President Leonid Kuchma. The exit poll revealed that the communists had lost support among the youngest voters, who cast their ballots for Yushchenko’s bloc. The now-renamed Party of the Regions entered the Rada as part of the pro-Kuchma Za Yedynu Ukrainu! [For a United Ukraine, echoing United Russia, which had been founded just three months earlier]. This bloc came in third in the proportional voting party lists.

RELATED ARTICLE: Behind the party scenes

The Orange Revolution and Viktor Yanukovych’s loss in the 2004 presidential race mobilized the Party of the Regions electorate. In the 2006 election, the Regionals came in first and were able to form the largest faction in the Rada. Most of their votes came from eastern oblasts and urban voters over the age of 60 who had completed vocational school – blue-collar workers. The Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko came in second, while Nasha Ukrainafell to third place with its predominantly rural electorate in western Ukraine. The CPU this time barely met the threshold requirement. When Nasha Ukraina failed to find common ground with Party of the Regions, President Yushchenko decided to dismiss the Rada in April 2007. A snap Rada election took place that fall, but the outcome was not very different.

The 2012 VR elections took place under a new set of rules: President Yanukovych and his parliamentary majority raised the threshold to 5% and prohibited blocs from participating in the election in order to prevent the opposition from joining forces. At the same time, Yanukovych refused to join the Customs Union with Russia, which was not in line with his electorate’s vision of friendship with Ukraine’s northern neighbor. The result was predictable: Party of the Regions lost voters in the south and east in favor of the communists. Still, it came in first in the proportional round, with 30% of the vote, while the CPU picked up 13%, a striking contrast to the 3-5% it had in 2006 and 2007. This was also the year Svoboda had a breakthrough with more than 10% of the vote and sat in the Rada for the first time, although surveys had shown that it was hovering on the edge of the 5% threshold.

In 2014, VR elections took place in the shadow of an undeclared war: all of Crimea, nine districts in Donetsk Oblast and six in Luhansk Oblast did not participate. Turnout was 52%. Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Narodniy Front came first with 22% of the vote. Just before the election, Yatseniuk and Oleksandr Turchynov had both left Batkivshchyna, Tymoshenko’s stand-alone party. The Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, then president, came second with almost the same share of the vote. Third place went to Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy’s Samopomich [Self-Reliance] with 11%, with most of its support in the western oblasts. Since Party of the Regions had collapsed after Yanukovych left the country and much of its electorate was in occupied territory, the rump party reorganized as the Opposition Bloc, with the same ideology and blue-and-white colors. It received just 9.4% of the vote, mostly from the eastern regions and those over 60 with just a high school education.

The political technology of the current president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy might be said to have hacked Ukraine’s democracy, delivering him unprecedented support in the presidential election. He very logically decided to take advantage of the immense wave of support to also ensure himself a majority in the Rada by calling a snap election as soon as he was inaugurated. It worked, and his party, Sluha Narodu [Servant of the People], won 43% of the proportional vote, and collected more MPs in the FPTP districts, about many of whom there is literally no information available. Although turnout for this latest election was the lowest ever at 49%, the new faces from Sluha Narodu reshaped the political map of Ukraine even in the Donbas, where those who won were historically tightly rooted in Party of the Regions.

Meanwhile, the Opposition Bloc broke up. Led by Yevhen Murayev and backed by Rinat Akhmetov, it failed to meet the threshold requirement to sit in the Rada, while Viktor Medvedchuk’s breakaway Opposition Platform Za Zhyttia (For Life) to which the former OppoBloc leader Yuriy Boyko had moved, came in second with 13% of the vote. The result could, of course, have been even higher because OPZZ saw its electorate split with other pro-Russian parties. Still, in the east and south, the Opposition Bloc picked up 8% and 5.5% of the vote.

Anatoliy Sharia’s Party also failed to make it but will get budget funding thanks to its 6.5% share in the east and 4.8% in the south. Interestingly, the anti-Ukrainian blogger enjoys strong support from those with a higher education and students.

RELATED ARTICLE: A war of sensations

Petro Poroshenko’s “European Solidarity” and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna both got around 8% of the vote. European Solidarity was supported by voters who remained supporters of Poroshenko: middle-aged individuals with a higher education, and urbanites in western Ukraine. Batkivshchyna’s voters were typically from the west and center, lived in rural areas, generally over 60 years of age and mostly with a basic secondary education. The final sensation in the election was Sviatoslav Vakarchuk’s Holos (Voice). Although it was starting from scratch, the party managed to get 5.8% of the vote, taking away support from Poroshenko among more educated voters in western Ukraine.

Based on exit polls, more than half of Ukraine’s voters have supported their chosen parties for a long time: European Solidarity, BatkivshchynaSvoboda, Opposition Platform Za Zhyttia and the Opposition Bloc. Voters who made up their minds at the last moment tended to vote for PM Volodymyr Groisman’s Ukrainian Strategy, Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party, Anatoliy Hrytsenko’s Civic Position, and Holos.

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

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