The fact that the two major opposition forces UDAR and the United Opposition have failed their first capacity test is now clear
With sufficient instruments at hand to overcome any obstacle, both Batkivshchyna and UDAR have not faced any technical barriers to nominating joint candidates who would definitely make into the parliament. Everything depended on the political will of their leaders. The lack of the mutual withdrawal of candidates in various constituencies and their replacement with stronger nominees has only proved its absence.
Formally, UDAR and the United Opposition withdrew 60 candidates, including 51 in favour of each other’s stronger candidates, and the rest in favour of opposition-friendly independent candidates. Yet, this has boosted the chances of victory for opposition candidates in just six constituencies. Comparisons of pre-election polls by different sociological services for UDAR and Batkivshchyna during the negotiation process between the two have confirmed this. The withdrawal of UDAR’s candidates has, for instance, improved prospects for Batkivshchyna nominees in only three constituencies in the Kyiv Oblast and one constituency in Kyiv. The withdrawal of Batkivshchyna’s nominees has had even less of an effect, realistically tipping the scales in favour of UDAR candidates in just one constituency in the Kyiv Oblast and one in Bukovyna. In other cases, the strategic move will have minimal visible impact on the outcome of the election. This is caused by a range of reasons: in some constituencies, the aggregate rating of candidates from both opposition parties lags far behind that of the Party of Regions or independent candidates who will most likely join the pro-presidential majority in the new parliament; in others, UDAR and Batkivshchyna candidates could win without switching one’s candidate for the other’s, such as in constituency No. 151 in the Poltava Oblast, where UDAR’s Taras Kutoviy was the favourite candidate, or in No. 218 in Kyiv where Batkivshchyna’s Volodymyr Ariev enjoyed considerable support.
In light of this, the loss of the 11 swing districts, of those where the decision on which candidate should be withdrawn was based on an opinion poll, is far too great. Because of the refusal to do this in these districts, pro-government nominees have an increased chances of winning the election. UDAR did not withdraw its less popular candidates in three swing districts, including No. 86 in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast and Nos. 95 and 96 in the Kyiv Oblast, while Batkivshchyna followed suit in four districts; No. 146 in Kremenchuk, No. 91 in the Kyiv Oblast, and Nos. 211 and 220 in Kyiv. In the rest of the swing districts, the polls did not reveal any significant prevalence of UDAR or Batkivshchyna candidates, the differents between which was less than 1%.
Thus, dozens of candidates withdrawn from FPTP districts by the two major opposition parties have simply been a demonstrative move to avoid possible responsibility for the possible defeat of opposition forces in the FPTP vote. The impression emerges that the opposition just gave away what it did not really need in the first place, rather than make every effort to defeat the government at any cost. They prefer to blame the inefficient mutual withdrawal of candidates on sociologists, the results of which it criticized for “showing that they don’t show anything” based on significant discrepancies between the results of several of the seven polling companies involved. However, all these seem like lame excuses. When all is said and done, the opposition could have anticipated this outcome and adjusted its strategy accordingly.
Meanwhile, the whole candidate withdrawal campaign revealed a range of problems in relations between the two opposition forces which, should they escalate, could bury any hopes of the removal of the current regime from power. The first concern is about the efforts of the opposition parties to reach a common goal rather than try to prove which is better. Batkivshchyna, for instance, has been openly frustrated with the fact that UDAR “drove” the campaign to withdraw candidates for more popular ones, while it was the one responding to it. UDAR’s preemptive strike involving the withdrawal of candidates in favour of stronger opposition nominees, setting its requirements and disclosing poll results justifying the move, is the excuse used by the United Opposition for its refusal to withdraw a number of its candidates that the Klitschko party asked for. This could also have been the reason for Batkivshchyna’s attempt to take over the initiative by starting talks on the creation of a coalition in the future parliament and agreeing the drafting of its priority action plan. It turned a blind eye to the fact that it needs significantly more than or ideally two thirds of the seats – which seems like a utopia, given the insignificant impact of candidate shuffles in FPTP districts – to actually bring the action plan to life. For example, 300 votes are needed to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Yanukovych. Another important provision on the future coalition’s agenda proposed by Batkivshchyna, is to release its imprisoned leaders Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko.
However, the problem is that with the exception of the cancellation of the quasi pension reform, and Tax Code for oligarchs, which were forced through by the current government in the last two years, this is virtually all that the United Opposition has planned and proposed in its agenda of united efforts, instead of the transformations that the country so urgently needs. Batkivshchyna even “forgot” to add a provision to cancel the language law. Therefore, the key question right now as to the agenda of united efforts in the future Verkhovna Rada, is whether opposition forces will manage to eventually approve it, making it much more effective than their mutual withdrawal of candidates in FPTP districts.
After all, opposition forces are now facing a much more urgent task: to approve and effectively coordinate their actions during the parliamentary election campaign and vote counting. Otherwise, any initiatives on collaboration in the future Verkhovna Rada may not have a chance. The threat is emerging of not gaining a majority, or of the government gaining a sufficient number of MPs to change the constitutional order. After this, the opposition, regardless of party affiliation, risks losing any influence over developments in Ukraine and removing Yanukovych from power, even after the presidential election in 2015.
The fact that the two major opposition forces have failed their first capacity test is now clear. The question now is how well they will learn their lesson, and how they will use this experience to protect not only their party interests, but those of society as a whole, in a more sophisticated manner? This will determine the future of the opposition. After five years of competition amongst the representatives of the democratic camp to deceive and outwit each other which, in the end, left them deceived and outwitted by the current regime, the old scenario replayed once again could spark another surge of deep and much quicker frustration in Ukrainian society. After all, opposition leaders now have a very new experience to keep them from making the same mistakes that buried the political future of their predecessors. The time has now come for them to switch on their self-preservation instinct, which dictates the necessity for them to join their efforts.