It’s Not the Winning, But the Taking Part That Counts

21 May 2014, 22:00

The upcoming snap presidential election features 21 candidates. Yet, only half of them have more than 1%, and just the trio of Petro Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko and Serhiy Tihipko actually stand a chance to win the race. Still, a few candidates may well gain a fairly good result in the first round and compete with Tymoshenko or Tihipko for a place in the second round.

Those who realize that they will not win the election are divided into two groups. One includes candidates whose rates are close to the 5% threshold in parliamentary elections. The other one comprises people who have no chance to get anything serious whatsoever.

The former group includes Party of Regions’ MP Mykhailo Dobkin, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, ex-Defence Minister during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency Anatoliy Hrytsenko, MP Oleh Liashko, Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok and probably Olha Bohomolets, the well-known doctor and activist who took care of treatment for the victims of the Maidan, and Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector. The latter group includes other candidates, representatives of the Yanukovych regime among them.

For some candidates from the first group, this election will be the crucial opportunity to cement their political weight in the new post-revolutionary system. This will allow them to seek formats and money for an upcoming parliamentary campaign, or to negotiate a quota for themselves in exchange for joining a certain party. This option could be promising for Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Oleh Liashko, Olha Bohomolets and Dmytro Yarosh, provided that the latter steals some electorate from Svoboda.

Candidates from the second group will obviously have a chance to trade their quotas for representatives in district election commissions. To some, such as Oleh Tsariov, the notorious Party of Regions MP who now seems to coordinate separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine, and Renat Kuzmin, Donetsk-born former Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council and former Deputy Prosecutor General, the candidate status ensured protection from criminal charges.

This election may bring a few surprises compared to current expectations based on results of sociological surveys. All candidates with over 1% of support have a good chance to gain a decent outcome from the voters that see them as their secondary choice. Thus, Mykhailo Dobkin and Petro Symonenko could end up with up to 7.1% and 5.8% respectively, while Anatoliy Hrytsenko could get 11%. After all, many voters in the Donbas and Kharkiv Oblast have not yet decided on their preferred candidate, intend to boycott the election or to vote against all candidates. The participation of the Donbas voters in the election will have a huge impact on the outcome since pro-Russian candidates have the most supporters here, compared to other regions in Ukraine, and the region is fairly densely populated.

Thus, a lot will depend on how effectively the Party of Regions uses its administrative leverage in that region. If it does to promote Mykhailo Dobkin as its official candidate, he may even get 16-18% and enter the second round.

Still, any openly pro-Russian candidate has no chance to win round two. The latest poll by four sociological companies (Rating, SOCIS, KMIS and Razumkov Centre) shows that over 70-80% people distrust pro-Russian candidates. However, they can prevent Tymoshenko from getting through to the second round. So can the dilution of her loyal electorate by Oleh Liashko, Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Olha Bohomolets in Central and Western Ukraine.

Most candidates, especially those that have no chance to enter the second round, have populist elements in their platforms. Very often, their promises do not nearly fit the scope of powers the current Constitution grants the President. With further restrictions currently favoured by the majority in parliament, the President could end up with very limited powers. Moreover, they have no chance to hold a snap parliamentary election, let alone to form a loyal majority of the like-minded MPs in the legislature.

For this campaign, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok has switched his traditional eurosceptical and anti-NATO rhetoric for support to “bilateral agreements with the US and the UK on urgent military assistance in case of armed aggression”, “real rather than declarative actions to integrate Ukraine into Euro-Atlantic security structures”, and “specific deadlines for Ukraine’s possible entrance to NATO.” The platform of Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector, is similar.

Anatoliy Hrytsenko traditional builds his campaign on his positive qualities, untainted reputation and military experience – something quite appealing in the current situation.

The candidates squabbling for the electorate of the previous regime seek contact with various parts of it, from radical pro-Russian voters to moderate supporters of stability or “improvement today”. After Oleh Tsariov withdrew from the race, Mykhailo Dobkin, the notorious ex-governor of Kharkiv Oblast and creature of Rinat Akhmetov, has been the most consistent agent of Russia’s line in Ukraine. Petro Symonenko, the leader of the Communist Party, focuses on federalization, Russian as the second state language, and Ukraine’s non-aligned status, while traditionally blaming oligarchs, neo-Nazis and the West for all troubles.

Yuriy Boyko presents himself as the successor of the previous government where he was Vice Premier, offering two state languages as well. Meanwhile, he is virtually the only one who publicly represents big business saying in his platform, unlike other candidates, that “the state should protect the interests of the big, medium and small businesses on the equal basis”. He does not insist on Ukraine’s joining the Customs Union and promotes cooperation with all countries, the priority of economic integration with the EU and energy diversification. 

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