On September 2, parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov opened the 5th session of the 7th convocation of the Verkhovna Rada. It was expected that among other things, MPs would vote for amendments to the electoral legislation. But as head of parliamentary faction UDAR Vitalii Kovalchuk noted, new electoral rules will apply not to this year’s early election, but to all the following ones. The UDAR MP reminded that the Central Electoral Commission has already started registering candidates for simple-majority constituencies, therefore the change of legislation could lead to a large number of lawsuits and would put the legitimacy of the election under doubt.
The Verkhovna Rada also did not support the draft law which would give the Central Election Commission (CEC) the right to change borders and centers of single-seat constituencies in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, provide for enhanced security of electoral commissions and documentation, and stipulate the possibility of cutting the state budget for elections.
Let us remind that the president dissolved the parliament on August 25, slated an early election for October 26, and the election campaign was officially launched on August 28.
So, what will the new Verkhovna Rada elected according to the old rules be like? How did Ukrainians’ electoral behavior and preferences change? What are the chances to carry out a quality overhaul of the parliament? The Day’s experts are talking about this.
“TENSE PERIODS MAKE VOTERS EMOTIONAL RATHER THAN RATIONAL”
Iryna BEKESHKINA, sociologist, director of the foundation Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives:
“If we view Oleh Liashko as a kind of test for society (whether it will sift out populists and political turncoats), we can say that it will fail this test. The popularity rating of Liashko and his widely obscure Radical Party is very high. We measured voters’ motivation during the presidential election, who voted for whom and why. According to this motivation, Liashko was perceived as a leader, as a protector of ‘people like me.’ He offers simple solutions to complex issues, he communicates with people using their language. His voters were the least educated, but on the other hand, there were a lot of youth under 30. Now 44 percent of voters come from rural areas. That is, these are the least sophisticated voters, and there are a lot of them. So, it cannot be said the entire society changed recently.
“If we talk about the changes in voters’ behavior, the local election in Kyiv should be mentioned. It was held during the military conflict, but votes were sold, there is evidence of that. And the same will happen in other regions of the country.
“Of course, society has been through changes, but it is impossible to become smarter in just a few months. I do not think that the level of political culture rose, perhaps, it even decreased. Such tense periods as the one we are having now make voters emotional rather than rational.
“It is a fact that society has become more patriotic, but such outbursts of patriotism were noticed during other conflicts, events relating to Tuzla, or Russia’s aggression in Georgia. Society is closing the ranks, and if we talk about voters’ sentiments in this context, then, for example, the Party of Regions’ rating dropped to 30 percent in Donbas in particular.
“I agree with the opinion that the future parliament will be a transitional one, and that it should be elected for the shortest period possible. But unfortunately, legislation does not allow that. The majority of uncertain voters are concentrated in the east, Kharkiv and Odesa oblasts, there is more than a third of such voters. If we view the east of Ukraine and Donbas as its extreme case, 62 percent of people do not want to vote at all, and 18 percent have not made their minds yet. This means there is no political force there which would represent local people. If there has always been a variety of political forces in central and western Ukraine, which competed among themselves, the Communist Party of Ukraine and the Party of Regions had monopoly over the east. Now the monopoly has vanished and new favorites have not appeared. If we elect the parliament for the next five years, who will represent the east? Of course, someone will be elected, but it cannot be said that the Verkhovna Rada would have real political representation of the whole region. In a few years, new political forces can form there, or the old ones can gain support.
“At the last presidential election there was political absenteeism, when half of the voters would not participate in the election, even though the opportunity was available. People said they did not see anyone they could vote for. That is why now it is necessary to introduce a minimum turnout, because even Girkin could be elected in Donbas if 6 or 10 percent of voters show up. When there is only one round of elections because of a low turnout, there is a risk that people who do not represent the said region will be elected.
“In general, the new parliament will be substantially overhauled, since the two currently leading political forces were not represented at all, i.e., Solidarity and Liashko’s Radical Party. The other issue is the composition of the new parliament. In the current parliament, the Party of Regions gained half of the seats thanks to simple-majority constituencies, and now only scraps will be left of them.
“The lowering of the threshold will guarantee the passage of those political forces that are not likely to pass with a five percent threshold – these are the Communist Party of Ukraine, the Party of Regions, and Strong Ukraine. Svoboda does not pass either, they have slightly less than five percent of support. The Party of Regions and Strong Ukraine do not get by because they run separately, and communists have lost their main electoral base, Crimea and Donbas. The first emotional reaction is ‘Good they will not pass,’ but on the other hand, they are not the most dangerous now, because other more aggressive separatist-oriented forces may emerge in their place, and real communists might appear instead of the Communist Party of Ukraine. Now these two forces are tamed and will play up to the strong ones, besides, the leader of Strong Ukraine Serhii Tihipko is more flexible and ready for cooperation.
“Society has a demand for young political forces now, but people are not ready to vote for a pig in a poke. That is why there is a contradiction in the core: about 70 percent of voters think the government should include new politicians and political forces, but people are not ready to vote for unknown figures. In order to become familiar to voters, politicians must appear on TV. People still are guided by leaders, hence the success of Liashko’s obscure party. Therefore I do not see prospects for young political forces so far, among them the Democratic Alliance, Volia, and the Power of People. If they ran together and used local activists jointly for a single party from the public, they would have a real chance.
“It is obvious that party lists will be closed, that is why parties will actively sell seats, because there are no funds for the election right now. And people are the least interested in electoral legislation. One-third of citizens do not understand a thing about electoral systems at all, and another third would like to have a simple-majority constituencies system.”
“WAR BRINGS EITHER DICTATORS OR POPULISTS TO POWER”
Yevhen HOLOVAKHA, sociologist, Ph.D. in Philosophy, deputy director of the Institute of Sociology at the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine:
“Ukrainian society has changed significantly in electoral sense. Support of parties that focus on European integration has increased as well. Now we witness the phenomenon of patriotic upsurge as a reaction to war, thanks to this internal integration of Ukraine is under way, and this applies not only to the western and central areas, but to the south of our country as well. This is proven by the latest polls that were carried out in summer. The patriotism of Ukrainians today is a temporary sentiment, and it is important these sentiments turn into views. The opinion that voters need new faces and new policy has existed for many years, but curiously enough, old faces are still getting elected. And those who will be chosen at the upcoming parliamentary election will serve as the first test of electoral maturity for Ukrainians. We understand that the situation for voters is very complicated now, but if their likings match their views and not their fickle sentiments, perhaps, something will shift for better.
“I think it will be really hard to bluntly bribe voters at the upcoming election, as it used to be before, but more subtle technologies are to be expected. Political technologies are too flexible and inexhaustible to invent an indirect way to bribe voters, especially if simple-majority constituencies remain.
“Today, in the conditions of war, people will vote for more resolute politicians, for those who can shape their thoughts in a simple and understandable way. For example, Liashko’s phenomenon exists because he speaks words understood by common citizens. But in general, in war conditions, Liashko’s belligerent populism gives him a very advantageous position. This contains a certain danger, since war brings either dictators or populists to power. That is why it is in the interest of the state itself to end the war as soon as possible.
“As for the future parliament, it will definitely be transitional, since it is extremely hard to ensure representation of Ukrainians from the east now. In such circumstances, there will be constant criticism, dissatisfaction that the Verkhovna Rada does not fully represent a real electoral picture. On this stage the composition of the parliament will be transitional, besides new faces, there will be old politicians, opportunists, and suchlike. That is why the new Verkhovna Rada will perform its function for the period of military actions and on the initial stage of the country’s reconstruction, and then a normal election must be held, with normal preparation, pre-election campaign, and an opportunity for people to finally and seriously determine their choice.
“Now young and bright public activists and volunteers have appeared who must enter the Ukrainian parliament. Young politicians are people with an internal source of social activism, and this may become a significant resource for the change of Ukraine’s political elites. However, I do not think there will be a powerful wave of support for them during this election, which is why new leaders must prepare for the next, serious, and ultimate election to the stable Verkhovna Rada with a stable development pace.”