If elections were held on Sunday…

Analytics 8-08-2018, 03:05

The BDM Poll

Ukrainians love opinion polls and survey organizations proliferate faster than political parties. As both presidential and parliamentary elections approach in 2019, and in that order, it is perhaps not surprising that virtually every month sees a new poll, offering prognoses on the next president or the parties that will acquire seats in the Narodna Rada.

From 12 to 25 July, the Mykolaiv-based firm BDM conducted a poll that it published this month covering a number of aspects of Ukrainian life, noting, for example, that the war in the Donbas continues to be the main concern of the general public, above high prices, unemployment, corruption and other issues. A similar result resulted from an earlier poll by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in May 2018.

Interestingly, the BDM poll offered opinions not simply on for whom one would vote, but also on general attitudes to political and social leaders. The most positive were for comic actor and art director Volodymyr Zelenskyi with 22%, followed by musician Sviatoslav Vakarchuk at 21%, former Defence Minister and leader of the Civil Position party Anatolii Hrytsenko with 17%, and Yulia Tymoshenko in fourth place with 15%. 

The same survey also took negative attitudes into consideration, and current president Petro Poroshenko with 83% was closely followed by former Prime Minister Arsenii Yatseniuk with 82%, current Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman, 72%, Oleh Lyashko, leader of the Radical Party, 70%, and Tymoshenko at 62%.

Concerning the presidency, should there be an immediate voteamong decided constituents, Tymoshenko has a healthy lead of 16.9%, followed byHrytsenko at 11.5%, Yuriy Boyko of the Opposition Bloc 11%, Zelenskyi9.7%, Lyashko 9.6%, and Poroshenko 7.4%, a distant sixth place. Poroshenko again led the field in negative percentages at 52%, followed by Yatseniuk 32%, and Tymoshenko at 28%. 

 

Examining the Frontrunners

It is difficult to make firm conclusions from such pollssince only about half the electorate expressed an intention to vote and no single candidate is in a dominant position. Elections tend to favour the incumbent, but Poroshenko appears to be highly unpopular and in a position similar to that of Viktor Yushchenko, who was voted out of office after serving a single term, in early 2010. Both came to power after mass protests in central Kyiv.

Moreover, even if he were to recover by some means, it is difficult to see how Poroshenko could survive a second round. The BDM poll indicates that he would lose against every conceivable opponent, whereas Hrytsenko would by contrast win against every opponent. Though she has a first-round lead, support for Tymoshenko would dissipate were her runoff opponent to be any of Hrytsenko, Vakarchuk, or Zelenskyi. The latter, in turn, would be victorious against all opponents other than Hrytsenko. But he is unlikely to run and has stated his lack of interest in working alongside politicians, commenting that his Studio ‘Kvartal-95’ operates in a very different environment.

Another aspect of the campaign is the fate of the Opposition Bloc, which has both Boyko and Evhennii Muraev as potential candidates. Both are controversial figures; Boyko not least for his business links with Dmytro Firtash and his pugilistic feats when confronted by opponents, and Muraev for his openly negative attitude to the Euromaidan ‘Revolution of Dignity’, which he has described as a coup d’etat. Conceivably, Boyko, with a well-funded campaign, could be Tymoshenko’s opponent in a second round run-off, allowing the former Regions activists to stage a quasi-revival. 

Political analyst Taras Zahorodniy commented recently that aside from Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, Boyko is the only candidate employing a system with the ability to win a presidential election and appears to be the only candidate capable of attracting votes in the southeast of the country. He also notes the pervasive unpopularity of his two named opponents, which is reflected in the BDM poll. 

Hrytsenko, on the other hand, failed miserably in his previous two bids for the presidency, receiving only 1.2% of the vote in 2010, and a slightly better 5% in 2014. Like Tymoshenko he is a very familiar figure at a time when the desire for change is probably higher than at any time in independent Ukraine and as noted, he lacks a campaign structure that could render him a national candidate. Paradoxically, he remains overall the leading candidate for 2019 on paper, if not in reality. 

Tymoshenko lost to Poroshenko in 2014, failing to attract widespread support among the Maidan protesters. Subsequently, she embraced populist heroes (heroines) such as former Russian prisoner Nadiya Savchenko, who bluntly rejected her support (and is currently under arrest in Ukraine for the attempted assassination of Poroshenko and other leaders), and Mikeil Saakashvili whom she accompanied in his much publicized but ultimately meaningless ‘storming the Ukrainian border’ in September 2017. Nevertheless, Tymoshenko is a survivor and, alongside Poroshenko, the most resilient of the so-called business politicians who have dominated Ukrainian elections for the past decade.

 

Parliamentary Elections 2019

Tymoshenko’s political party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) leads the poll for parliamentary elections with almost 20%, ahead of the Opposition Bloc with 14.6, Civil Position at 12%, the Radical Party 10.3%, the Bloc Petro Poroshenko at 8.2%, and the pro-Russian For Life Party at 6.1%. Should these polls remain constant, Parliament would look as follows, with the current seats added in parentheses:

 

Party - Projected Seats

Batkivshchyna - 103 (20)

Opposition Bloc - 73 (43)

Civil Position - 54 (0, with Democratic Alliance in 2014)

Radical Party - 42 (20)

BPP (‘Solidarity’) - 33 (138 )             

For Life - 25 (part of Opposition Bloc in 2014)

Independents and others - 89

Vacant seats (Krym, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions) - 31 (28)

 

The poll is notable first for the decline of support for the presidential party and second for the revival of Batkivshchyna (formerly the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc), which accumulated a wide variety of political views among its members as it amalgamated other parties in 2012-13 and then conducted a party ‘purge’ in August 2014. 

The party focuses on maintaining and raising living standards by lowering tariffs on utilities and preserving family farms, but it also adopts a patriotic stance, and supports democracy, and Christian values. Perhaps above all, it focuses on ending corruption. It appears to have gained ground through its Centrist position, mostly by taking support from the BPP and more radical parties that are unlikely to meet the 5% cut-off for seats in the assembly.

The Opposition Bloc has some momentum and could conceivably join forces with For Life to make a larger coalition bloc, but Batkivshchyna similarly could form a rival and much more powerful coalition. The pro-Russian or Russian-neutral voters remain in a small minority though there has been some recovery since the disintegration of Regions in Spring 2014.

 

Prospects

The above projections provide no definitive proof of the direction of Ukrainian politics in the coming year. They reflect the views of committed voters, any of which could change their minds by next spring. Most people are undecided or do not support any of the leading candidates for president, declared or undeclared. Still, several comments seem in order.

First, Poroshenko will need to make a dramatic recovery in order to serve a second term. He is identified with failure to end the war in the east—perhaps the most popular election slogan of his opponents—as well as making little progress on ending corruption. A large majority disapproves of the direction in which Ukraine is going and he is the most disliked politician among all presidential candidates.

Second, based on the BDM poll, Hrytsenko seems the most likely candidateto replace him, and a solid compromise people’s choice for the second round. Tymoshenko’s lead, in other words, might mean very little if she faces a run-off with Hrytsenko. If Boyko were to finish second, however, the situation would be very different because large parts of central and western Ukraine would rally round the former Yushchenko-era Prime Minister. Her popularity in western Ukraine stands at 18%, tied for first place with Hrytsenko, but she has significant support even in the east where she is running a close second to Boyko (15% and 18% respectively). The scenario is somewhat analogous to the 1999 election when Leonid Kuchma won a second term by defeating Communist leader, Petro Symonenko.

Lastly, there is a larger theater for this election in the shape of the Russian Federation and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the West, which has supported Ukraine in its conflict with Moscow. Every candidate needs to consider how to resolve the military standoff in Donetsk and Luhansk regions as well as their futures and that of Crimea. Populist measures, such as the threat to cut off all rail links with Russia, may be superseded by more rational thought on how to reintegrate the areas of conflict into Ukraine. Thus, the new president has to be both patriotic and practical. Poroshenko’s presidency may have failed but no one should underestimate the gravity of the problems he has faced.