Ukraine election: afterglow of the passing epoch

Ukraine election: afterglow of the passing epoch

   Country`s political elite advancing far slower than the rest of the population, which is maturing very rapidly. This maturity is what the fairly surprising, if not...

The chief lesson learned from the 2006 parliamentary campaign is fully evident. The election that passed has yet again demonstrated that the country`s political elite is advancing far slower than the rest of the population, which is maturing very rapidly. This maturity is what the fairly surprising, if not sensational outcome of the election might be attributed to.

What happened on March 26 has confirmed that the population (at least very significant part of it) is disappointed with the authorities` performance, and, at the same time, brought to shame those who believed the people to be dispirited.

Pessimistic forecasts that voter turnout would be lower than ever before and the percentage of votes against all candidates would be as high than ever before did not come true. Of all the eligible voters, 67.7 percent came to polling stations, of whom only 1.77 percent voted against  all candidates.

The election returns also brought to shame those who mistakenly believed that people are easy to cheat using one-off election projects – hurriedly organized yet well financed and advertised. The voterate didn`t rise to the bait of a great deal of empty promises in expensive glossy wrappings. The majority of voters have ignored the sloppily-built `paper` parties and occasional `cardboard` alliances.

The election has toppled the thesis that `the percentage of votes garnered is in direct proportion to the amount of cash invested`. The huge sums of money paid by the Ne Tak! bloc, Viche party or Volodymyr Lytvyn`s Popular Bloc for TV advertisements did not earn them the dividends they expected.

The modern-style TV advertisements for the Communists did not bring them more votes, neither did aesthetically beautiful advertising videos for Vitaliy Klichko`s Pora-PRP party bloc help it to get into parliament.

The outright failure of `baby` parties deserves special attention. Their failures have clearly demonstrated how far those running for parliament underestimated the voters. Ordinary voters have on most occurrences turned out much wiser, far-sighted and pragmatic than some  experienced policy makers.

Some who are masters at achieving what can be achieved turned out not to be very critical when estimating their own abilities.

Some, for example, fondly believed that their previous merits and the man-in-the-street`s nostalgic reflexes could open to them the gateway to parliament. But this hope was toppled by the voter; there are at least two examples of this.

The [1] first is the once powerful Communist Party of Ukraine that hardly cleared the three-percent hurdle required for entering parliament. The [2] other is the failure of the Kostenko-Pliushch bloc that was stuffed with well-known names. The results achieved by these two forces demonstrates that the voter no longer trusts either orthodox leftists nor national democrats just as they are.

There are a few who support the Communists only for being such. But, as it turned out, those who are ready to give their votes to national-patriotic legends just out of respect for them are still fewer. The people have matured, while some parties have never ridden themselves of the infantile sickness of leftism (or rightism).

Both the Communist Party and Kostenko`s Ukrainian People`s Party seemed to be perceived as obsolete political projects even by their supporters. Even if the party leaders made attempts to add a fresh blood to their dying organisms, these attempts went unnoticed by their potential voters.

The Kostenko-Pliushch party list featured outstanding figures such as Stepan Khmara, Ivan Drach, Dmytro Pavlychko, Pavlo Movchan, Ivan Zayets and other veterans of the national-patriotic movement. We believe that the failure suffered by this project illustrates one more lesson of this election campaign. The myth that the presence of well-known names in a party list inevitably provides it a reliable pass to parliament seems to have been dispelled forever.

By including constellations of prominent personalities in their party lists many of the participants in the election process vainly tried to make up for the lack of cash, or ideology, or institutional structure, or all of the above..

The Yednist bloc decided to exploit what has remained of Yevhen Marchuk`s renown. Social Democrats (united) used as their banner [the first president of Ukraine] Leonid Kravchuk`s reputation in decline. Pora-PRP tried and win votes by exploiting Vitaliy Klichko`s popularity. Members of the Volodymyr Lytvyn`s Popular Bloc intended to benefit to the maximum possible  extent from the Rada Speaker`s personal authority.

Calculations by the above mentioned (any many more) participating forces in the race to parliament have turned out to be erroneous. Voters from all over Ukraine have proven that they are hard to buy using `signboards`. Natalia Vitrenko`s Popular Opposition bloc was very close to dispelling this contention. But this is the one exception that proves the rule.

There is no denying that the results achieved by Yulia Tymoshenko`s and Nasha Ukraina blocs depended very much on the level of personal trust in Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko. But this dependence was not as evident as might be expected at first glance (about this see below).

Along with that, the election results may become a weighty argument in a dispute with foes of the proportional voting system. To those who still insist that "the country has yet to grow to voting by party lists" and "the society is not sufficiently structured" we strongly recommend to look at the voters` judgment and then answer one question.

Which is more structured: the political community that made society choose from four and a half dozen participants in the race or the society itself that only elected five of them?

Men of all conditions could be heard during this election campaign saying approximately one and the same thing: I would like to vote for some X party but will vote for an Y party, because the former has fewer chances of getting into parliament than the latter, for which it wouldn`t hurt to have more seats in building a coalition.

Voters were banking on favorites, in that they, the voters, feared a defeat far more than political people did. A substantial part of the political community has turned out to be unable to sacrifice its ambitions and forget its resentment for the sake of a strategic goal, while the mass of the voters did what pragmatists would do.

As a result, a citizen`s wish to support those who can do more outweighed his wish to support those who promise more. For the population it was evident that a small force that they would like to support would be unable to implement their hopes in full. A less favorable yet more powerful force that met their basic requirements looked more promising in their eyes.

For this reason, some voters who favored the Communist Party gave their votes to the Regions of Ukraine, supporters of Pora-PRP contributed votes to Yulia Tymoshenko`s bloc, and `fans` of Kostenko, Pliushch and Khmara voted for Nasha Ukraina.

One more feature that distinguishes this parliamentary campaign from all previous ones is that voters are discussing the possible composition of the future coalition in parliament much more than details of election scandals, particular features of TV advertisements for some or other political force or merits of party leaders.

SOCIETY HAS MATURED MUST SOONER THEN EXPECTED

Here I repeat what I already said: the society has matured much sooner than some political people could expect. And it did so much sooner than the political people did themselves. In this situation, policy makers will have to adjust themselves to the standards set by citizens.

GETTING INTO PARLIAMENT, NOT ENOUGH JUST TO HAVE

One may expect that the huge number of politicians from all extremes and of all calibers will eventually understand that for getting into parliament it is not enough to have:

[1] a party with a dozen and a half active members;

[2] two or three reputable names at the top of their party list;

[3] a few thousand Hryvnyas in election pledges;

[4] overestimated belief in oneself;

[5] fervent wish to get one`s faction in parliament.

   PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO CURRENT LAW SHOULD

 One might also expect that lawmakers will eventually decide to take steps towards building up a normal party system. From our viewpoint, proposed amendments to current laws should:

[1] elevate the hurdle for entry to parliament from the current three percent to at least five percent of voter support;

[2] ban party blocs from running for parliament;

[3] ban the parties that have been set up less than three years (the longer the better) before the start of the election campaign from running for parliament;

[4] toughen requirements on political party performance, particularly on issues concerning party strength;

[5] toughen sanctions for failure to comply with the new requirements.

It would be unwise to make assumptions about what this election has demonstrated so apparently. The time of political pigmies has passed for good. We realize that this may sound insulting for a good hundred party leaders, as nobody wants to be considered a leader of a `dwarf`

organization.

They may not think so, but the people - the only source of power in this country - does. Those who lost this election should look at the election returns once again just to realize that it is stupid to continue deceiving themselves and to try to deceive the whole people.

  TOUGHER AND FAIRER RULES OF THE GAME NEEDED

Introducing tougher and fairer rules of the game would make it possible to get the party system structured to obtain ten or so parties -- solid, wealthy and well staffed -- instead of the current 126. The parties existing only as visions in the minds of their leaders will inevitably die out, as such parties, made primarily of their leaders` friends, relatives, drivers,  bodyguards and love-mates, have no prospects whatsoever.

God willing, and with voters` help, the very approach to building up parties that claim for themselves a role in the country`s social life (particularly in parliament) will eventually change. Previously, all things were done thus: before the start of a campaign an owner of a party brand was looking for a money-bag who, in turn, was looking for a few known names (typically already included in five or six other teams). The work is done, and the  party is now ready for helpless battle for votes.

Voter choice in favor of the strong suggests that the situation is going to change soon. It is to be hoped that parties known to no one will cease sheltering themselves behind known political figures, and there is no need any more for parties of this kind. As for policy makers (including known and most experienced ones), they will try to get into `heavyweight` organizations.

Many will eventually stop the practice of changing their party affiliation every six months or so, and numerous party sponsors and patrons will change the old good tradition of putting their golden eggs in different party baskets.

It may be hard to believe but this process has already got underway, and people`s matured political consciousness will inevitably make it even speedier.

Don`t we idealize the population too much? Is our estimation of their choice correct? We will give two examples. According to the information obtained by this newspaper, in the city of Mariupol, SE Ukraine, the Socialist Party garnered 13 percent of the vote, although (as the word has) it hoped for 50 percent. And this hope was well justified, as Volodymyr Boyko (number 8 in the Socialist Party ticket) is a kind of a god in that city. The metallurgical mill that he heads supports the whole population there.

But citizens voted for the Regions of Ukraine Party en masse, thereby demonstrating that utilitarian approaches to a political choice are now passing into history together with the majoritarian voting system. A similar situation could be seen in another city in the Donbass region, Alchevsk.

The Ecological Salvation Party `ECO+25%` is know to all there, as it did for the city more than all the authorities put together during the heating system failure at the height of this winter. But all the `rescuers`, including party leaders Serhiy Yermilov, Petro Dyminski, Ihor Nasalyk and Anatoliy Tolstoukhov got approximately as many votes there as the Socialist Party in Mariupol. We believe, for the same reason.

Politicians should have realized during the 2004 presidential campaign that the time of voting for inexpensive sausage and free cheese had passed. Strangely and sadly enough, it is the pro-presidential team that understood this apparent truth least of all.

        ELECTION PROJECT NAMED `NASHA UKRAINA`

It would be untrue to say that the election project named `Nasha Ukraina` was doomed to failure from the very beginning. (This is how their miserable 13.94 percent of the vote should be perceived, although only a year ago orange team leaders were serious in their intention to win the majority of seats in the fifth-convocation Rada). Though, the same leaders did what they could for the result they obtained to be as sad as it was.

`Heavyweight` orange team leaders can and must only blame themselves for this failure, blame their own ambitions and inability to reach agreements. They should admit that their campaign was ineffective and lacked organization (this, in particular, is about the failure to unite under their banners Pora-PRP and Kostenko`s bloc).

[1] It is the authorities, in the first place President Yushchenko, who are to blame for what has never become a united orange team. But this is not the chief election mistake by Viktor Yushchenko and his men. As we understand it, the head of state erroneously interpreted the idea of the `pledges given on the Maidan`.

Propaganda for Nasha Ukraina more often than not was reduced to a kind of a report for the work done. "We did what we promised!", authorities reported, citing maternity benefit rise, a shorter conscription period, GDP growth and more accomplishments.

But for the mass of orange team supporters the `pledges from the Maidan` were and still remain a collection of values rather than a list of material comforts. Because it was not maternity benefits or high GDP growth rates for which people went to the Maidan in hundreds of thousands.

Each of those who became disappointed with the new authorities have a `because` of their own, subjective, yet justified. Because none of the bandits whom the new authorities promised would be jailed have got there.

Half of those on the Regions of Ukraine Party ticket could well be taken to justice. If they are offenders, why they are in the Rada, not behind bars? If they are not, why all these numerous charges of breaching the law?

Because they promised that the authorities would be fair, democratic and unbiased; there would be no nepotism, bribe-taking, embezzlement of public funds or lobbying; the authorities would not be involved in businesses of any kind. Part of the promises has been recanted, the other part has never been fulfilled.

Some of Yushchenko`s men have been accused of corruption, but the President took his `dear friends` under his shelter, declaring those to be honest men even without an investigation.

Because the President, who promised to honor the Constitution, began breaching it literally from the first day in office. Those who noticed this were in much greater numbers than Yushchenko might think. Those to whom this fact was of importance were in larger numbers than Yushchenko might want.

Many did not vote for Nasha Ukraina not `because` Roman Zvarych does not have a university degree but because he lied that he had one. They did not vote not because Yushchenko`s son, Andriy, drives a luxury vehicle but because nobody knows where he got it from. And because a journalist who was honestly doing his job didn`t deserve a boorish remark from the top state official.

Didn`t the `orange team` promised the authorities would be fair and transparent, and would respect the people?

[2] The second principal error was the very technology used by Nasha Ukraina in building its election bloc. This was established specially for the election and for suiting Yushchenko`s interests, and was being formed `from the above` as a new party in power.

By so doing President Yushchenko and his team were exactly repeating the mistakes by Kuchma and his men. For this reason, it was not incidental that the Nasha Ukraina project followed the sad fate of the Za Yedyny Ukrainy (for United Ukraine) bloc. And this party is most likely to  travel the same path to the end until it passes into political non-existence.

To many ordinary supporters of the orange revolutionaries the Don`t-Betray- the-Maidan! call sounded insulting, for the reasons mentioned above. But  there was one more reason. We venture to assume that supporters of the  Maidan team were scrutinizing the Nasha Ukraina ticket more closely than  other voters.

The majority of the population most likely made their choice based on a party brand, its biography, personality of its leader, the character of their election pledges and, of course, on what their intuition told them. The people that were running for parliament as Yushchenko`s were not perceived by many voters as Maidan`s team.

Because this team lacked a lot of the men with whom the Maidan was associated, as heroes of the revolution ended up with other party teams such as Tymoshenko`s bloc (BYuT), Pora-PRP, Kostenko`s bloc and even smaller election formations. Their places on the principal list had been given to those who were nowhere to be seen on the Maidan or could be seen there when everything was decided.

Those who did `responsible jobs `on the home front`, who concealed themselves, waiting till it became clear who would win.. Those who cooperated with Yushchenko`s enemies or even openly worked for them. Promised `new faces` never emerged. It`s up to a political force to decide whom to include on its ticket. It`s up to a voter not to support it if s/he believes such a ticket to be a betrayal of the Maidan agenda.

We will not speculate on the betrayal issue here, as the question of whether the betrayal existed is a point at issue, though all who answer `yes` would have the right to say so. We will only state what is evident: the Nasha Ukraina project was not effective, nor it was representative or attractive.

Maidan veterans who did not get onto the `orange` list took away romance with them, while the newcomers did not bring anything. The quota of those `trusted` or `useful time-servers` had turned out to be too big. And the voters reacted correspondingly.

Less than 14 percent of the vote for Nasha Ukraina is to be blamed on Yushchenko alone. Such a return is miserable for a man who enjoyed strong support from half the nation quite recently. But the political force that had the consciousness to hope for a leading role in the post-revolution parliament could not have got even this percentage.

We would venture to suppose, with a high degree of probability, that if the Nasha Ukraina list had been replaced altogether with figures of the same `political weight`, the result would be the same.

The 13.94 percent of the vote for Nasha Ukraina represents the number of those who still believe not as much in Yushchenko as in what he proclaimed on the Maidan, and still believe that he did not keep his promises simply because he did not have enough time to do so.

Why is the Nasha Ukraina project doomed to die?

FIRST, in its present shape, it is inherently bad. A democratic party must not be built up `from above`. And for this reason, a party claiming for itself a place in the vanguard must not be built as a one-off election project, as this is not feasible from a policy viewpoint and also disrespectful of voters.

SECOND, the Nasha Ukraina project was designed to retain for Viktor Yushchenko the status of the leading policy player that he risked losing as the political reform came into force. Nasha Ukraina did not cope with this task, just in the same way as the similar `cardboard` Za Yedynu Ukrainu bloc -- tasked with retaining the power slipping away from Kuchma -- did not accomplish that goal four years ago.

THIRD, and finally, there is the lack of agreement between friends. The men on the Nasha Ukraina Party list (selected according to very strange criteria) are quarreling not only with Yulia Tymoshenko`s bloc but also with one another.

After it became known (from some unofficial yet highly reliable sources) that Roman Bezsmertny was accused by his companions-in-arms after the election of having been `recruited` by BYuT and dismantling the party `from the inside`, it became clear that the political life of this force will not be `long and happy`, and it cannot be such by definition.

Nasha Ukraina may hold on for some time, but only as an appendage to a stronger force. But it would be more reasonable to create a new party from the ashes (sparks are there already).

By whom, when, on what ideological principles and for what strategic goal is a premature question. One thing is obvious: none of the now existing parties will be adequate to this role. What each of them is worth has been clearly demonstrated by the election returns.

              FATE OF YULIA TYMOSHENKO`S BLOC

The fate of Yulia Tymoshenko`s bloc - which is not a political force as such -- is equally vague. This is, rather, a movement supported by those who have become disillusioned with Nasha Ukraina but are not yet disappointed with the orange agenda. And, contrary to all forecasts, they are not romantics.

Recognizing Yulia Tymoshenko`s artistry, skills and charisma, we would venture to claim that the number of votes given to her bloc (22.27 percent) is not equal to the number of her true supporters. If she thinks otherwise, she risks repeating Yushchenko`s mistake.

Her position in the election was inherently advantageous: After resignation as Prime Minister she could afford the luxury of speaking of what those disappointed with Yushchenko were thinking about. The trouble was that nobody could think about the true magnitude of this disappointment.

The mass of Tymoshenko`s voters are romantic, impulsive, emotional, often adventurist, sometimes aggressive and, most likely, inclined to shift their favorites. Today they accepted the dubious (from the viewpoint of a convinced `orange` supporter) figures who are present on her ticket in legions.

Yulia was only forgiven because such figures are aplenty in other lists as well, because she has on her ticket true supporters of the orange agenda, but mainly because she is still trusted. She was in essence in opposition to the authorities (even though she vehemently denied this), and not only was her criticism rightful but also unpunished.

If she grabs her chance of coming back into real power, she will face a difficult test. Her voters will judge how far her deeds correspond with her words with much scrutiny, and, if there is little correspondence, they will turn away from her even sooner than they did from Yushchenko.

She will also have to be particularly exclusive in selecting partners, as it is most unlikely that she would never be forgiven political adultery, even gentle ones. To secure for herself a firm standing in the new political situation, Tymoshenko will be simply obliged to transform her BYuT bloc into a fully-fledged political party, preferably with a clear ideology and an integral program.

                   ISSUES FACING THE SOCIALIST PARTY

The party-building issue is facing the Socialist Party as well. No matter how far reluctant party veteran Oleksandr Moroz may be from admitting this fact, but (judging from everything) he managed to outpace the Communists  and get into the Rada due to two things.

The [1] first is that he was a frequent guest on the Maidan during the Orange Revolution. Secondly, [2] it was due to the presence in his party of Yuri Lutsenko, who played a major role in the revolution. The Socialist Party seems to have not found yet its own place in the new conditions. Pure leftists are slowly dying out as a class, while center-leftists have not been born yet as a class.

To remain afloat, it is necessary for the Socialists to retain their status as an influential party: as the election showed, the people have a nose for the weak and do not favor them too much. To confirm that they are still strong, the Socialist should urgently start to search for and develop a political niche of their own until it is too late.

                PORA-PRP BLOC SELF-IDENTIFICATION

The problem of correct self-identification is probably the most critical for one of the most promising political projects - the Pora-PRP bloc. This could and should have been perceived by a considerable number of voters as a Maidan party or defenders of the true values of the revolution. It should, but did not become so. It could, but failed to.

And the point is not in the presence of some very strange figures in its ticket but rather in the fact that this bloc organized its campaign in such a way that it gave the impression it was a party of Vilatiy Klichko, not the Maidan`s.

Many did see him on the Maidan, but few associated Klichko with the Maidan proper. Many on the party list behind him had more rights to this. Some believe that Klichko not only did not bring in new votes but even repelled some potential voters.

This assumption is challengeable, but it has the right to exist. Having failed the initial phase of the campaign, Pora-PRP decided to compensate for lost time by exploiting a well-advertised brand. But their hopes never came true.

As we have already pointed out, pure brands never won this race. The same  is true for political lightweights. The only thing that could save them were ideas. But these were not there.

                           REGIONS OF UKRAINE PARTY

There is no denying that the Regions of Ukraine Party that won the race deserves special attention. There is no point in speculating much about that party, as everything is apparent there. For the first thing, it`s apparent that the number-one name on the party ticket played little if any role at all, less so his personal characteristics.

Those who gave their votes to the most ardent opponents of the orange team did not much care if Yanukovych knows Anna Akhmatova poems, understands Orthodox traditions, or pronounces the name of Hulak-Artemovsky correctly. The Regions of Ukraine was the living picture of the force whose supporters felt themselves insulted after the presidential election.

Whatever might have driven them - a lust for revenge or a wish to restore justice - it was strong enough. In the author`s subjective view, the Regions of Ukraine`s impressive percentage (32.12%) was born artificially. But today it looks integrated and organic.

The previous authorities had split the nation, thereby giving birth to the orange movement as a social phenomenon. The new authorities did nothing to get the nation united again, thereby increasing the number of its opponents.

In response to the events in the late 2004, a kind of an anti-Maidan emerged on the east of the country. It emerged as a collection of own values and a certain code of honor - strange to foes but logical to friends. The anti-Maidan`s almost unanimous voting in 2006 is akin to the Maidan`s

upsurge in 2004.

Both rose up to defend their choice, and both were striving for the win they believed to have been stolen from them. We may not accept this, but we must respect their choice.

This choice should also be reckoned with by the elected ones. What is evident even today is that the `blue-and-whites` have even fewer principles than the Nasha Ukraina team. The principles that are there would long have been given up for the sake of portfolio distribution. But this may not be accepted by the electorate, which has recently been looked to, at least occasionally, and will be increasingly looked to in future.

       PARTIES MOST LIKELY TO CEASE TO EXIST SOON

The Social Democrats (united), the Greens, the Ukrainian People`s Party, the Reforms and Order Party, the People`s-Democratic Party, Pora and, possibly, the Progressive Socialist Party - all these projects, at least as they are, will most likely cease to exist soon, from which the party system will no doubt benefit.

The long-awaited consolidation of political organizations will, God willing, eventually start up. Let`s hope that this will be accompanied by reevaluation of values and a reformation of party programs.

The old epoch is passing away. The new parliament will not see Volodymyr Lytvyn, who would no doubt have got there as a majority candidate, but did not find in the proportionate system a place he believed his party deserved. Why? At first glance, this is because of his failure to understand that `peacemakers` are only needed at times of revolutions. In post-revolution times, people much fear deputies from the `mire`.

Ivan Pliushch and Leonid Kravchuk, Viktor Pynzenyk and Viktor Musiyaka, Borys Oliynyk and Volodymyr Filenko, Ihor Sharov and Liudmyla Suprun,  Stepan Khmara and Heoriy Kriuchkov, Ihor Ostash and Yuri Kostenko,  Ivan Zayets and Borys Andresiuk will not be in the newly- elected parliament  either.

There will be no experienced policy makers there who represent different political forces but could be of much use to the country`s top legislature. The nation has changed. Therefore, it is high time for the political community to change itself as well.

It is to be hoped that the majority of those listed above (and many more not mentioned here) will keep themselves occupied. It is to be hoped that, after taking a rest and realizing what has happened, these will find their own places in business, in government offices or in the `third sector`.

The latter is probably of particularly significance. An inflow of experienced and highly-qualified masters should expedite the emergence in this country of a full-fledged civil society, which we all have awaited for so long.     

The article was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: By Serhii Rakhmanin

Zerkalo Nedeli On The Web, Mirror-Weekly, No. 12 (591)

International Social Political Weekly

Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday 1-7, April 2006

[Subheadings inserted editorially by the AUR]

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