De­lib­er­ately un­de­cided:

Who wins the next elec­tion won’t be de­cided by the vot­ers who are now sup­port­ing var­i­ous par­ties and can­di­dates but by those who will vac­il­late un­til the very last minute

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

Who will shape the out­come of the next elec­tions in Ukraine

In De­cem­ber 2017, the Ilko Kucheriv Demo­cratic Ini­tia­tives Fund (DIF) ran its tra­di­tional an­nual sur­vey of the mood among Ukraini­ans. A big part of this sur­vey con­sisted of ques­tions about voter pref­er­ences. Ac­cord­ing to the re­sults, an imag­i­nary dif­fer­ent politi­cian picked up nearly 16% of the vote, putting this ghost politi­cian well ahead of the near­est ri­vals—Yu­lia Ty­moshenko with 12% and Petro Poroshenko with 10%.

It’s no real news that many Ukrainian vot­ers are wait­ing for new faces and new lead­ers. Nearly two thirds of them are in­sist­ing that this needs to hap­pen. At the same time 82% say that so far, no such in­di­vid­u­als are vis­i­ble on the hori­zon. What’s more, poll­sters were sug­gest­ing such op­tions as show busi­ness per­son­al­i­ties Svi­atoslav Vakarchuk and Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, who haven’t even con­firmed that they in­tend to go into pol­i­tics, and fa­mil­iar faces like Vadym Rabi­novych, Yevhen Mu­rayev, Ana­toliy Hryt­senko, Mikheil Saakashvili, and Na­dia Savchenko, who are al­ready ac­tively cam­paign­ing. Re­gard­less of their name, none of these have more than a mar­gin-of-er­ror chance of strik­ing Ukraini­ans as a “new” face.

Given that all po­ten­tial nom­i­nees have a neg­a­tive bal­ance of trust, it’s very dif­fi­cult to come up with the ar­gu­ments that per­suade a voter to get be­hind any one of them. Some will end up choos­ing among those avail­able. Oth­ers are in wait­ing mode and in no rush. These last range from 20-45%, de­pend­ing on the poll. The num­ber of un­de­cided vot­ers is equal to or even higher than the cu­mu­la­tive num­ber of votes that the top can­di­dates to­day could garner if the elec­tion were held to­mor­row. So, it looks like this group of vot­ers will de­ter­mine the out­come in the fu­ture pres­i­den­tial and Verkhovna Rada races.

“The ques­tion is how to de­ter­mine the choice of these vot­ers: which di­rec­tion are they likely to lean to­wards?” says DIF Di­rec­tor Iryna Bekeshk­ina. “Will they bother to vote at all? If, as the polls seem to show, the win­ner will have slightly over 10% of sup­port among all Ukraini­ans, this is no sign of lead­er­ship.” With a year to go to Elec­tion Day, how­ever, she ad­mits that it’s too soon to draw any firm con­clu­sions from these re­sults.

All the elec­tions in the last few years have seen a sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of vot­ers mak­ing their minds up at the very last minute, so this is not a new phe­nom­e­non. Hence the gap be­tween polls taken just be­fore Elec­tion Day and the re­sults of the ac­tual vote. For in­stance, a few weeks prior to the run-off in the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, nearly 20% of vot­ers planned to vote “Against ev­ery­body.” An­other 10% had not de­cided whether to vote for Vik­tor Yanukovych or Yu­lia Ty­moshenko. In fact, only about 4% of Ukraini­ans voted “Against ev­ery­body.” The rest ei­ther didn’t show up to vote or ended up choos­ing be­tween the two can­di­dates af­ter all.

Af­ter that elec­tion, Ukrainian pun­dits and politi­cians be­gan to use the term “golden share” much more of­ten, mean­ing the rel­a­tively small group of vot­ers whose sup­port will de­ter­mine the vic­tory of one can­di­date or an­other.

“In 2010, the thought was that this golden share be­longed to those who felt neg­a­tive about both can­di­dates and had to de­cide whether to go ahead and vote for the lesser of two evils, or not to vote at all,” says Mykhailo Mishchenko, deputy di­rec­tor of the Razumkov Cen­ter, a Kyiv think-tank. “Yanukovych won by a very small mar­gin and a rel­a­tively large num­ber of vot­ers voted ‘Against ev­ery­body’ or didn’t vote at all. If some of them had de­cided to fa­vor Ty­moshenko, then she would have won.”

Un­for­tu­nately, there are no de­tailed stud­ies that might pro­vide a fuller pic­ture of this group of vot­ers. Mishchenko says that the golden share ac­tu­ally was held by those who sup­ported other can­di­dates from the Or­ange camp, in­clud­ing Vik­tor Yushchenko. At the time of the 2010 elec­tion, the for­mer pres­i­dent re­fused to en­dorse ei­ther can­di­date in the sec­ond round. An­other fac­tor was that the in­tel­li­gentsia had taken on a sim­i­lar po­si­tion taken and this was ac­tively be­ing pro­moted in the press.

It’s just as hard to come up with any se­ri­ous con­clu­sions about the over­all pic­ture of those who haven’t made a choice yet in 2018. Ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous polls, the un­de­cid­eds form a sub­stan­tial share in ev­ery macro re­gion, al­though the lat­est poll from DIF shows that there is more of this con­tin­gent in east­ern Ukraine, es­pe­cially in Don­bas, and in the south­ern part of the coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to Olek­siy Haran, pro­fes­sor at Kyiv Mo­hyla Academy and DIF’s di­rec­tor of re­search, this cat­e­gory of voter also cuts across the en­tire so­cial spec­trum. Most likely this is all due to the fact that it’s not clear who ex­actly will be run­ning in the elec­tion.

“Pro­por­tion­ally, it dif­fers some­what,” says Haran. “For in­stance, younger peo­ple are less in­ter­ested in

IT’S NO REAL NEWS THAT MANY UKRAINIAN VOT­ERS ARE WAIT­ING FOR NEW FACES AND NEW LEAD­ERS. NEARLY TWO THIRDS OF THEM ARE IN­SIST­ING THAT THIS NEEDS TO HAP­PEN. AT THE SAME TIME 82% SAY THAT SO FAR,

NO SUCH IN­DI­VID­U­ALS ARE VIS­I­BLE ON THE HORI­ZON

po­lit­i­cal is­sues, while older peo­ple ap­pear to live in­side their TV sets. Yet un­de­cid­eds cross all age groups and even all groups based on level of ed­u­ca­tion. Right now, we don’t know who will be the ac­tual can­di­dates. There’s only a list of names, but it’s clearly not the fi­nal one.”

Oth­ers with whom The Ukrainian Week spoke were of a sim­i­lar opin­ion. Mishchenko ex­plains that the be­hav­ior of vot­ers in this kind of sit­u­a­tion is rea­son­able, as even ex­perts have no idea ex­actly who will be in the run­ning. “It makes more sense to start an­a­lyz­ing the un­de­cid­eds closer to the elec­tion, and not now, when the sit­u­a­tion is un­clear and these vot­ers could be wait­ing to see what hap­pens with the can­di­dates be­fore mak­ing any de­ci­sions,” says Mishchenko. “Take, for ex­am­ple, Vakarchuk. Will he run or not? A lot can change in the next year, in­clud­ing the list of can­di­dates. What’s the point, then, of choos­ing when we don’t know what might hap­pen with that can­di­date?”

Much will de­pend on what hap­pens dur­ing the con­sol­i­da­tion process. Since the 2014 elec­tion, Ukrainian vot­ers can be di­vided more-or-less into four groups: those who fa­vor the party in power, the so-called demo­cratic op­po­si­tion, the na­tion­al­ists, and the for­mer Party of the Re­gions camp. More­over, all of these groups are frag­mented. The once-mono­lithic PR elec­torate has been di­vided up be­tween the Op­poBloc and Rabi­novych’s Za Zhyt­tia [For Life] party.

The sit­u­a­tion in the demo­cratic op­po­si­tion is no less straight­for­ward: in ad­di­tion to the cur­rent mar­ginal fa­vorite, Yu­lia Ty­moshenko [Batkivshchyna], we have Ana­toliy Hryt­senko [Civic Po­si­tion], An­driy Sadoviy [Samopomich], Mikheil Saakashvili and his Move­ment of New Forces, and a slew of other po­lit­i­cal par­ties and per­son­al­i­ties, in­clud­ing the par­lia­men­tary eu­rop­ti­mists. The pic­ture could get even more con­fus­ing if Svi­atoslav Vakarchuk de­cides to run: the lat­est sur­veys by four poll­sters com­mis­sioned by the Com­mit­tee of Ukrainian Vot­ers (CUV) show that he would im­me­di­ately join the top three. The na­tion­al­ist camp is just as messy, where, in ad­di­tion to old-timers from Svo­boda, vot­ers have the Na­tional Corps, Praviy Sek­tor, and Dmytro Yarosh’s move­ment.

“The un­de­cid­eds are al­ways the re­serve in any elec­tion,” says Haran. “But that doesn’t re­ally make them some kind of ‘golden share.’ We can only say that this is a stan­dard sit­u­a­tion and these vot­ers will later choose among the main can­di­dates, and those who even­tu­ally emerge. As usual.”

How they will go is any­body’s guess right now. A good share of them sim­ply won’t go to the polls. Ac­cord­ing to Bekeshk­ina, the un­de­cid­eds are more of a re­serve for the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion. “Part of them won’t vote at all, but the rest will likely vote for the lesser of two evils,” she says. “Typ­i­cally, the lesser evil is who­ever is cur­rently in of­fice. Those who are def­i­nitely against the cur­rent pres­i­dent will have picked an­other can­di­date much ear­lier.”

In short, it’s too early to say that the “golden share” will have much of a role, re­peat­ing the 2010 elec­tion. For one thing, this no­tion makes no sense at all in the VR elec­tions. “There are many par­ties who gain enough votes to be seated in the leg­is­la­ture,” says Mishchenko. “What­ever posts are to be had are de­ter­mined in the Rada it­self and voted on by the deputies. So only in­di­vid­ual deputies and par­ties can take ad­van­tage of the golden share. You might even say that this golden share will go to those who vote for these MPs or par­ties.”

It’s also too early to say much about the kinds of cam­paign strate­gies will be used by those com­pet­ing for of­fice. One very vis­i­ble strat­egy that seems to have worked well in 2010 was to en­cour­age the “Against ev­ery­body” vote to get po­ten­tial Ty­moshenko sup­port­ers not to vote in the sec­ond round of the elec­tion, com­plete with an ac­tual can­di­date called “Va­syl Again­stev­ery­body.” Va­syl Hu­me­niuk, a for­mer mayor of Yarem­che, ac­tu­ally changed his fam­ily name to Again­stev­ery­body for the elec­tion. Bill­boards pro­mot­ing Again­stev­ery­body, sprang up all across the coun­try with the slo­gan was “Life with­out Ya and Yu”—the let­ter “Ya” mean­ing Yanukovych and “Yu” con­ve­niently cov­er­ing both Yu­lia Ty­moshenko and Yushchenko. Ac­cord­ing to Haran, the same kind of trick could be used again this time, doo. How­ever, the very frag­men­ta­tion of the elec­torate makes it dif­fi­cult to pre­dict whom such an ap­proach might fa­vor.

Yet an­other risk in the up­com­ing elec­tion, says Haran, is that ac­tive vot­ers could end up the big­gest losers. They are dis­en­chanted with the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, which has failed to come through on many of its prom­ises. Then, there are the pop­ulists, whom a large chunk of Ukrainian vot­ers is also not pre­pared to take se­ri­ously. The end re­sult could be that the ac­tive part of the pop­u­la­tion that has emerged in the more than four years since the Euro­maidan could be left both with­out its own can­di­date and with­out a clear an­swer to a key ques­tion: who’s worth sup­port­ing?

In a sit­u­a­tion like this, the very peo­ple who have been putting in the most ef­fort into change the face of Ukraine could find them­selves with­out not just the golden share, but any share what­so­ever, in de­cid­ing the fu­ture gov­ern­ment of their coun­try.

A few weeks prior to the run-off in the 2010 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, nearly 20% of vot­ers planned to vote “Against ev­ery­body.” An­other 10% had not de­cided whether to vote for Vik­tor Yanukovych or Yu­lia Ty­moshenko. In fact, only about 4% of Ukraini­ans voted “Against ev­ery­body.” The rest ei­ther didn’t show up to vote or ended up choos­ing be­tween the two can­di­dates af­ter all

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