The spin-doc­tor headache:

Un­de­cided vot­ers are a tasty morsel for par­ties that are not in the Verkhovna Rada, yet none of these par­ties has much of a chance of win­ning them over in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­skiy

The chances of the par­ties from be­yond the par­lia­ment

The low rat­ings of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Ukraine sug­gest one thing: Ukraini­ans are tired of the cur­rent lot of politi­cians. The old-timers have long bored them while the fresh lot who were elected af­ter the Euro­maidan have not jus­ti­fied vot­ers’ trust in them. The top rat­ings, as be­fore, con­tinue to go to the vet­er­ans, peo­ple who have led po­lit­i­cal events in the coun­try for 15-20 years at this point. But they passed the top of their game long ago.

Batkivshchyna’s Yu­lia Ty­moshenko is un­likely, for in­stance, to get 30% of the vote in the next elec­tion. Nor has the Op­po­si­tion Bloc’s Yuriy

Boyko man­aged to gain the pop­u­lar­ity of Vik­tor

Yanukovych at his peak. And it doesn’t look like the cur­rent pres­i­dent, Petro Poroshenko, will win out­right in the first round. The he­roes of the past have lost the trust of Ukrainian vot­ers and the re­sult is that many of them have not de­cided for whom they will vote. The lat­est polls show that, among those vot­ers who plan to go to the polls, 20-30% are un­de­cided. An­other 30% say they won’t even bother go­ing to the polls, as they don’t see any­one worth vot­ing for. It’s clear that the much-promised “New way of life” never took place and or­di­nary Ukraini­ans are in the grips of ap­a­thy.

Un­der­stand­ing just how dif­fi­cult the sit­u­a­tion is, po­lit­i­cal spin doc­tors are scratch­ing their heads, try­ing to fig­ure out how to pick up this “no man’s” elec­torate. How to win over the votes of those who are dis­il­lu­sioned with politi­cians and have no in­ten­tions of cast­ing a bal­lot? The win­dow of op­por­tu­nity has never been so wide open. Given the low level of sup­port for the old guard, it should be rel­a­tively easy to bring new faces to the game, as 5-6% is al­ready an in­di­ca­tion of pos­si­ble vic­tory to­day.

Dis­trust in pro­fes­sional politi­cians has led to a new trend: po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns led by stars from show busi­ness. And with their help, the spin doc­tors hope to in­crease in­ter­est in the elec­tions and get through to those who don’t see any wor­thy can­di­dates. These days, ru­mors have it that there are two such “celebrity” projects: “Ser­vant of the Peo­ple” led by Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy, well-known co­me­dian and TV host, and the party of Okean Elzy front­man Svi­atoslav Vakarchuk—which so far has not been regis­tered and has no name. Al­though nei­ther of them has of­fi­cially an­nounced that he is en­ter­ing pol­i­tics, both are al­ready mak­ing an ap­pear­ance in opin­ion polls. Strange as it might seem, both these phan­tom can-

di­dates al­ready have sub­stan­tial sup­port among po­ten­tial vot­ers, which so­ci­ol­o­gists say demon­strates the ex­tent to which or­di­nary Ukraini­ans are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing fa­tigue with “pol­i­tics as usual.”

Of course, it may be ex­tremely in­fan­tile to hope that mu­si­cians and co­me­di­ans will im­prove life and run the coun­try bet­ter than ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cians, but Ukraine ap­pears to have a sub­stan­tial elec­torate that is en­gaged in mag­i­cal think­ing. Know­ing that Ukraini­ans like to be­lieve in a mes­siah, spin doc­tors are al­ready pre­dict­ing that Ze­len­skiy and Vakarchuk will suc­ceed. Mil­lions of Ukraini­ans are will­ing to vote on the prin­ci­ple “maybe it’s worse, but it’s dif­fer­ent.” The other side of this coin is “against every­one.”

Back­room talk is that both stars have oli­garchs back­ing them fi­nan­cially. Ihor Kolo­moyskiy is sup­pos­edly spon­sor­ing Ze­len­skiy, who works on his chan­nel, while Vik­tor Pinchuk is said to be pre­par­ing to fi­nance Vakarchuk. In any case, the mu­si­cian says pri­vately that he has not de­cided whether to run yet. “I don’t plan to en­ter pol­i­tics un­less I can put to­gether a team of like­minded peo­ple,” he says. So far, he doesn’t have such a team.

But it’s not just the spin doc­tors who are look­ing at “no man’s” vot­ers. Younger politi­cians are also see­ing this huge re­serve as open game, as they search for var­i­ous ways to bring to­gether and es­tab­lish new po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Need­less to say, there is no short­age of new par­ties and move­ments since the Euro­maidan vic­tory— and across the en­tire po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

The num­ber of new forces in the na­tional demo­cratic camp con­tin­ues to grow: the Move­ment of New Forces as­so­ci­ated with Mikheil Saakashvili, Demo­cratic Al­liance co-chaired by a num­ber of ac­tivists and new MPs, Peo­ple Power co-led by Olek­sandr Solon­tai, Wav, a party cre­ated by peo­ple from Saak­shvili’s team, Ye­hor Firsov’s Al­ter­na­tive, the Lib­er­a­tion move­ment led by Ye­hor Sobolev, and the yet-again re­vived Nar­o­d­niy Rukh. Most of them re­main ob­scure to vot­ers, how­ever, and their rat­ings are scrap­ing the bot­tom in the 1.0-1.5% range. Even the best-known and most pop­u­lar among them, Mikheil Saakashvili’s Move­ment of New Forces, can­not seem to muster more than 2-3%, de­spite hav­ing a scan­dalous and charis­matic leader who can claim 100% name recog­ni­tion across Ukraine. The re­main­ing par­ties and move­ments are fight­ing an up­hill bat­tle as their lead­ers are largely rec­og­nized only by those who are care­fully mon­i­tor­ing do­mes­tic pol­i­tics.

The now-in­fa­mous Na­dia Savchenko is also pre­par­ing a party for elec­tions, al­though her rat­ings col­lapsed more than a year ago. The en­tire pro-Rus­sian flank also ap­pears to be ac­tive, al­though some 5-6 par­ties are now vy­ing for the elec­torate that once be­longed to Party of the Re­gions. The new­est spin-off, the Party of So­cial­ist Chris­tians, was just an­nounced in mid-Fe­bru­ary by for­mer Kharkiv mayor and Kharkiv Oblast gov­er­nor Mykhailo Dobkin. Like other lead­ers of freshly-minted par­ties, Dobkin is hop­ing that his party will be­come the cen­ter of grav­ity for dis­en­chanted Party of Re­gions vot­ers who also don’t want to vote for the Op­po­si­tion Bloc.

That the Op­poBloc is splin­ter­ing has been ev­i­dent for some time. For one thing, there are se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences be­tween Akhme­tov’s peo­ple, who are co­op­er­at­ing with the Poroshenko Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and peo­ple be­long­ing to Liovochkin and Fir­tash, who have a more hos­tile po­si­tion. Right now, it looks like OB mem­bers will scat­ter to var­i­ous other par­ties by the time the Rada elec­tions come up and will at­tempt to storm the leg­is­la­ture in smaller groups, rather than as a united front, the way it was un­til now.

The weak­ness of this kind of ap­proach is ob­vi­ous: the elec­torate is likely to be so dis­si­pated that, in the end, every­one will lose. The an­swer seems to be that, even as new par­ties are formed, ne­go­ti­a­tions will take place about how to unite them. Even so, there doesn’t seem to be any in­di­ca­tion that this might lead to spe­cific suc­cess for any­one, ei­ther. Ru­mors of back­room deals come to the press on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, but so far there is no ev­i­dent re­sult. Too many mu­tual griev­ances have ac­cu­mu­lated among the var­i­ous par­tic­i­pants for this process to go smoothly.

THE MAIN PROB­LEM REC­OG­NIZED BY ALL PO­LIT­I­CAL PLAY­ERS IS THE LACK OF NEW IDEAS. EVERY­ONE CON­TIN­UES TO RELY ON THE SAME HACK­NEYED SLO­GANS, MANY HAVE LIT­TLE BY WAY OF A CLEAR ELEC­TION PLAT­FORM, AND TOO MANY CON­TINUE TO RE­PEAT TIRED POP­ULIST MES­SAGES THAT UKRAINIAN VOT­ERS HAVE HEARD ALL TOO OF­TEN

What might make joint ef­forts go more smoothly would be a com­mon can­di­date for the pres­i­dency. This seems like an eas­ier goal to reach agree­ment on than try­ing to come up with a joint list for the VR elec­tion. So far, how­ever, there hasn’t been any con­sen­sus. Even the anti-cor­rup­tion camp is pre­par­ing to nom­i­nate sev­eral can­di­dates at this point, some­thing that is com­pletely un­der­stand­able in the ab­sence of a clear leader who will have the ad­van­tage from the very start, even in these cir­cles. Since they all en­joy sim­i­larly low rat­ings, no one is pre­pared to step aside at this time. One com­pro­mise can­di­date be­ing con­sid­ered is Na­tional An­ti­cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) di­rec­tor Artem Syt­nyk. It’s not clear, though, whether he will agree to run for of­fice. More­over, not every­one is per­suaded of his prospects in the up­com­ing race. Clearly lack­ing in charisma, Syt­nyk is more likely a choice based on des­per­a­tion.

The main prob­lem rec­og­nized by all po­lit­i­cal play­ers is the lack of new ideas and pur­poses that might in­ter­est vot­ers and bring fresh im­pe­tus to the coun­try’s pol­i­tics. The only el­e­ment that seems to dis­tin­guish new po­lit­i­cal par­ties from the old ones is the names of their lead­ers. Every­one con­tin­ues to rely on the same hack­neyed slo­gans, many have lit­tle by way of a clear elec­tion plat­form, and too many con­tinue to re­peat tired pop­ulist mes­sages that Ukrainian vot­ers have heard all too of­ten.

So far, it’s very hard for the or­di­nary voter to un­der­stand who’s who in this “at­tack of the clones,” and many are avoid­ing pol­i­tics al­to­gether as so much an­noy­ing white noise. The old tricks no longer work to cap­ture voter imag­i­na­tions. Only some­one who is able to of­fer a non­stan­dard ap­proach and new con­cepts is likely to win the jack­pot this time around.

A TV nom­i­nee. “Ser­vant of the Peo­ple”, a se­ries of po­lit­i­cal satire, has boosted Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy’s rates in polls on pre­ferred can­di­dates for the 2019 elec­tions

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