This article is part of ECFR's Wider Europe Forum
The president's party did slightly worse than expected and the parties of the old regime still have some clout, but newcomers picked up support as well.
October’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine reconfirmed the Ukrainian people’s support for reform, movement towards Europe, and a strong stand against Russian aggression. However, the various regions of the country, as expected, voted somewhat differently. From the outset, one of the biggest uncertainties was how the east and south would vote.
Throughout the country, the bloc led by President Petro Poroshenko received substantial support. At the same time, the figures were noticeably lower than Poroshenko’s results in the May presidential elections. The Poroshenko Bloc won from 13.48 percent in Luhansk oblast to a little over 20 percent in a number of other oblasts. It was still a good result, but not as impressive as the president’s personal showing in May, when he received 54.7 percent of the vote.
Various explanations have been put forward for the fall in the president’s support. Expectations were probably too high after his win in May. There was no reason to expect him to deliver radical changes overnight, but some people have clearly been disappointed along the way. Moreover, the president has been hurt with some voters by the fact that some see him as the leader of a “peace party”, associated with the “cease-fire” and the law on special status for certain eastern areas. This is especially the case in the west of the country, but it is also true for some voters in the east and south. Many were unhappy at seeing the persistence of the old ways of governing (which led to the demonstrations on the Maidan in the first place), in spite of the electoral promises made in the presidential campaign. Reforms, lustration, and anti-corruption are the key words here – and the president’s performance on these issues has not been very convincing. People remember the times after the Orange Revolution of 2004, when lots of promises produced little action. To be fair, of course, these days the president does not control the entire government, but still, voters tend to focus on his personal ability to deliver change.
While the presidential bloc lost some support, the Popular Front led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk gained more than expected. The good thing is that these two parties think alike in many ways, so they should be able to work together in government for the benefit of the country. Yatseniuk’s somewhat more “hawkish” stance with regard to Russian aggression won his party quite a few votes. Many voters did not like the impression that Kyiv had somehow just abandoned some lands in the east, even if this was not entirely true – the government has simply realised that it is impossible to successfully continue military operations at the moment. The Popular Front’s strongest support came outside the south and east. Its best result in the south and east was in Kherson, where it picked up 16.14 percent of the vote. It did better in Sumy, Poltava, and Kirovograd, but it is not clear whether these can be classified as part of the “east” as such – Ukrainian political geography is a little tricky these days.
A lot of attention has been given to the share of the vote won by political forces representing the ancien regime: the remainder of what was the Party of Regions and is now the Opposition Bloc, and Strong Ukraine. One thing is clear: the once formidable and feared Party of Regions is a shambles now. And these two parties were not helped by the fact that some voters (in the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) could not vote. However, it was widely understood prior to the elections that neither party had a real chance of getting into the new parliament. As it turned out, the Opposition Bloc gained more than the 5 percent needed for representation in the new parliament and Strong Ukraine did not.
Clearly, the Opposition Bloc carries some clout with many voters in the east and south. Some people were not happy with the events on the Maidan, or with seeing “their guy”, former president Viktor Yanukovych, flee the country. Many of these voters get their information and perceptions from the Russian media, which is no fan of the current Ukrainian government. And many people are simply not happy about the difficult economic situation. They blame the current government and choose to support the opposition as a result. It should not be forgotten, though, that many of the people within the Opposition Bloc were directly responsible for these difficult economic times through their actions when they were in power. In the event, the party was helped to electoral success by the fact that many of its members have substantial political experience and vast resources. Some of them were well known in their respective districts and had no real competition. The bloc gained the most in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv oblasts, where it received over 30 percent of the vote.
The success of “Samopomich” (Self-Help) was especially notable. It received pretty strong support across the regions – not bad at all for an entirely new political party. The candidates’ image of being honest, untainted newcomers to the Ukrainian political scene appealed to many voters. Most of their votes were gained in Lviv and Kyiv, but they got considerable support throughout the south and east as well, receiving over 5 percent of the vote here, aside from in Donetsk oblast.
Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party fared much worse than expected. The most votes it received in the region were in Kherson oblast, where it won around 9 percent of the total. Lyashko’s blatant populism and demagoguery clearly did not go over well with the voters. The Fatherland (“Batkivshchyna”) party of ex-prime minister Yuliya Tymoshenko got a fairly flat percentage around the country, including in the east and south. The “iron lady” of Ukrainian politics still has some die-hard fans, but not too many. Her glory days are in the past. Given her extensive political experience, it would not be wise to write her off, but the future does not look too good for her at the moment.
Volodymyr Dubovyk is the director of the Center for International Studies at the I.I. Mechnikov National University in Odessa.
The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.