Saturday, October 27, 2012

Election Eve

A few hours ago, official campaign activities ended for Ukraine's 2012 parliamentary elections. The Party of Regions held a rally not far from where I am staying in Kyiv, and the mood was celebratory. As Ukraine moves forward to election day on Sunday, a few aspects of the election should be given special attention.

  •  Does Batkyvshchyna receive more party list votes than UDAR? Most of the polling prior to the election suggested that Batkyvshchyna should edge out UDAR for second place on the party list tier. However, UDAR has been receiving significant attention since the polling moratorium on October 18 that may affect its ability to mobilize voters. Relative party list performance is primarily important for its symbolic value. It is the first set of results that will be reported via exit polling around 8:00 pm on Sunday night. In 2002, the opposition led by Our Ukraine was able to make a claim of victory given its strong PR showing. When all of the ballots were counted, and independents elected in SMD aligned themselves in party factions, regime supporters retained their dominant position. This year, however, the Party of Regions is likely to perform best in PR, but the final disposition of parliament will be determined in the districts.
  • Does Svoboda and/or Ukraine-Forward! pass the 5% threshold? Because votes will be wasted on parties that do not pass the threshold, the seat allocation in PR will be greater than the percentage of votes that the parties receive (That is, if the Party of Regions, for example, receives 30% of the vote, it will subsequently receive greater than 30% of the 225 seats allocated to PR because parties that do not pass 5% will not participate in seat allocation.). If these parties succeed on the party list, they may become significant players in making or breaking coalitions. The odds seem much better for Svoboda than Ukraine-Forward!, but either or both could pass the threshold.
  • Do coordination failures hurt the opposition? As I have noted before, the opposition has arguably performed better in terms of pre-electoral coordination than in past elections. Although Batkyvshchyna and UDAR accused each other of not living up to their agreements in good faith, especially regarding coordination in Kyiv, they cooperated in many districts. SMD races are much less predictable and are easier to manipulate, so coordination failures could prove costly.
  • How engaged are Ukrainian citizens in casting ballots? Turnout is an indicator of engagement, and it may be low. Turnout has been falling in parliamentary elections, with 75.81% in 1994, 69.64% in 1998, 65.22% in 2002, 58.97% in 2006, and 57.94% in 2007.* Parties have been attempting to mobilize, but public opinion data suggest that voters perceive limited efficacy in their participation.
  • How do observers assess the quality of election administration, especially in the SMD contests? The elections will be closely scrutinized, with thousands of international and domestic observers deployed all over the country and webcams in every polling station. If mischief occurs, it is more likely to be associated with SMD contests and is consequently more likely to be diverse in its forms. Pre-election reports have emphasized concerns about the potential for vote-buying, but the entire menu of manipulative activities is potentially available should unscrupulous actors be interested in committing fraud.
  • How do Ukrainian citizens respond to the outcomes? Inevitably, some participants will claim that fraud undermined the process. Indeed, a recent IFES survey noted that over half of Ukrainian respondents expect fraud to be a part of this year's contest. Large-scale mobilization does not appear to be in the works as it was when I was here for the elections in 2004. But, I expect to see victory rallies and protest rallies nearby on Monday.
I will be tweeting about the election via @erikherron. Because I am serving as an official observer, I will not comment on election quality during election day. I will make notes about what is taking place on the ground, and will post more details after the organization's press conference on Monday.

*Turnout figures are from Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission, except for data from 1994 which come from International IDEA. The IDEA data consistently report higher turnout than the CEC, but they also show a general decline in participation over time (with an uptick in 2002).

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