Monday, October 22, 2012

Observations about Ukraine's Upcoming Election, Part 3

In less than one week, Ukrainian citizens will cast their ballots in the third parliamentary election in six years. The moratorium on printing polling results began on October 18, and most of the polls that I read suggested that the likely party list outcome is: Party of Regions>Batkyvshchyna>UDAR> Communist Party>Svoboda>Ukraine-Forward!. The prohibition on polls does not prevent bookies from giving odds, with the Party of Regions identified today as the odds-on favorite to win the most seats. A couple of key party list questions remain:

1) Who will be the "last party in" above the 5% threshold? The polling suggests that Svoboda may make it and Ukraine-Forward! will not (despite the latter's protests). The United Opposition seems to be reasonably confident in Svoboda's chances as it made post-election coalition plans public.

2) How will SMD seats be distributed? If we look at the last election held under the mixed system, the party list and constituency seats varied substantially. The party-of-power in 2002, the For United Ukraine electoral bloc, overperformed in SMD relative to PR and some of this may have been due to fraud in the districts. [For example, I demonstrate with my colleague Paul Johnson in a book chapter about special polling stations in 2002 that the party-of-power disproportionately benefited from special voting, especially in prisons.]

The opposition has been more successful in pre-electoral coordination in the districts in 2012 than in earlier elections, with opposition parties reducing the number of districts in which they compete. This phenomenon is not new, I wrote about coordination in a Party Politics article in 2002, but it seems to be more deliberate and extensive in 2012. Coordination failures have prompted some sniping, with Batkyvshchyna and UDAR interpreting differently their agreement on coordination in Kyiv. [According to stories, the United Opposition wanted to divide districts based on polling of likely winners and allow competition where Batkyvshchyna-UDAR head-to-head competition would not yield a winner from outside of those two parties. UDAR's position is that the United Opposition failed to live up to the agreement.]

UDAR seems to be the emerging phenomenon in the final week of the election, with journalists and observers offering opinions about the likelihood that UDAR will "beat" Batkyvshchyna in the party list and finish second, questions about Klitschko's status as a "legitimate" member of the opposition, and interpretations of Klitschko as (perhaps) the next big thing in Ukrainian politics.

Unfortunately, data from Ukraine are not solid enough (or plentiful enough) to permit analysis like Nate Silver conducts in FiveThirtyEight for US elections, nor are the bookmakers' odds comparable to Intrade's election market. In addition, Ukraine has many undecided voters due to the party system's inchoate nature and consequently more limited party affiliations, making both mobilization and persuasion important factors as election day approaches. Layer on top of these factors the potential for falsification, and the opinions about UDAR's likely performance become little more than guesses. We know that in most polls, over most of the time period covered, Batkyvshchyna finished ahead of UDAR. With attention on Klitschko, but with no polling, it is hard to gauge if the parties' relative performance will change on election day. In many ways their relative placement on the party list doesn't matter - what will be critical is the total number of seats that the two parties hold when constituency races are considered and how these seats empower them to make or break coalitions.

Klitschko has been accused of not being a "true" member of the political opposition. However, in his position it probably pays to be coy. Neither the Party of Regions nor Batkyvshchyna is likely to have enough seats to gain a majority even with minor partners (say, if Svoboda passes the threshold and joins Batkyvshchyna or the Communists join the Party of Regions in coalition). UDAR could be positioned as "kingmaker" in this scenario and strategically withholding information is in UDAR's (and Klitschko's) interests at this point. Of course, it is also possible that independent candidates elected in the districts will hold the key to a majority, and they will extract a hefty price for their support.

A final note: is Klitschko the "next big thing?" Not that long ago, Serhiy Tihipko was the "next big thing" and while he is still a player, he was quickly co-opted. In UDAR's case, its post-election relevance - especially as a key player in coalition-making - will strongly influence Klitschko's staying power as a major factor in Ukrainian politics.

I am heading to Ukraine in a couple of days and will post and tweet (@erikherron) when possible. I will post after the election but it may take some time, depending on my Internet access and travel schedule.

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