Friday, February 21, 2014

Early Thoughts on Possible Snap Elections in Ukraine #EuroMaidan

Today's tentative deal between the opposition and regime paves the way for early presidential elections. While it is unclear if the citizens protesting in the streets will accept an arrangement that leaves President Yanukovych in office, it is worth noting critical issues that the opposition and ruling party will face if elections move forward.

Election Legislation. The negotiations have focused on the constitution, with the promise of returning to the settlement from 2004 that reduced the powers of the presidency (the provisions took effect in 2006). However, election legislation, especially rules for election administration, may be problematic. The 2012 parliamentary election introduced a modification to the system for populating electoral commissions, permitting "technical" parties to capture seats on the commissions (my colleagues at CIFRA Group have conducted excellent work on this issue: http://cifragroup.org/). While "technical" parties vary in terms of their activities and effects, they are essentially registered groups that are not legitimate contenders for seats. Rather, they support major parties by peeling off votes from their competitors or influencing election administration decisions.* In 2010's presidential election, the second round populated the commissions with representatives of the two remaining competitors rather than permitting technical candidate representatives to remain on the commissions. Ensuring that technical candidates do not improperly influence administration, and crafting legislation to enhance transparency, will be an important step to reduce the likelihood of improper influences on election management.

Election Observation. As Fredrik Sjoberg and I point out in a recent working paper, the tactics of fraud have varied in Ukraine. Traditional election observation efforts conducted by international and domestic organizations focus on "vote manipulation," especially perpetrated in the polling stations. However, "voter manipulation," perpetrated outside the polling stations, is a major concern. Traditional methods of observation may not capture these activities. Crowdsourcing efforts, like those conducted by Maidan Monitoring and ElectUA in the 2012 parliamentary election, may be better suited to identifying activities like vote buying and intimidation. More active incorporation of these efforts by monitoring organizations will be an important check on the integrity of the process.

The Contenders. Both opposition and regime supporters will face challenging calculations when considering who should run for the presidency. Ukraine's majority-runoff system favors the proliferation of candidates in the first round. This feature is especially problematic for the opposition. The opposition appears unified now, as it did in 2004. But, this unity is propelled by their common disdain for President Yanukovych. Immediately following President Yushchenko's victory in 2004, the coalition of "Orange" forces showed signs of dissent, enhanced by the dismissal of Yuliya Tymoshenko as prime minister and the defection of the Socialist Party to the Party of Regions/Communist coalition. Not only do the personal aspirations of opposition leaders vary, but their policy objectives differ. Most notably, the Svoboda Party has strong rhetorical and policy aspirations to build a Ukraine for Ukrainians, defined in a manner that may not appeal to a majority of the population. If the leaders of the opposition do not keep their promise of running a consensus candidate, these differences could become enhanced and undermine their effectiveness.

The Party of Regions also faces nomination challenges. Presumably, Viktor Yanukovych will contest (under the conditions we see today). He may face challenges from others, such as Serhiy Tihipko, who are more moderate and palatable representatives of Eastern/Southern interests. In 2010, Tihipko demonstrated wider regional appeal in the first round and he could potentially emerge as a favored contender.

In short, the two-round system could enhance divisions in the opposition and ruling parties.** The first round would be a furious contest to survive into the second round that could damage longer-term cooperation. The matchup in the second round could also tip the election in unexpected ways.

Many other issues are likely to intervene between now and the possible election in late 2014 that will affect who contends and how the process is conducted. If the negotiated settlement is sufficient to calm the streets in the short term, it is almost certain that other complications and conflict will emerge over the coming weeks and months.

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*I witnessed the effects of "technical" candidates first hand in the 2004 presidential election. During the overnight vote count in my polling station in Kherson, the commission had to make decisions about the validity of ballots with extra marks. By law, voters were supposed to mark the box next to their preferred candidate. However, some voters both marked the box and crossed off the name of the competitor (likely prompted by earlier Ukrainian election rules that used negative balloting where citizens voted by crossing off candidates they did not support). The commission considered around 30 of these ballots. When the ballot favored Viktor Yanukovych, the commission voted to label it valid. When the ballot favored Viktor Yushchenko, the commission voted to label it invalid. The votes of non-competitive candidates from the first round swayed the commission.

**This assessment assumes that Yuliya Tymoshenko is not released from prison. If she is freed, she will have a tremendous impact on the landscape.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Legitimate Regimes Resolve Conflict Without the Use of Force #EuroMaidan

Robert Jackman's 1993 book, Power without Force, speaks directly to the conflict raging in Ukraine. As he notes in the preface, "regimes and institutions are legitimate insofar as they are able to resolve conflict without the overt use of force. But legitimacy is a two-way street, and we need also to focus on the degree of compliance or consent exhibited by those who are governed."

Ukraine's authorities have chosen violence as a means to coerce citizens to obey, or perhaps to turn citizens into subjects. No matter how this conflict is resolved, the stakes have been raised as the costs to "losers" are likely to be higher than if a political resolution had been reached.

For the Ukrainian people, the costs will be high regardless of the outcome. If the regime prevails, they face repression; if not, they face retribution. As I noted in an earlier post, large-scale repression extending beyond Maidan will be required to quell protest. Ukrainian citizens will resist the Azerbaijan- or Belarus-style solution. If the regime crumbles and Russia perceives the successors to oppose its interests, Ukraine is likely to face economic costs with restrictions on natural gas, trade across borders, and movement into Russia where many Ukrainians work. Regions in the East and South are also likely to use tactics of resistance similar to those currently in play in the West (especially in Crimea which already has autonomous status).

Ukraine's moneyed interests also face stark choices, and the potential to lose either way. Ukrainian oligarchs, large and small, have accumulated and maintained wealth in ways that do not conform with European rule-of-law standards. Movement closer to Europe threatens their resources. Russia's moneyed interests are more integrated with the state, and are positioned to raid and overwhelm their Ukrainian counterparts. However, if European governments follow through on veiled threats of sanctions, these oligarchs could find their assets frozen and movement restricted; they seem to prefer European destinations for travel, investment, education, and asset storage to Russian ones.

The state security apparatus faces critical choices. For those individuals who have already engaged in violence or ordered it, the possibility of punishment now looms behind defeat. Those who have not engaged in violence are confronted with the choice of committing violence against unarmed civilians of all ages. Further, the military, which tended to avoid politicization from the Soviet period onward (perhaps with the exception of the 1991 coup attempt), is facing the choice of participating in activities that the Interior Ministry has "led."

President Yanukovych and his closest allies are now "all in," but victory and defeat are costly. If additional Russian assistance is required, Yanukovych risks loss of (or restrictions on) the power and wealth that he has wielded. In any case, more repressive measures will be required. If his supporters waiver, he could once again lose office as a sacrifice by other political actors interested in their own survival (much like what occurred in 2004-5). The opposition is also "all in." The leadership is likely to face imprisonment or exile if the regime prevails. If the regime does not prevail, opposition leaders face economic crisis, the strong likelihood of regional resistance, and the potential for efforts by outsiders to enhance Ukraine's instability.

Russian interests are not fully clear. In some ways, an unstable and chaotic, but modestly democratic, Ukraine serves as a valuable symbol, suggesting what the "democratic" alternative looks like to Russian citizens. Ukraine has been a useful foil for Russian actors who want to discredit their own domestic opposition. A more authoritarian Ukraine does not serve these purposes, but as I noted above, it could financially benefit powerful Russian elites as they accumulate Ukrainian resources. Europe has a rhetorical interest in supporting Ukraine, but does not have a short-term objective of fully including Ukraine in the fold. Russia will always prioritize its interests in Ukraine; Europe and the US occasionally pay attention. Unless Europe's orientation to Ukraine changes quickly and dramatically, and it offers more valuable carrots and more potent sticks, its interests will not advance.

Regardless of the outcome, the regime's actions continue to reveal that a large segment of Ukraine's population considers it to be illegitimate. Jackman concludes his book with the following observation: "Legitimacy... is the quantity that needs to be maximized in the short term for new states. Since decisions to employ repressive tactics are primarily in the hands of regime, maximizing legitimacy means that those regimes should avoid the use of physical coercion..." In other words, strong and legitimate regimes do not need to use force to gain the consent of the governed. Ukraine is a long way from enjoying the benefits of a legitimate regime.