October 23, 2012
Guest post by the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECFMU)
In the lead up to Ukraine’s 28 October Parliamentary elections, polling indicates support moving toward the governing Party of Regions, with a close race between Batkivshyna and UDAR for second place. Those two parties had flirted with forming an official coalition, but amid a series of angry exchanges in the press, halted their plans. Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued the second interim report from its observation mission, noting progress in key areas but also some concerns regarding the country’s election process.
The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) report is generally neutral, with relatively minor areas for improvement identified. ODIHR stated that the election is active, with “significant variations within most regions.” In cities and urban areas, they observed rallies, meetings with voters, tens for distribution of campaign literature and political newspapers, and political advertising on billboards, posters and local media. In rural areas, the campaigning was more oriented toward billboards, posters and occasional meetings with voters, and in some districts, ODIHR noted that the campaign was scarcely visible.
OSCE’s report highlighted that the Central Elections Commission – the independent body tasked with overseeing the electoral process – is processing complaints in a “timely manner,” and thus far the judiciary has adjudicated all complaints “within the legal time limits.”
The report also noted that the CEC, jointly with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), has launched a thorough training process for the District Election Commissions (DECs), which will in turn train the Precinct Election Commissions (PECs). However, it expressed worry that a large number of DEC and PEC members were recently replaced, with more than half of those replacements at the insistence of five small parties. These new members presumably have less familiarity with election processes.
OSCE also noted allegations of the use of government administrative resources for political purposes, saying that long-term observers has observed or verified more than 20 instances in a dozen regions. This has been in the form of events by local and regional authorities at which campaign flags, tents or other materials were used, which featured candidates prominently, or which staff at public facilities like schools or hospitals were required to attend. The full OSCE interim report is available here.
The analysis from OSCE comes as the Party of Regions’ two main competitors in the election, the UDAR party run by former boxer Vitali Klitschko, and Batkivshyna, headed by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, worked through a dispute over whether they would form a coalition in advance of the election, with the goal of overcoming the Party of Regions. After promises on both sides, UDAR rejected Batkivshyna’s advances and decided to run on its own.
According to Klitschko, “We respect the suggestions of our partners in the opposition, but we believe that winning the elections and protecting the voting results, rather than signing new statements, declarations and agreements, is the main task of the opposition these days. Our position is clear, open and honest – without ultimatums, prerequisites and backroom agreements.”
“This is in the European tradition, when democratic parties that get into Parliament unite their efforts and develop a common action plan,” he told reporters in Kharkiv.
Batkivshyna reacted sharply, attacking Klitschko’s actions and motives. A party statement read, “Vitali Klitschko’s refusal to sign an agreement on the creation of a coalition of democratic forces in the next parliament is a move that is in the interests of the Party of Regions, a move that turns him into an ally of the Party of Regions, a move that will lead to the dissipation of democratic forces, rather than their unity in the struggle against the current regime of Yanukovych.”
The statement continued, “Now it’s clear why Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party disrupted the coordination of joint actions by democratic forces at the beginning of the election process. And then, last week, it unilaterally withdrew from negotiations with the united opposition on the formation of a single list of candidates running for single-member constituencies and, without any consultation with its partners, announced its decision that allows the Party of Regions to receive an additional few dozen seats.”
Svoboda deputy chairman Andriy Mohnyk, representing the far-right nationalist party, insisted that UDAR’s decision was a sign that it would negotiate with the election winner, regardless of party.
In the interim, Batkivshyna and Svoboda signed an agreement in opposition to the government, unifying their parties just ahead of the election.
In the midst of the turmoil, experts in Ukraine expressed doubt that the opposition parties could successfully unite in the Verkhovna Rada after the elections. According to Yevhen Kopatko, head of polling company Research & Branding Group, “I can hardly imagine the unification of opposition parties. They currently have a lot of disagreements that are difficult to solve.”
In recent weeks, the Party of Regions has consolidated its support, particularly among likely voters (as opposed to all eligible voters). Although no polling will be released prior to the election, the best guidance is from the most recent data. According to Research & Branding Group’s latest figures, 27.8% of those planning to vote will select the Party of Regions (22.2% of all voters), 19.4% of likely voters will select Batkivshyna (15.4% of all voters), and 16.6% of likely voters will select UDAR (14.8% of all voters). The Communist Party of Ukraine earns 11.2% of support among likely voters (9.6% of all voters), while Svoboda and Ukraine-Forward! both fail to cross the 5% threshold.