UDAR After E-Day
The recent elections in Ukraine were a difficult test for its established parliamentary parties. There is no doubt that they are all in crisis, except one – Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR. After the May 25th elections, UDAR is supported by the new president, Petro Poroshenko, the mayor of the Ukrainian capital and the largest block of deputies in Kyiv’s city council. At the same time they are not engaged in the national government, which is more and more criticised. If there will be early parliament elections this year, UDAR probably will most likely come out on top.
Mayor and majority
On May 25th, there were not only presidential elections in Ukraine, but local ones as well. In Kyiv, it was the first elections to mayor since 2008, when boxer Vitali Klitschko lost against Oleksandr Turchynov and the controversial Leonid Chernovetskyi (who won with 38 per cent). In 2012, the mayor resigned, but he had no real power since 2010. The ruling Party of Regions had no interest in holding elections.
Now after two losses, Klitschko has finally become mayor with more than half of the votes on May 25th. In second place was Lesya Orobets, a deputy in the Verkovhna Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) and a former member of the country’s ruling Batkivschyna party. She got less than ten per cent. A good result for a young politician, but she was unable to pose a serious threat to Klitschko. In third place was the candidate from the ruling Batkivschyna, Volodymyr Bondarenko (about eight per cent).
It was a victory for Klitschko and his party as well. UDAR got about 40 per cent of the votes in Kyiv’s city council, making it the largest party in the new council. Besides UDAR, seven other parties made it to the council. In second place is the Radical Party owned by Oleh Lyashko, which got more than nine per cent. The Self-Help party supported by the mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadovyii, who is regarded as a good governor, was in third place with seven per cent of the votes. The Civic Position party of the former minister of defence, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, as well as Orobets’s new party, New Life, both got about 3 per cent each. The votes are still being counted, so there is a possibility that the Democratic Alliance – a liberal party which was very active during the protests on the Maidan, could also find itself in the council. For now they are blaming UDAR for falsifications in the local election and stealing their votes.
Loss of support for old players
At a time when UDAR is taking most of the seats, the other parliamentary parties faired poorly in these elections. The nationalist Svoboda received about 6.5 per cent, Batkivschyna 4.1 per cent, the Communists and Party of Regions well below the 3 per cent threshold. All of the traditional parties lost a significant number of votes compared to the Kyiv results of the parliamentary elections in 2012, with the exception UDAR whose result is about 15 per cent better than in 2012. In 2012 in Kyiv, Batkivschyna received 30.99 per cent; Svoboda, 17.33 per cent; the Party of Regions, 12.6 per cent; and the Communist party, 7.23 per cent.
Surely, the tendencies in Kyiv would not necessarily be the same in the rest of the country, but the presidential elections show a similar process. Oligarch Petro Poroshenko, who was supported by UDAR, won with a huge margin over the other candidates. In second place, Yulia Tymoshenko received only 12.8 per cent of the votes. In 2010, in the first round, she got more than 25 per cent of the votes. The former member of the Party of Regions, Serhiy Tihipko,who placed third in 2010 with 13 per cent, got only 5.23 per cent of the votes, placing him fifth. Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tiahnybok, was supported by 1.16 per cent of voters while the leader of the communists, Petro Symonenko, got only 1.51 per cent.
The biggest surprise result was that of Oleh Lyashko. Before the Maidan, he was famous for his provocations. Once he tried to bring a cow the Parliament. A year ago he, was not allowed on a plane because he was armed with a pitchfork. Before this, he was expelled from Tymoshenko’s party because of a video from 1993 where he discussed his sexual relations with other men and often voting with the Party of Regions. In 2013, he supported the Maidan and right now he is engaged in the fighting against the separatists in eastern Ukraine. Lyashko founded the paramilitary battalion “Ukraine”.
In fourth place of the presidential elections was Anatoliy Hrytsenko with 5.48 per cent who, after years of being involved in the political mainstream, is now an outsider.
The Maidan may not be creating new politicians, but it has shuffled them around. Those who are in high positions are now losing support and those who were in their shadows are beginning to have more influence. After the Maidan, UDAR decided not to engage in creating a new government only supporting them on the side. Vitali Klitschko resigned from running for president and endorsed Poroshenko. This step allowed the victory of the oligarch in the first round. So right now, it is almost certain that Poroshenko will be an UDAR ally. At the same time, he is not a member of Klitschko’s party, and this gives an impression of freshness to UDAR.
Clearly, UDAR’s success was possible because of its well-known leader. A similar process will take place for the other new parties; their leaders may not be sport celebrities, but were active politicians with experience on the Maidan. Those parties will become dangerous for the mainstream parties and will most likely take a part of their electorate. Batkivschyna and Svoboda, whose government is disappointing for many Ukrainians, are most at risk.
If Poroshenko follows through with his decision to hold early parliamentary elections, the results from May 25th could be seen as a test for the political parties. UDAR’s results will most likely be repeated in the next elections. In eyes of the people, UDAR does not carry responsibility for the situation in Ukraine and is seen as the only big party which is not ruling. This is a perfect situation for Klitschko and his circle.
Paweł Pieniążek is a Polish journalist specialising in Eastern Europe. He regularly contributes to the Polish daily Dziennik Opinii, New Eastern Europe and the Polish magazine W Punkt.