Wynnyckyj’s Take on Elections

Ukraine’s politics is currently revolving around parliamentary elections which are due on October 26. These elections are often considered to be a major reason why the President and Verkhovna Rada have not proclamed a state of emergency amid the war with Russia as such a state would delay the elections. Andrij Holovatyj of the GlobalMaidan media initiative has recently talked with Dr. Mychailo Wynnyckyj from Kyiv about the upcoming elections which are becoming increasingly competitive and even heated.
AH: How important are these elections to Ukraine?
MW: The presidential elections were key since we had a legitimacy problem with the Ukrainian government immediately after the Maidan Revolution because the constitution does not have this concept of an inactive President and we needed a real President elected. In order to legitimize the post-Revolutionary regime we needed an election. That does not mean that the executive was completely illegitimate because Yatseniuk has always been the legitimate Prime Minister, elected by the majority in Parliament.
But the problem is that Parliament consists of a lot of people who were in the majority under Yanukovych – clearly there is a moral and legislative legitimacy problem.
AH: Is there more hinging on Ukraine’s success or failure in these elections from the legislative point of view since so much has to be cleaned up in government?
MW: The reality is that the only real radical systemic reform so far – when it comes to legislative reform – has been the adoption of a new law on higher education. Having been involved in its drafting, I’m clearly very proud of that, but is that really the main priority that we needed to do after the Revolution? The Revolution wasn’t about education, it was about corruption, de-regulating the economy, changing the electoral system, de-centralization and a lot of different laws which haven’t been passed through. Do we need a re-set? And the answer is obviously yes. If we need to do radical reform – which we need to do – we need to have legislative backing for those particular reforms.
AH: We’re probably stuck with the old election system with closed lists of parties but also constituency membership elections. Will Crimea get representation? Will people be able to vote there?
MW: There’s a lot of personal preference in which electoral process you like. There’s a lot of pressure to go to regional open lists of parties which a lot of people in Ukraine still don’t understand. Those changes to the electoral law were not adopted by this Parliament which is again another indication that we need a re-set of the elected MP’s. There will be representation on the party lists of people from Crimea and the Donbas. However, half of the Parliament will be elected on party lists and the other half will be elected based on first-past-the post constituencies, like we have in Canada. So 225 on one system and 225 on the other system. The party representation MP’s will likely have representations from regions which will not be represented in constituencies only because it’s impossible to run elections in a war zone and it’s impossible to run an election in Crimea which is de-facto occupied at the moment.
AH: How about the polling data that has come out on September 3?
MW: Yes, this was a poll done by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology – it’s an organization I’m affiliated with because it is housed at Kyiv Mohyla Academy and a lot of the people that I work with and teach with also work in the Institute. Basically, they polled 2,040 respondents representative of the entire country and it was done in 110 different locations in Ukraine in all oblasts except for Crimea and Luhansk, so Donetsk is represented. It was conducted between the 23rd of August and the 2nd of September.
According to that poll, 37% of those who are decided would be voting for the Bloc Poroshenko (BP) which is a new party which was the Solidarity Party but has been renamed. Lutsenko will likely be number 1 on the list and Olga Bogomolets will also be joining that party. Thirteen percent for the Radical Party under Liashko – there has been a significant drop in support for them. In the poll we saw at the beginning of August he was polling about 20% but now he’s polling at 13%. Hrytsenko is polling 9%, Tihipko, which is the remnants of the Party of Regions, is polling 7.8% which is pretty high, Patriots of Ukraine (PU) which is a new party under Yatsenniuk and Turchynov, who have actually been thrown out of Batkivschyna because of an internal conflict with Tymoshenko, are actually polling higher than Tymoshenko herself: PU are polling at 6.4% and Batkivschyna at 6.1%.
It does look like the Communist Party and Svoboda are passing the barriers but both are polling around 4%. The Party of Regions probably won’t pass the barrier. Now the question is whether Right Sektor has enough support to pass the 3% barrier and it is quite possible that we can see Right Sektor gaining support and Svoboda loosing support and the Party of Regions not showing up in Parliament.
AH: Do you see any coalitions or blocks happening before the election?
MW: I think that at the moment it’s actually quite likely there will be more parties in Parliament – about seven or eight parties and some very serious coalition formation in the next Parliament after the elections. It is clear that the BP is the clear leader at the moment and the only pre-election coalition I could see is Yatseniuk and Turchynov joining the BP. That’s actually 70-30 in favour of them joining…but whether that happens is up in the air.
AH: While the old Parliament is sitting, is there a possibility of them trying to change some old laws that might affect the election? Specifically, the way the Party of Regions could resurface? How long will Parliament still sit and when will they have to wrap things up for the campaign?
MW: According the Constitution, one Parliament sits until the next Parliament is sworn in. So, this Parliament sits until Election Day or immediately afterward. The old Parliament will have at least one session after Election Day that will be their final session and then there will be a swearing in of the new Parliament. However, this Parliament will be in session until November…whether there’s a risk of what you’re talking about is [unknown]. Any real damage that could be done by the old Parliament will be neutralized by the fact that Turchynov is now turning himself into a Poroshenko ally and distancing himself from Tymoshenko and as Speaker he has the ability to affect the agenda of what is and what is not placed on the docket. I don’t think there’s going to be any radical changes to the electoral law at this point. The consensus of the Parliamentarians and politicians at this point is ‘don’t change the election law while the election campaign is going on’. There are much more important things the legislature needs to worry about including supporting the war and ratifying the European Treaty. There’s a variety of other things that needs to be done to ratify reforms so it is a full agenda if this Parliament decides to pass it (and if it doesn’t the next Parliament will).
AH: There is talk of changing the system of which MP’s are elected and I found it preposterous that in the middle of an election, the sitting Parliament can make changes to the electoral process while there’s an election going on.
MW: I don’t think that’s going to happen. There has been lobbying for regional proportional representation – party lists on regional basis and getting away from majority type constituencies. This was not successful and one of the main arguments was ‘don’t change the rule once the election campaign has started.’ The Parliament sat the following week after elections were called and made that argument so we will now have an election campaign that is 60 days before October 26th. Two hundred and twenty five elected according to party lists and 225 according to constituencies – so if there are no other referenda called, people will be going to the polls and be given two ballots: one will have a list of parties on it and you will have to check off the party you support and the other one will have a list of individuals and those individuals will be running for the constituency place.