Ukraine’s upcoming elections: a sociological perspective
By Volodymyr Zviglyanich
Ukraine will soon be entering a period of "election fever." After six years of independence, the country remains at the crossroads between a version of bureaucratic-oligarchic capitalism, a turn to a form of paternalistic state, and the possibility of creating a modern democracy. Which path Ukraine will take will largely depend on the mood of the voters. What do the citizens of Ukraine think of the upcoming elections? Are they ready to go to the polls? And for whom do they intend to vote? The Ukrainian "Democratic Initiatives" Fund tried to answer these questions in a national poll, held in June 1997. They polled 1,800 people who, in their social and demographic characteristics, represented the country’s voting-age population (over 18). The margin of error is plus or minus two percent. (1)
Do the voters intend to take part in the elections?
Willingness of the population of Ukraine to take part in the elections to the Supreme Rada in 1998 (percent):
Definitely will vote – 31
Most likely will vote – 23
Most likely will not vote – 9
Will not vote -15
Unable to answer – 22
Only one-third of those polled (31 percent) said they were sure to take part in the elections. True, there is still a reserve of those who are hesitating and of those who find it hard to make up their minds, but past experience shows that those who hesitate are more likely to choose not to vote if the weather is poor or they need to work on their dachas. It is still a long way until the elections, but it may be said that the willingness of the people to go to the polls and the 50 percent participation rate required under the old election law may not coincide in many regions. This could lead to the cancellation of the elections, as happened during the last parliamentary elections. For this reason, the Ukrainian parliament lacks to this day the full complement of 450 deputies specified by the constitution, and several regions are not represented there.
How likely are the voters to vote for the existing parties?
Willingness of the people of Ukraine to vote for specific party blocs and parties in the elections to the Supreme Rada (percent):
Communist Party of Ukraine (Petro Simonenko) — 13.3
Socialist and Agrarian Party Bloc (Oleksandr Moroz, Oleksandr Tkachenko) — 9.2
Russian-Ukrainian Bloc "Trudovaya Ukraina" (Viktor Alekseev) — 2.4
"Most" Bloc (Volodymyr Yavorivsky, Valentin Landyk, Leonid Kravchuk) — 2.6
"Novy kurs" Bloc (Aleksei Matvienko, Yevhen Kushnarev, Valery Filenko) — 0.7
Inter-regional Reform Bloc (Volodymyr Hrinev) — 1
Liberal Party of Ukraine (Volodymyr Shcherban) — 1
"Greens" Party of Ukraine (Viktor Kononov) — 2.2
"Forward, Ukraine!" Bloc (Sergei Sobolev, Grigory Omelchenko) — 1.3
"Rukh, For the People, For Ukraine!" (Vyacheslav Chornovil) — 6.2
"National Front" (Stepan Khmara, Slava Stetsko) — 1.3
UNA-UNSO (Dmitro Korchinsky, Oleg Vitovich) — 0.6
Others — 5.1
Will not vote — 52
So far, only three political parties have any real support from the voters: the Communists, the Socialists (with the Agrarians), and "Rukh." It is obvious that the numerous and fragmented parties of "rightist" orientation need to unite into bigger blocs.
If voting takes place according to party lists, the number of voters who will refuse to take part in the elections will be much higher, over half — 52 percent, whereas those who refused to vote in general (see Table 1) was more than 23 percent. When the question was posed in terms of voting for party lists, these people simply could not define their political sympathies. The percentage of such people was high in all regions of Ukraine (from 47 to 57), included people who considered themselves "politically involved," and was high in both the western and eastern regions of the country.
What is most interesting is the positions of those who said that they would definitely be voting. How do these active voters apportion their sympathies? If one examines them as a group and looks at the breakdown of votes, the following shifts can be seen: first of all, the percentages of the best-known political forces increase: the Communists get 22.6 percent, the Socialists, 13.4 percent, and Rukh, 11.2 percent. The others remain virtually unchanged, with the possible exception of "Most" (which increases to 3.7) and the "National Front" (which increases to 2.4). But these last two facts can be ignored, since they fall within the margin of error.
If, according to the election law, you discount the small totals of the numerous parties and blocs, the ratio of "left" to "right" will be 3:1. If you add in the totals of the small parties, the ratio is 2:1. This coincides with the real views of the population. One of the questions asked was posed in the following way: "If you had to vote now, whom would you most likely vote for?" The answers were as follows:
For representatives of the government — 5.2 percent
For the "left" opposition (Socialists, Communists) — 14.6 percent
For the "right" opposition (national-democrats) — 8.1 percent
Others — 2.2 percent
Still undecided — 46.0 percent
Will not vote at all — 23.9 percent
The ratio of "left" to "right" here is also approximately 2:1. It is significant that, in general, this is stable for all groups of potential voters — those who are sure they will vote, those who are hesitating, and those who are doubtful. But the high number of undecided voters makes the predictability among these groups vary. In fact, one may even say that the greater the number of voters participating in the elections, the less predictable their results will be, especially if voters who have no definite political preferences vote for party lists. There is a possibility that this factor, and the instinctive nostalgia for old Soviet, times, could push voters to vote for the Ukrainian "leftists." And if they win, the struggle between them and the representatives of bureaucratic-oligarchic capitalism will intensify, hampering the modernization of Ukraine’s economic and social life.
(1) This article is based on research carried out before October 22, when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a new electoral law. According to the new system, one-half of parliamentary deputies will be elected in single-member constituencies on a majoritarian basis and one-half by a proportional party list system; the new system will be used in the elections due in March 1998.
Translated by Mark Eckert
Volodymyr Zviglyanich is a senior research fellow of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, a research associate at George Washington University, and a Senior Fellow of the Jamestown Foundation.
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