Five days after the election, the final results are still not declared in Ukraine’s presidential election. Nevertheless, as opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko declared: “Whatever the authorities might say to us,” he won the first round. “And, in the second round we shall finalize this victory,” he added (Ukrayinska pravda, November 4). Final results from exit polls showed Yushchenko in the lead over Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych by 6.8% in one poll, and by 0.9% in another.
Western governments and election-monitoring organizations have criticized the four-month-long election campaign, with its massive abuse of state administrative resources, biased media, voter intimidation, and vote tabulation fraud. All of these factors worked in Yanukovych’s favor, enabling him to increase his core support in his home region of Donetsk and among state officials from 20-25% to 40%.
Another source of support for Yanukovych came from Communist Party pensioners bribed by a doubling of pensions in early October. They were also attracted by his new policies in favor of dual citizenship and Russian as a second state language. A vicious smear campaign depicting Yushchenko as an American stooge also attracted some left-wing voters.
Having lost round one, there is little the Yanukovych camp can do to win the second round on November 21. They deployed a full range of electoral malpractices in the first round, but many of these attempts failed because of the mass mobilization of opposition supporters. It will be difficult to use the same tactics in round two. The opposition will be better prepared to prevent fraud and international observers will be more vigilant.
If additional votes cannot be obtained from voter fraud, what other tactics are possible? Bribing pensioners will be impossible as Ukraine’s budget, hryvnia exchange rate, and inflation rate are still reeling from the doubling of pensions last month. Playing the “Russian card,” which Russian political advisors so hoped would bring Yanukovych a massive majority, also failed. Those voters already pro-Russia (i.e. Communist pensioners) have already switched to Yanukovych. The “Russian card” attracted few non-communist voters for three reasons.
First, today’s Ukraine is very different from 1994, when Leonid Kuchma successfully used the “Russian card” against incumbent Leonid Kravchuk. Despite massive attempts to portray Yushchenko in a Soviet-style campaign as a pro-American “nationalist,” this failed to produce the same results as in 1994 when Kuchma labelled Kravchuk as a “nationalist.”
Second, Russia’s heavy-handed intervention — including President Vladimir Putin’s ill-timed appearance at a military parade in Kyiv brought forward by a week — backfired, especially in Kyiv where Yushchenko won by a landslide. Interestingly, one day after the elections, Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov said Russia would be willing to work with either candidate. This was a clear signal that Russia is less than confident of a Yanukovych victory.
Third, the attempt to repeat Kuchma’s 1994 success by making this year’s race also a contest between “nationalists” and “Russophiles” failed. A decade later, the issues are different and Yushchenko does not come across as a “nationalist” to most Ukrainian voters.
Two reasons why this year’s elections are different from 1994 are the results from central Ukraine and the role of the left. In 1994 Kuchma won more of central Ukraine than did Kravchuk. In this year’s elections, Yushchenko swept central Ukraine and, according to exit polls, also won the southern Ukrainian Kherson oblast.
The left (Communist Petro Symonenko, Socialist Oleksandr Moroz, and Progressive Socialist Natalie Vitrenko) received a combined vote of 13%. In the 1994 elections, Kuchma won all of the left vote in round one. In this year’s elections only Vitrenko tried the nationalist argument (Ukrayinska pravda, November 3). Vitrenko’s 1.5% support for Yanukovych will be offset by the 1% won by Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs head Anatoliy Kinakh, which will now go to Yushchenko.
On November 4, 127 out of 130 delegates at a Communist Party Central Committee plenum voted to not back either of the two remaining candidates. If the Communists had backed Yanukovych, they might have only discredited themselves ahead of the March 2006 parliamentary elections. Yanukovych had already bribed most Communist voters in round one, and there were only 5% left who could have still defect in round two. This is now not the case, despite desperate attempts to court the left by Yanukovych.
The Communists were also perplexed because the Socialists bested them for the first time. The Socialists have always ruled out backing Yanukovych and do not recognize his claim to victory in round one. The Socialists are in the midst of what are likely to be very fruitful negotiations with the Yushchenko camp. Their demands include Yushchenko’s promise, if elected, to support constitutional reforms, halt the sale of land, and support social welfare policies.
The second round will also be decided by defections from the pro-presidential camp. Here there are more similarities to the 1994 elections. One reason for Yanukovych’s poor performance in round one is the lack of full support given to him by some regional officials and members of political parties who are his allies on paper. In reality, many have sat on the fence, preferring to remain neutral. Many of them do not feel threatened by a Yushchenko victory.
The creeping defection of ruling elites from the Yanukovych camp could be seen in the collapse of the parliamentary majority in September. On election day, Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko announced that agreement had already been reached by 233 deputies to create a new pro-Yushchenko majority.
Parliamentary speaker and head of the Agrarian Party Volodymyr Lytvyn stated that he would be happy with either of the two leading candidates. Lytvyn’s relations with the Yanukovych camp declined in September-October after he prevented them from adjourning parliament until after the elections in a failed attempt to deprive the opposition of a public platform. Lytvyn was also instrumental in supporting the creation of a parliamentary committee to investigate election violations.
Other former members of the pro-presidential camp were personally insulted by their coarse treatment from Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the presidential administration. Former Kuchma adviser Oleksandr Volkov, who was heavily involved in Kuchma’s 1999 re-election campaign, began courting Yushchenko. Another was Yevhen Marchuk who was angered after he learned from the media that he had been removed as Defense Minister. His first interview was then deliberately given to Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine Channel 5. Kinakh was also angered by the manner in which he was removed as prime minister to give the post to Yanukovych.
Outgoing President Kuchma will also play an important role. He is unlikely to support the extreme position advocated by Medvedchuk, namely to use all available means, including violence, to guarantee that Yushchenko is not elected. This extremism has little support among the Kuchma camp except for Medvedchuk, because he has no future in Ukraine if Yushchenko is elected president.
An alternative path devised by Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, is for Kuchma to become an international statesman, which a violent end to his decade in office would not permit. Pinchuk has brought many American VIPs to Ukraine to meet Kuchma. One such visit by former President George H. W. Bush paid off when Kuchma met President George W. Bush during the 2004 Istanbul NATO summit. The former Foreign Ministry building close to the presidential administration has been renovated to be Kuchma’s new international foundation, where Pinchuk envisages him following in former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s footsteps as an international statesman.
Taken together, these factors suggest that, short of Medvedchuk being allowed to use violence to prevent a Yushchenko victory in round two, the odds are heavily stacked against Yanukovych. The tide is therefore flowing towards a Yushchenko victory in round two.