I have had several messages recently asking me why, in my opinion, the United Opposition electioneering strategy is as dire as I have stated it is.
Fair point – Despite stating numerous times that it is sadly dismal/dire/ineffective (take your pick I have used all those words and more) I have not really explained in any detail why it is likely to be such an unmitigated failure when it comes to voter engagement and more importantly actual votes on 28th October – Regardless of any cheating that will happen.
Firstly, there is the need to set the political landscape somewhat. Generally speaking the West and Central Ukraine are far more sympathetic to the Untied Opposition cause. The South and East not so. I would like to say the West and Centre are predisposed to the United Opposition ideology, but defining a United Opposition ideology is actually very difficult to do. In fact defining any political ideology other than than of the extremes of the Communists and far-right Svoboda is difficult – unless we acknowledge both the BYuT and PoR striving for power for powers sake, and to protect what they have individually and collectively “acquired” since independence.
This is underlined by recent interviews with Arseney Yatseniuk, the current figurehead of the United Opposition with Ms Tymoshenko in jail, who openly admits he has quite different political ideals to those of Ms Tymoshenko. We can then add into the mix, Anatoliy Hyrtsenko, leader of the Civil Position Party, a very capable politician, whose party was forced to join the United Opposition for the sake of survival, and has been openly critical of Ms Tymoshenko’s BYuT and also Yatseniuk’s Front for Change – as I have written about before.
In short, just within those 3 parties and those 3 leaders, there are different ideologies (such as the extent of actual ideology goes – which is very limited), different methodologies and different reasons for being part of the United Opposition.
Very much a marriage of convenience and/or necessity within this unholy menage a trois.
Actually there are more than 3 parties in the United Opposition, but to further fragment the picture I paint and have to refer not to a menage a trois, but more of a political orgy of bit-part players (such as Vyacheslav Kyrylenko for example) , would serve only to make this post look like a hatchet job which I don’t want to do, as I am not anti Untied Opposition any more than I am pro the current majority. Therefore I will stick with the bigger players within the United Opposition.
When recently interviewed on TVi, Yatseniuk stated he expected the United Opposition to win between 150 and 226 RADA seats. Not an overly comforting thought given that 226 RADA seats gives a majority of just 1. Also it has to be said, an incredibly large band width given the election is little more than 3 weeks away.
As it happens I predicted some time ago the United Opposition would get between 150 and 170 RADA seats, before any cheating, so we will see who is more accurate in due course, cheating considered.
That envisaged 226 majority of 1 is nothing new to Ms Tymsohenko who was Prime Minister under such circumstances during her last term in office, and undoubtedly more time was spend holding together such a slim majority comprised of so many parties, than was spent running the country. Whatever limited ideology there was, naturally was bought and sold to remain in power.
A similarly shaky marriage of convenience does not hold much attraction to many voters – and unless Klitschko’s UDAR joined forces with the United Opposition, sooner rather than later, that house of cards would fall down.
The fact that UDAR have deliberately not joined forces with the United Opposition and currently command about 13% of the vote displays the fact that many Ukrainian voters looking for an alternative to Tymoshenko, but who would rather die than vote for the Party of Regions, are flocking to his standard.
I think it is quite unlikely that UDAR would join forces with the United Opposition after the election. Neither will it join forces with the current Party of Regions. A clean image, tainted by neither side, would seem a reasonable position to maintain with presidential elections in 2015.
It would also allow UDAR to vote for, or against, any law going through the RADA on its merits rather than political loyalties. A solid foundation and seemingly fair foundation for elections in the future that would only gather support from the public in stark difference to the polarised Ukrainian politics of today.
Current opinion polls would put Klitschko (about 15%) into a run-off with Yanukovych (about 25%) for the presidency in 2015. Tymoshenko (about 7%) and Yatseniuk (on even less) would not get past the first round of voting going by today’s polling when it comes to the next Ukrainian presidency.
Thus, remaining independent in the next parliament and avoiding any formal political alignments will do UDAR no harm in the longer term. Something I am sure they are aware of. As I wrote only a few days ago when talking of the UDAR rally in Odessa, I would not be surprised to see UDAR overtake the United Opposition in the opinion polls before voting day either.
Returning to the United Opposition strategy, which as I have said is dire, I really should enlarge upon the key platforms and strategy paths.
The first strategy is to bemoan the current president with every other word. Seemingly a pointless exercise as he is not up for election and will remain president until 2015 regardless of who wins or loses in the parliamentary elections. To justify this strategy, the United Opposition state they will impeach the president and remove him if they win.
Fair enough – but there is no legal mechanism to actually impeach a president of Ukraine. It would be necessary to actually write such a law, pass it, get it through the legal system of challenges and appeals to ultimately find 2015 has arrived well before any impeachment has occurred. – A fact not lost on the Ukrainian public who well remember the empty rhetoric and promises the last time Tymoshenko and Yatseniuk were in power together.
Not withstanding that, how popular would such a move be with both the public and the international community?
As far as the EU is concerned, whether they like Yanukovych or not, recently they have interfered in no small way in attempts to impeach the president of Romania by a new parliament who changed the law to do so. Suffice to say, the Romanian president remains in office.
Only yesterday the EU showed its displeasure at the new majority in Georgia for calling for the early resignation of Saakishvili. – A call now retracted.
It is not difficult to see the EU being slightly miffed by the current United Opposition plan to topple a democratically elected Yanukovych before his publicly mandated term expires either – even if they don’t like him.
Then there is the Ukrainian public. What support would there be for a presidential impeachment? A recent poll provided this snap-shot of public opinion over the matter:
Party of Regions Voters: 92% against impeachment, 2% for impeachment and 5.7% Don’t Know
BYuT Voters: 14.3% against impeachment, 72.2% for impeachment and 13.5% Don’t know.
UDAR Voters: 30.6% against impeachment, 46.9% for impeachment and 22.5% Don’t Know.
Communists: 53% against impeachment, 26.8% for impeachment and 20.2% Don’t know.
Svoboda Voters: 12.1% against impeachment, 73.7% for impeachment and 14.1% Don’t know.
Ukraine Forward Voters: 50% against impeachment, 21.7% for impeachment and 28.3% Don’t know.
Thus across the country and party lines, only 34.1% would support impeachment. 47.3% are against and 18.6% are yet to make up their mind.
Ergo, as far as the United Opposition strategy to firstly go after the president in a parliamentary election in which he doesn’t stand, and then use a platform of impeachment to gather votes is quite obviously flawed. The majority of the country would be against such action even if only a very, very small percentage of the “don’t knows” made the decision it would be a bad idea.
Their next action was to make the new language law a central battleground, calling for protests in attempts to block it. These failed to gather significant crowds (less than 2000) or indeed block the law. Hardly surprising when considering just how high, or should I say low, on the issues that concern the Ukrainian public language actually is. (See page 14 of the opinion poll.)
Two of the United Opposition’s major platforms then, simply do not have much traction with the majority of the voting public.
So what about other policies?
That is actually a far more poignant question than it appears.
Having attended every political rally in Odessa by the political circuses passing though, watched more television on more television channels than I normally do (to monitor media time given to those contending the elections) and picked up every leaflet from every election hopeful that is possible in Odessa, I am still asking myself what are the United Opposition’s other policies that would make them strikingly any different to the ruling Party of Regions?
Even the political rallies they have held in Odessa have been less than inspiring - at least thus far. With 23 days to go before the voting begins, there needs to be a serious overhaul of presentation, content and vision if the United Opposition are to make any headway into the Party of Regions voting base.
As things stand, the Communists will make slight inroads into Party of Regions vote and UDAR much larger inroads into the United Opposition generally speaking. The losses by the United Opposition to UDAR will be far greater than the losses to the Party of Regions at the hands of the Communists. UDAR will take some votes from Party of Regions but not to the scale at which the United Opposition will suffer.
The numbers I wrote back in August, still seem to stand up – to a degree at least where the result seems likely to be unchanged. Namely Party of Regions will be the party with the most votes and together with the Communists will form a majority. No different than today but with a reduced majority.
For me it is quite sad to see Yatseniuk and Front for Change suffering quite so badly. I questioned the wisdom of Front for Change entering the United Opposition back in February when it was being mulled over, making the point that a 3rd choice (namely not Tymoshenko or PoR) was a necessity. UDAR have now filled that role and are doing very well for their first ever attempt at politics in Ukraine.
Perhaps an UDAR/Front for Change coalition would have given the Party of Regions far more of a run for its money than anything involving Ms Tymoshenko, simply because she is just too polarising. We will never know - unfortunately.
To add to the above, Ms Tymoshenko is certainly not helping the United Opposition cause. As I wrote here, for her to claim the elections are already “rigged” and “stolen” are not likely to increase her voters turnout if they think there is no point.
Indeed such claims prompted this response by the ICES election monitoring organisation “the elections should not be declared rigged in advance, and it was incorrect to act according to the principle “if I don’t win, the elections are invalid” - an election observing agency invited to act as such by her own party!
Quite obviously reading, and occasionally plagiarising Vaclav Havel from her prison cell, has done little to enhance her understanding of democracy or indeed leadership – although one can understand her desperation and illogical actions having so seriously miscalculated so many things in recent years – and now with the realisation that the United Opposition will not be the key to her prison cell door come 28th October in all likelihood.
That key, when it comes, will be in the shape of the ECfHR, but will not provide an escape from the UESU shenanigans that await her in courts both in Ukraine and the USA.
I could go on (and on) but the main thrust of the failings of the United Opposition platforms and strategy will already have begun to become clear.
The platforms are those which hold little traction with the Ukrainian public.
The strategy is flawed, aiming at a man who is not up for reelection on 28th October and is also unimpeachable, at least given the current legal framework, and by the time it would become legal in the event of a United Opposition majority, would not be timely enough to take effect by 2015. It also doesn’t have the support of the majority of the Ukrainian public and is unlikely to have the support of the EU either (given the Romanian and Georgian precedents in the past month).
The delivery of the United Opposition message is uninspiring to say the least and devoid of any real policy that vividly separates it from Party of Regions other than the Tymoshenko issue.
The statements of Tymoshenko ironically call for Ukrainians to rise up and remove a “criminal regime” whilst also stating the elections are already “rigged” and/or “stolen”, thus not encouraging her voting base to expect anything other than a continued Party of Regions majority – so why vote?
A civil uprising? That won’t happen. The last time that happened it brought the likes of Tymoshenko and Yatseniuk to power and the entire country was completely failed by that false dawn – for which there have been no apologies by those involved and yet those same people still try to convince the public to reelect them.
To ask it to do so again with a majority of actors that remain unchanged is an ask that is simply too great – particularly so if the opinion polls are right and Tymoshenko currently only has 7% of the nation who would want to see her as the next Ukrainian president.
With 23 days left to polling day, is it too late for the United Opposition to change its strategy and platforms? To become invigorating, inspiring, full of policy and explanation, of hope and vision, of deliverables and not rhetoric that is clearly unfulfillable?
Maybe it is too late, but I would dearly like to see them try it rather than continue on such a misguided and obviously failing path.
Never in any political campaign have I ever witnessed so many open goals that have been completely and utterly missed. Very much like their time in power to be quite frank. It seems quite bizarre to think Tymoshenko and Yatseniuk can fail the country twice – once in power and again in opposition – consecutively!