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A brief Post Mortem – Odessa

October 29, 2014

As election results start to be declared, there will be those who may be somewhat surprised by some results from certain regions of Ukraine – we can look to Kharkiv and Odessa for some that may, prima facie, make us ponder.

As it seems Kharkiv has returned 13 ex-Regionaires from 14 single mandate seats, and 8 from 11 in Odessa – notwithstanding the proportional vote percentages which present a different picture for Odessa, if not for Kharkiv, there is a perhaps enough interest to look a little further as to why this is.

It also has to be said that despite any superficial similarities, Odessa and Kharkiv are two distinctly separate regions and cities, with political, economic and social drivers that may apply for one city, but are not necessarily the same for the other.  Proximity to, and trade dependence upon Russia will have a varying impact for example.

Firstly, single mandate (first past the post) seats have always seen the most nefarious of election campaigning – and no doubt will continue to be so – as stated at every meeting with every election monitor, be they OSCE, NGO, politician or diplomat over the years.

Secondly, it needs to be recognised that not all former Party Regions MPs were bad, or at least were any worse than some in other parties, despite some poor legislative decisions they supported – sometimes, for some of them, under duress.

Thirdly, whilst Odessa and Kharkiv have proven themselves pro-Ukrainian unity, Russian speaking cities, that doesn’t make them anti-Russia or anti-Regions.  It is more a case of anti-Kremlin/Putin and anti Yanukovych and “Family”.  Most ex-Regionaires are not seen as being directly associated with The Kremlin or Mr Putin (thought some certainly are) or uncomfortably close to Yanukovych and “family” (though again some certainly are).  Many have made very deliberate (if possibly fake in some cases, unconvincing in others) attempts to prove their loyalty to Ukraine.

As tweeted:

Thus, it may well prove to be a mistake to frame these election results as anything other than a vote for internal reform.  It is necessary to be blunt.  The path ahead is more than challenging – it is daunting.  The first 100 days will need to see real headline reform delivered and be seen to be implemented.  If not, then trouble likely lies ahead.  This election was about reform and delivery of reform – not a compass point – whatever hyperbole and misguided rhetoric may be spouted by the media.

Next, it was completely unrealistic to expect a RADA free of ex-Regionaires.  The laws under which this election took place were the laws introduced under former President Yanukovych and are therefore somewhat “malleable”.  Ex-Regionaires also now sit within other parties.  Their complete irradiation from parliament was always nothing but fanciful – and also dangerous when considering eastern representation.

However, a new RADA would be very wise to make one of its first votes the passing of the pending electoral laws that were deliberately stalled right up until this election by the old RADA.  It would be wise to pass them immediately – as there is no guarantee that this new RADA will last a full term.

Anyway, returning to the post mortem of the single mandate seats.

One of reason the ex-Regionaires did (and were expected to do) well in the single mandate seats, is that those candidates from parties running against ex-Regionaires failed to organise themselves with the goal of defeating the ex-Regionaire.  When such a strategy eventually dawned on some, it was perhaps too little too late with only two weeks before the election to go.

Even after such a strategy eventually dawned, there was then the issue of effectively delivering a candidate field narrow enough to deliver a realistic chance of victory.  Some candidates were convinced to stand down – others weren’t.  Money had already been spent on campaigns.

As an example, simply because it is the district within which this blog is situated – District 135 – Odessa Primorsky.

In District 135 Odessa ran the notorious Sergei Kivalov, ex-Regionaire, friend, ally and fully-fledged functionary of former President Yanukovych.  Mr Kivalov owns several television stations, newspapers and media outlets, as well as building several universities where he is honorary Dean, a few churches and various other philanthropic acts, running into the many $ tens of millions over the years, with a small part of a dubiously earned personal fortune.  Needless to say a grateful church and easily pressured students provide a very large campaign force, notwithstanding his media entities being heavily biased to Mr Kivalov’s campaign to the exclusion of others.

Whilst several of the pending electoral infringements relate to Mr Kivalov’s campaign, he will win this single mandate.  After all, any infringements proven may only be capable of being tied to Mr Kivalov’s campaign manager or staff, rather than Mr Kivalov himself.   Plausible deniability may well be enough to be reasonable doubt in a court when considered in the context of a busy campaign schedule he doesn’t set himself.

Thus name recognition, a heavy and biased media presence, misuse of institutional/administrative resources, voter bribery etc., all add to those who, via his philanthropic efforts over the years in the city, consider him, if not perfect, better than somebody they know little about.

But could he have been defeated?  Certainly.  As a district, the majority of District 135 voted Block Poroshenko in the proportional representation vote.  Indeed 6 from 11 Odessa districts did – despite the very likely returning 8 from 11 former Regionaires as vote counts currently stand.

Running against Sergei Kivalov was the popular Mr Rondin – as an independent.  Mr Rondin could and perhaps should have been the Block Poroshenko candidate (and would have picked up some form of electoral bump from doing so).  Mr Rondin, however, chose to run as an independent, thus Block Poroshenko chose Mr Naumchak, a fairly decent man, but not as popular as Mr Rondin.  These two, along with a technical candidate (a candidate deliberately entered to split a vote) in this case Mr Selyanin, insured that those voters looking for somebody to vote for other than Sergei Kivalov had their collective power diversified by both poor strategy, as well as by deliberate design.

Thus, in sum, in single mandate seats in traditionally “Regions” regions, there was simply not the planning that went into the presidential election with regards focused choices for the voter – not withstanding the opportunities for more conspiratorial nefarious acts.

A consideration should also be made regarding campaign funding.  Whether single mandate ex-Regionaire candidates ran as “independents” or Opposition Block, it is likely that old sponsors made considerable funds available.  It is also likely that some, if not all, ex-Regionaire independent candidates will join the Opposition Block after the RADA is sworn in, or at the very least vote in concert with the Opposition Block far more often than not.  The practiced and deft manipulation skills of ex-Regions puppet master Sergei Levochkin should not be underestimated – especially with the gas lobby money and a tacit nod of approval from other ex-Regionaire oligarchy behind him.

Thereafter consider many such candidates are also major employers/senior position holders within/closely associated with the owners thereof.  The inference that an unsuccessful campaign on their behalf may result in unemployment can weigh heavily upon the workforce.  (An inference multiplied in a city like Kharkiv which trades quite extensively with Russia.)

Further, Ukrainian voters, almost without fail, return a local for a local seat.  Parachute candidates, regardless of calibre, are extremely rare victors.  That puts de facto parameters on quality candidature for a local single mandate seat.

Perhaps most importantly, there is then the voter themselves – and here are to be found national commonalities.

There are those who simply are too lazy to vote, or who see the electoral system unchanged and therefore don’t see a significantly different result being delivered.  Something akin to the thinking, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein.  Without the votes cast demographic statistics, and thus being able to drill down into the numbers to conifrm, it would be little surprise to find that far more women and elderly voted, than young men who were eligible.

Further, and at the risk of stereotyping, there are those voters who will vote for the infamous “buckwheat bribe”.  The bag of food stuffs given out in return for votes.  As a pensioner with little else, and a pension that is far beyond inadequate even for rudimentary living, there is an obvious attraction to free food.  Also within this bribe taking category are also those who will vote for a candidate who provides a new playground outside their apartment block, or newly laid road surface etc.  These, in short, whatever their reasons and motivation, will take what they can now, in the full knowledge far more will be stolen from them by the candidate they vote for via misappropriated budgets and thus absent but necessary public goods and social services once they reach office.  Unfortunately, there are a great many such voters for one reason or another.

These voters too, are the main reason single mandate seats are so nefarious in their campaigning.  The single mandate candidates know very well the size of this constituency, and the fact that other than bribes, they have absolutely nothing else to offer these voters by way of deliverable political promises.

There is then the “party faithful” or “ideological” voter – despite only the extreme parties left and right having anything like an identifiable political ideology – and neither far left nor far right have done at all well in this election.

These are the voters who will always vote for party “x” or the candidates of party “x”, without necessarily having a clue about what is contained in the party manifesto of party “x” – if it has a manifesto.  They are instantly dismissive of all other parties, and their candidates.  No different to die-hard Republicans or Democrats, Tories or Labourites.   Thus any candidate associated with their party (even historically) automatically and without question, gets their vote.

Lastly, there is then the considered voter.  Those that have read the manifestos, listened to the debates and understood the direction being offered (even if a strategy to achieve goals is never forthcoming).  This voter may even contribute to the campaign of a party or associated candidate after due deliberation over who best will serve the country in pursuit of the goals they also agree with.  This sadly remains by far the smallest voting Ukrainian segment – currently at least.

Should Ukraine ever embody those ideals many now chase, theoretically the buckwheat voters will diminish and the considered voters increase.  (There’s not much that can be done with the partisan die-hards in any nation).

This is naturally not an exhaustive list of reasons and influences as to why a pro-Ukraine, Russian speaking region like Odessa still returns so many ex-Regionaires from single mandate electoral seats – it is no attempt to be a sociological or political essay with any depth –  it is nothing more than a blog entry that takes 10 minutes to write  – but within the mix, all the aforementioned issues – empirically – play a part.

Simply put, notwithstanding the clever social and political science that may be delivered in due course by the academic community, those that are surprised by such results, perhaps shouldn’t be.

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