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Chasing the “pink vote”

June 13, 2018

Things are predictably bleak for the “old faces” of Ukrainian politics (and their big money).  Their political fates are decided by their “anti” (unpopularity) factor rather than their popularity.  Presidential elections are won and lost by the “anybody except candidate Y” votes.  In the absence of good or “different” candidates, elections are decided on the “least worst” basis.

The “old faces” have a very small percentage of loyal electorate that is still prepared to listen to their flapdoodle.  The Ukraine of today is not the Ukraine they cut their political teeth in (whilst gorging heartily at the trough of corruption).

Neither respect, nor fear of the political or oligarch caste is as it once was.  Those days have gone.  So to have the days when the political or oligarchy class can be particularly sure of their personal well-being if they go too far.  They are no longer, quite literally, untouchable – as many have discovered.

As such the “old faces” are fighting over a fairly narrow section of the electoral base if they are to project beyond their meager loyalist cores.  A good number of Ukrainians would vote for a new face simply to remove the old faces – be the outcome for better or for worse.

To be blunt at this election it would probably bring chaos, for a new face president must still command sufficient support within the Verkhovna Rada to get anything done. – meaning a new face would have to have a political foundation within the Verkhovna Rada.  At the moment there are no known new faces entering presidential elections, and thus there is no new political force to enter the parliamentary elections.

The result being that any new face would have to build a political force between the March presidential elections and the October Verkhovna Rada elections.

Irrespective of whether a new face actually won the presidential election, the next Verkhovna Rada may well be a coalition nightmare (a majority coalition perhaps requiring 3 or possibly 4 parties next time), so there is power to be found for a “new face” even when losing a presidential election if they can form a political force before October sufficient (through single party mandate MPs or passing the party 5% threshold) to gather together 15 – 20 MPs under their banner.

2024 will probably bring one or two new faces – so hang in there.  Only another 6 years to go unless a “new face” announces a run within the next 4 months.

In the meantime the “old faces” will have to try and woo the 20 – 40 somethings – the large demographic group that seeks “new faces”.  Ms Tymoshenko is apparently already out of the blocks, with a “new style”/imagery and (for now) a far less combative style.

No doubt Oleh Lyashko will make the most of this early and “subdued” start by Ms Tymoshenko.  Their core voting constituents are mostly the same demographic.  The better Lyashko does, the worse Tymoshenko will do and vice versa.

Mr Lyashko is not about to abandon his populist and combative style – particularly as Ms Tymoshenko attempts to take on the “agony aunt”/national psychotherapist (“Just tell Auntie Yulka”) role in early electioneering.   When Ms Tymoshenko returns to type (and she will) those “leopards and unchanging spots” will not be lost on those 30-40 somethings she is now setting out to woo.

To be fair, Messrs Poroshenko, Boiko, Lyashko et al also face the same electoral field with narrow support bases and little interest in their rhetoric.  All will be seen for their historical talking and limited walking (if they walked at all).

President Poroshenko has delivered (albeit it was not his work that negotiated it) the EU Association Agreement/DCFTA and Visa-free.  The military is in much better shape.  Decentralisation is more or less working.  If the Kyiv Patriarch receives autocephaly then more votes are likely to head toward President Poroshenko too.  In fact there is a fair amount of progress for him to be vocal about.

But as an incumbent it is the failures or delays that weigh more heavily with a voter – something the opposition candidates do not carry quite so overtly/heavily in the mind of a voter.  Judicial reform has proved to be something of a farce.  Anti-corruption measures appear to have been forced upon an unwilling Bankova – and when forced upon it, the perception of many is that it has consistently done the absolute minimum required and as slowly as is possible.   No big fish have been fried by the justice system – and the voters (rightly or wrongly) expected.

Fanciful promises made at the last election campaign that would never ever be fulfilled when foolishly made, will not be forgotten.  The war still rages.  The currency is now subject to market forces (rightly) – so currency promises will go unfilled.  And so on.  That may all be somewhat unfair (or not) – but politics is not fair, and such promises were unnecessarily made when President Poroshenko was elected.  He was not going to lose the last election.

Fortunately following Stockholm Arbitration Court hearings, Ms Tymoshenko’s disastrous gas deal of 2009 remains fresh in the news – and for it being an abominable deal to the severe detriment of Ukraine.  As that is perhaps her single notable policy contribution to Ukrainian politics in 20 years, it will be a hefty stick repeatedly wielded.

Yet there are vocal, young, and organised demographics to chase – among them the “pink vote”.

The political problem with the “pink vote” is that many core voters within the narrow voter bases of the “old faces” would find making promises and/or concessions to win the “pink vote” abhorrent.

So how to flirt sufficiently with the “pink vote” demographic without upsetting a loyal, narrow generally socially conservative core voter base?  A dilemma for any “old face”.

The answer appears to be to put the issue on the political agenda and make positive noises that many within the “pink” constituency would find desirable – but to frame the political timetable so that it tops the agenda after the presidential and Verkhovna Rada elections.  Better still not to frame the issue as LGBT necessarily (albeit it is), but as equal property rights for every Ukrainian citizen.

It may well be a baby step for LGBT rights in Ukraine, but apparently within the Justice Ministry there is draft legislation that states “legalization of registered civil partnership for heterosexual and same-sex couples taking into account property rights and non-property rights, in particular possession, inheritance of property, maintenance of one partner to others in case of incapacity for work and constitutional right not to testify against his partner.”  

Now that is not the legalisation of same-sex marriage – and that may never come – but this will be framed as human rights equality relating first and foremost to property issues.  Something that would probably be accepted by many voters without too much issue if so framed.

However the plan within the Justice Ministry is that this legislation will apparently reach the Verkhovna Rada timetable in “the fourth quarter of 2019”.  Thus after both March 2019 presidential elections and also after the October 2019 Verkhovna Rada elections, thus insuring few “conservative voters” from narrow “old faces” constituencies take fright.

The carrot for the “pink vote” being that a sufficient number of MPs will have to be elected by the party (or those parties) supporting this draft legislation  – so vote for the right party(s) if you want to see LGBT progress – even if framed as property rights for general consumption.

Naturally this will not be the only demographic that the “old faces” will be seeking to gain votes within.  The question is what can be delivered before the elections, or promised, or advocated for (with a realistic and believable chance of delivery) to cut into these demographics and create cross-cutting cleavages among an electorate otherwise completed turned off by the “old faces”?

We may soon see just how smart they can be – or not.

Simply rebranding (again) will not work.  Ms Tymoshenko has been, remains, and will continue to be a disaster for Ukraine – however she may rebrand herself.  The current president is still an oligarch.  Boiko is still a Firtash man.  Lyashko is a populist (increasing on Akhmetov’s payroll).  And so it goes on whether the potential candidate be current or historically a Ukrainian politician who held (reasonably) high office.  Those perceptions have not and will not change.  None are “new faces”.

To get into the 30s-40s demographic, cross-cutting cleavages will have to be created – and that requires understanding just how these people understand their own identity, their needs, their wants, and their desires – and for the “old faces” named above, any attempt to do that now will very likely to be far too little,  and certainly far too late.

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