Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Ukraine's Local Elections: Valid Conclusions Elusive

There's a temptation to avoid the issue of the local elections completely, to dismiss it as either an irrelevance or just a massive dog's dinner. Where do you start? Well, one has to start somewhere...

At first glance the results seem to be yet another triumph in the relentless onward march of the Party of Regions machine. Across the country, with results yet to be declared in most cases, the President's party is believed to have won 36% of the vote across the nation, trouncing it's nearest rival, Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna by a margin of three to one. But whether this is a success rather depends on what the endgame is, of which we know little. In most European countries the governing party would be jolly pleased with 36% of the vote, so if we are following the European democratic model, all well and good. However, if the aim is to replicate the success of Putin's United Russia, this result suggests that there is rather a long way to go. It shows that the Party of Regions has a robust support base behind it, mostly in its heartlands, but doesn't suggest the support is keeping up with the level, for example, of billboard advertising or positive television coverage.

The electoral landscape has definitely changed. There was no sign on the streets of Kiev this time of the previously ubiquitous tents representing an apparent array of choice. Most billboard advertising around the city seemed, anecdotally, to be for the Regions and Yatsenyuk's 'Front for Change', which is looking more and more like Ukraine's answer to the pro-Kremlin 'Just/Fair Russia' party, even having to deny rumours that it is to merge into the Regions. The Regions must be delighted that Tihipko's 'Strong Ukraine' doesn't seem to have fared strongly at all, a step backwards from his double digit first round showing in the presidential election.

Ukrainian nationalist party Svoboda's strong showing in Western Ukraine will concern many observers. However, whether this stands to have any truly grave consequences remains to be seen. After all, again looking from a European perspective, the success of the far right is not a trend unique to Ukraine, and Svoboda can join a long list (Jobbik in Hungary, the Slovak National Party, the BNP in the UK, Austria's very own 'Freedom' party etc. etc.). The west of the country might feel that it was abused and taken for granted by 'Orange' politicians whose real interests were far from the Carpathians. Nationalist parties always do well out of any feeling from a part of the electorate that it has been marginalised, and they do well in fringe elections, such as local (as, in the EU, European elections). 31% in Ivano-Frankivsk and 32% in Ternopil seems very high but it could be seen just as a cry for help in what are, for Western Ukraine, uncertain times. One might even sympathise as many in the region most likely consider themselves targets of state-sponsored racism, if the rants of the current education minister are anything to go by. From a more Russia-based political perspective, Zhirinovsky has always been tolerated, the difference being that the overlap with Kremlin sympathies is non-existent between Svoboda and authorities here. Again the Regions win, as those of the ilk of Tabachnyk et al get to paint the 'Galicians' as destructive 'anti-Ukrainian' fascists or whatever.

More attempts at conclusions to follow, perhaps...

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