In an otherwise very good article comparing the recent post-Soviet paths of Belarus and Ukraine, the Christian Science Monitor on 24 March quoted a Ukrainian analyst about divisions in the ‘Orange’ camp in a way that perpetuates a fundamental misunderstanding of Ukraine’s post-revolutionary political reforms.
Volodimir Paniotto, director general of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), says:
Yanukovych has consolidated his electorate, while the Orange parties have split and squabbled among themselves.
So far, soo good, as analysis (or, more precisely, description).
But then the story goes on to say:
The split between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, whose firing of Tymoshenko last September opened a breach in Ukraine’s pro-democracy forces, “has been Yanukovych’s main advantage,” says Mr. Paniotto.
Exactly how? Actually, these two points are in contradiction, especially given the political reforms adopted since late 2004.
If Yanukovych’s main asset is that he has “consolidated his own electorate,” implying that he is at no risk of losing those regions and constituent groups that voted for him in the 2004 presidential elections, then there is no implication that he is making gains among portions of the electorate that previously supported the Orange parties.
On the other hand, if divisions in the Orange bloc are benefitting Yanukovych, it must be for one of two reasons: Either some former or potential Orange voters are being driven away from the bloc, and towards Yanukovych, on account of those squabbles; or the intra-Orange divisions must be primed to throw parliamentary seats and cabinet portfolios to Yanukovych’s Regions party that would otherwise go to the Orange.
The first implication–voters swinging to the Party of Regions–would be quite different from a consolidation of the party’s existing electorate, and I am aware of no evidence that this is happening to any significant extent. So what about the possibility of political power being pushed towards Yanukovych not because Orange divisions cost them votes, but because they cost them either seats or advantage in the cabinet-formation process? This possibility requires institutional analysis, and that just happens to be the kind of analysis in which Fruits and Votes is rooted.
The electoral system is proportional representation in a single nationwide district (closed list, 450-seat district, 3% threshold). Thus there is marginal to no advantage to being the largest party in terms of how votes are translated into seats, as there would be if the rules were majoritarian, or even a districted form of PR.
However, even if the rules were rather majoritarian, the difference would not be as great as it might seem. The strengths of the parties are highly regionalized, so even if Ukraine had a system of single-seat (or small multi-seat) districts, the 37% support attributed to the Party of Regions in a KIIS poll would be highly concentrated in many districts of the east and Black Sea coast. Yanukovych’s party would win the great bulk of these districts even against pan-Orange candidacies. Correspondingly, the Orange forces are concentrated in the west and around Kyiv, where–divided or unified–one of them would have the plurality in the great bulk of the districts.
The previous parliamentary elections in Ukraine were held under a mixed-member majoritarian system, in which half the seats indeed were elected in individual single-seat races by plurality. The other half, under that system, were elected in a single nationwide district, but allocated in ‘parallel,’ meaning that it mattered greatly how well parties performed in the single-seat districts (many of which were actually won by independents–more than 40% of them in 2002).
However, with the abolition of the tier of single-seat districts, regional distributions of support will have no impact whatsoever on the seat outcome. This can only help the Orange parties, as there are more Orange voters in the east than there are Yanukovych voters in the Orange strongholds of the west.
My analysis of the runoff revote results from 26 December, 2004, shows that Yushchenko won around 19% of the votes in the “blue” Yanukovych-majority oblasts, whereas Yanukovych won around 15% in the “orange” Yushchenko-majority oblasts. These percentages represent around 2.6 million Yushchenko voters and a little less than 2.4 million Yanukovych voters. The net advantage to Yushchenko in this outside-the-stronghold support amounts to less than 1% of the total national vote, but could result in a net 3-4 seat advantage for the Orange parties. The reason for that (small) advantage lies in the absence of any regional distribution of parliamentary seats in the new 450-seat nationwide district. The new electoral system thus, at worst, will not harm the Orange camp’s seat allocation, and it best it will help them a little, even with their divisions.
Additionally, given that there are, in fact, divisions over policy course within the Orange camp (and always were), having separate parties gathering votes very likely increases the total votes the Orange camp can gain on election day, by allowing them to appeal to their diverse constituencies. In other words, Tymoshenko’s ability, since being fired as prime minister last year, to reprise her “outsider” role and criticize her former ally, the president, is probably a net advantage to her, and probably to the Orange camp as a whole. The net advantage is that her opposition from within the bloc of Orange Revolution supporters likely brings out pro-revolutionary voters who are disenchanted with Yushchenko’s need to engage in practical and often unseemly political compromises. Such voters might otherwise stay home or vote for more ‘extreme’ parties that might not clear the threshold. (I made a similar argument back in September, 2005.) Division within the bloc would be a problem in terms of the distribution of parliamentary power only if the electoral system would punish division and reward plurality status. But it will not.
Finally, what about cabinet formation? All of the above could be irrelevant if, as is often the case, the largest party is given a first-mover advantage in terms of forming a government. But, under the other major institutional reform of the Revolution, there is no such advantage. The constitutional reforms require parliament first to organize itself into a majority bloc and then appoint a prime minister from this majority. If the two Orange parties prefer to work together, they will refuse to join a Yanukovych-led coalition. If, instead, Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine prefers to join forces with Yanukovych, it will do so, but not because the latter’s plurality forced it to do so.
The constitutional reforms have stripped the president of the initiative he formerly had in nominating a prime minister to form a cabinet. However, Yushchenko’s party will remain pivotal in parliament (meaning no politically viable cabinet can be formed without its support). In fact, it is possible that stripping the initiative from the presidency and putting it in the hands of the pivotal parliamentary party improves the prospects of an all-Orange coalition being formed after the election.
Numerous news reports have suggested that Yushchenko is more favorable to a government of “national unity” with Yanukovych’s party than is the president’s own party.* That is, the first struggle to be fought out once the election results are in may not be between “blue” and “orange,” or even between the two Orange parties, but rather within Our Ukraine. If so, the constitutional reforms give Our Ukraine’s parliamentary party leaders and their activists–who are understood to oppose cooperation with Yanukovych–an advantage over the president.
The coalition could ultimately go either way–Our Ukraine and Regions or Our Ukraine and Byut (Tymoshenko’s party)–but the new institutional provisions of Ukraine prevent the divisions within the Orange camp from giving Yanukovych any special advantage.
*See, for example, this Kyiv Post story from 23 March about contradictory statements about coalition intentions from different Our Ukraine officials, and Tymoshenko’s party’s exploitation of the issue. Also in the story: An Our Ukraine leader snaps back that Tymoshenko herself is hardly pure, her parliamentary bloc having often voted with former president Leonid Kuchma in the pre-revolution period.