Ukraine’s quiet revolution, Part 1

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Ukrainian authorities bring to mind Napoleon's words about a person who fell asleep in a chair standing at the edge of a cliff. Unless the authorities understand the scale of the protest sentiments, they will be hit by a second wave of a tsunami, says Vadym Omelchenko.

Vadym Omelchenko is president of Gorshenin Group, a non-profit analytical and research centre in Kyiv.

"The parliamentary election in Ukraine has garnered global attention. The reason for this is the situation that has changed over the last two years. International organisations working in Ukraine are concerned that democratic principles are in danger.

Comparisons with Belarus are being made. Many assessments are given to the recently finished election campaign. I would like to present another point of view free of stereotypes.

I would rather focus on one phenomenon documented by the Gorshenin Institute in the last days of the campaign and during the exit polls.

Several days before the election, there was a record-high number of people who planned to come to polls, but could not decide on who to support: from 20% to 40% depending on the region.

As soon as Saturday, 27 October, the Gorshenin Institute registered a certain splash of activity. The ratings of opposition parties and candidates in single-seat constituencies gradually started to grow. The first findings of the exit polls showed it was not a wave, but a tsunami.

It turned out that many candidates in single-seat constituencies upped their rating, as projected by the latest surveys, by 10% to 40% depending on the region.

The same happened to the ratings of the opposition parties. Thus, if we compare the latest survey figures and Central Electoral Commission data, we will see that the opposition added almost 20% to its score on election day.

This is the average figure for opposition candidates across the country, with the increment fluctuating from 10% to 20% in the east to 30% to 40% in the west.

No sociological service could have predicted this because normally the votes of the undecided are distributed proportionally among election front runners.

The Party of Regions avoided a catastrophe only thanks to the success of its candidates in single-seat constituencies in the east, traditionally considered as the party's stronghold. Nearly all Party of Regions nominees at the centre and in the south, who had been seen as election champions, lost their ground on the last day of the campaign.

In many cases, they were defeated by little-known candidates, who were supported by swing voters simply because of their affiliation with the opposition.

The last day of the campaign saw many more paradoxes. For example, an upsurge in the rating of the right-wing radical nationalist party Freedom in the east on election day. It rose 2.5 times in Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa regions.

As a result, the opposition parties can be claiming a total of 70% of the votes. If you add the Communists' votes – although they have consistently collaborated with the authorities, their voters clearly run on protest sentiments – you will have an interesting situation.

This gives ground to say confidently that this election was heavily ruled by the protest sentiments, although they had remained unnoticed by sociologists up until election day. Therefore we believe we have witnessed a quiet revolution.

A sort of a latent Maydan (Maydan, the Ukrainian word for "square", is deemed a symbol of the Orange revolution). It might not have fully evolved into a revolution yet, but it is its first stage because, as we see it, the first stage of the Orange revolution happened when the opposition won the 2002 election.

Even though back then President Kuchma's administration managed to snatch the initiative and form the parliamentary majority, two years later the same parliament backed the Orange revolution.

Being busy celebrating, the Ukrainian authorities bring to mind Napoleon's words about a person who fell asleep in a chair standing at the edge of a cliff. Unless the authorities understand the scale of the protest sentiments, they will be hit by a second wave of a tsunami.

They might want to let the opposition chair the cabinet and at the same time release Tymoshenko and Lutsenko to defuse the situation, but so far the Party of Regions bosses used to choose bowling over chess.

All in all, despite the barbarian attempts by some candidates in single-seat constituencies to doctor the results by falsifying them, the situation as such leaves room for certain optimism. It is fair to say that this was not an all-around practice.

Pro-government candidates were simply shocked. Most of them orderly accepted the defeat, while others chose to fight the tsunami.

This parliament will represent protest voters who, as we said, are dominating today. The return of Ukrainian oligarchs to parliament should also be taken into account.

By the way, Ukrainian oligarchs lost their interest in parliament at the time of the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko rule. But today they seem to be willing to claim back this leverage to use it as a counterbalance to the executive power monopolised by one clan, and they are likely to have big deputy groups.

With the Ukrainian presidential election approaching, parliament will have both a new parliamentary majority and a new interesting configuration.

The quiet election revolution is the first serious signal that Ukraine is slowly returning to the democratic path of its development."

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