Ukraine 2019 Rada election. Olga Onuch on results and implications

Ukraine parliamentary elections results are in special issue of Ukraine Calling: Marta Dyczok speaks to British political scientist Prof. Olga Onuch

Show hosts

Marta Dyczok


Olga Onuch

Ukraine 2019 Rada election. Olga Onuch on results and implications
Ukraine 2019 Rada election. Olga Onuch on results and implications

Here’s a special episode of Ukraine Calling. Want to know about the results and implications of Ukraine’s snap parliamentary election? Tune in to hear Marta Dyczok speak to British political scientist Prof. Olga Onuch who explains what happened and what we can expect.

Olga Onuch in Hromadske Radio studio Hromadske Radio

Volodymyr Zelensky’s party Servant of the People won a majority. This gives him more power than any other president in modern Ukraine’s history. The reinvented former Regions Party called Opposition Platform came in a distant second.

Past President Poroshenko’s party European Solidarity came in fourth, slightly behind Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party.

More women were elected across the board than ever before.

And a new party, Holos (which means Voice) came in fifth place. It was created by rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk a few months ago. During the election campaign he released a new song called Choven (Boat). It’s featured at the end of the show.

Dyczok: Hello, and welcome to a special election episode of Ukraine Calling. I’m Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. As you know, there’s been a snap election in Ukraine for parliament. To explain what the results are and what this will mean for Ukraine, we have in studio Professor Olga Onuch. She is a political scientist based at Manchester University, England. She’s also a fellow at the Davis Centre at Harvard University, author of many publications, researcher, and she’s in Kyiv on a research trip, has been watching the election campaign and now the results. We’re very lucky to catch her here. Thank you very much for finding the time to join us Dr. Onuch.

Onuch: Marta, thank you very much for having me.

Dyczok: So. Snap election. We have results. What are the results? And what does this mean for Ukraine? You’ve been watching this carefully and you have some interesting analysis.

Onuch: Well, first of all, I think, we’re all really pleased to see that this was the freest, the fairest, parliamentary election that we’ve seen in Ukraine.

Dyczok: Yes.

Onuch: That’s absolutely wonderful. But this is a seismic shift.

Dyczok: Explain. Massive.

Onuch: When I say that I get shivers right away because we have never seen something like this, where the president will have a party in parliament that has a majority. They can pass a variety of different laws without going into any coalitions, and this was what the sociologically survey data was showing us, but it was hard to believe. It was really hard to believe. And sure enough, they will have a majority and they will be able to pass many things. Constitutional majorities, no. They will have to go into coalitions, but they will get a lot of things through without going to anyone else in parliament.

Dyczok: So, let’s back up a little bit. A few months ago, a new president was elected by a landslide. A few days ago, a new parliament was elected, and the president’s party has won the majority.

Onuch: Yes.

Dyczok: So, concentration of power.

Onuch: It is a risk. And, so, those of us, like yourself, who are watching and observing Ukrainian politics, we are looking at this wondering, will hubris win out in the end? Will they take this as a mandate to do absolutely anything and not consult with others or will they in fact be a technocratic government as they are promising us to be. We can’t be certain. We don’t know this president, we don’t know Zelensky as a politician at all. The unknowns around him, let alone his team, let alone this brand-new party, are incredibly huge. So, we don’t know what to expect. There is a serious risk of that, if it’s the wrong people in power, if it’s the wrong politicians in parliament, if his team is poor, if they do not want to have compromises, they’ll go it alone and yes, maybe concentrate power in the hands of one or two or few people, yes.

Dyczok: Well, we don’t know a lot about the president and his party, you’re absolutely right. But what do we know? He came to power on this slogan of change, new faces. We have new faces in the president’s office and now in parliament. What do we know about these people?

Onuch: Well, we’re getting to know these people slowly and surely, right? Some of these people are in fact very experienced in various industries, some were in civil society, some were in journalism, we’ve seen a few of these faces. For instance, one of the candidates in Kyiv that was balloting in the first-past-the-post portion of the parliamentary elections because there’s two. There is the- people are elected along party lists, as well as in separate individual ridings, people can ballot themselves and they win- if they win a plurality they get into parliament and get a seat. So, one-

Dyczok: It’s such a complicated electoral- for our listeners, who can read up on the details, but keep in mind when you’re watching the public opinion polls, when it says “Servants of the People, forty-something percent”-

Onuch: That’s not the whole story.

Dyczok: That’s just half the votes. The other half are coming from these individual ridings where people could be independent, or they could be party members.

Onuch: Yes.

Dyczok: And that’s where that majority comes from.

Onuch: Yes. Because it’s only forty-two, forty-three percent of the national vote according to party lists, yes, but pretty much every single Oblast, every single province, Sluha Narodu, except for L’viv, Luhansk, and Donetsk Oblast, or provinces, Sluha Narodu has won the plurality for the individual constituencies there, so. But what I wanted to say is this woman who was a candidate here in Kyiv, she was actually an activist in this organization “Save Old Kyiv.” So, there are these people like that in this party, and we of course have the expectation that they will continue to do the sort of things that they did before. There are also some very suspicious faces, no need to highlight them here, that should worry some people, but this is across the board in various parties. So, European Strategy, which is the former Petro Poroshenko’s party-

Dyczok: The former president’s party.

Onuch: Yes, sorry, the former president’s party, Petro Poroshenko-

Dyczok: They didn’t do so well.

Onuch: No, they did not do well at all. But it’s like, they didn’t learn their lessons. These campaigns were not, ‘let’s go out into the field, into the regions and listen to people and then form a campaign around that’, they were just, ‘this is what we think we should be balloting on, this is what we think we should be campaigning on and going forward.’ But, in his party as well there are some old faces that should worry us, certainly. We know they have complicated histories, and some of them may or may not have legal issues pending, and then there are a lot of new faces in these parties as well whether it’s in European Strategy or in Holos.

Dyczok: Let’s talk about Holos. Holos is this new party that appeared, led by rockstar Svyatoslav- I keep getting his name wrong- Vakarchuk. Okean Elzy forms a political party, and they ran for office, and how did they do? Where do you place these people, what do you see with their future as?

Onuch: Great music. Absolutely. I loved all of the different albums. Maybe not the best political strategy and strategists involved in that campaign. I think it was, and several observers have said this, it was a big mistake. “Divided we fall, united we conquer” should have been the European Strategy, the Holos, another party, Samopomich, Self-Help, and maybe the former Prime Minister’s, Groysman’s party. If they had united they actually would have done much better in this parliament and we know this. Holos announced, they actually had, this is important to note, they had signed an agreement with these other parties and politicians earlier, about in 2017, that they will go for the elections together. When the President disbanded the parliament, Holos did a U-turn and said, “We’re only going to take new faces.” Of course, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk is not a new face because he-

Dyczok: He has been in parliament.

Onuch: Yes, he was in politics, and surely that’s- that was an interesting contradiction. But that was their mistake. Not actually maybe taking some of the good MPs and reformers that recently, we’re talking about maybe people like Svitlana Zalishchuk, Hanna Hopko, others who were reformers, who were trying to do very good things in this last parliament, and they learned on their own skin the hard lessons that you have to learn when you first enter a parliament. They didn’t do this, so that strategy was quite, quite, not- to say it was bad is not the word, it was-

Dyczok: Not as effective as it could have been.

Onuch: I think not effective at all. When we were going around the country and just, I myself wasn’t doing this research but people that I work with were doing this research, and they were asking people, you know, are you going to vote for this party or that party. In the west of Ukraine when people were saying that they were going to vote for Holos, they were saying well, who else can I vote for? I want new faces in parliament. But he really shouldn’t have gone into politics, he should have stayed in music or been a moral figure outside of parliament.

Dyczok: So, we could have anticipated the results that his party made it into parliament, but not with a huge number of seats. You mentioned a number of women’s names. Um, I don’t know if you want to speak to this, but the gender issue in parliament is something that I think international observers have been noticing more than Ukrainian observers but from what we know of the results, are we seeing a bit of a shift in the gender balance here? Are there more women that have been elected this time?

Onuch: There have been more women. So, this will- We will have the most women in Ukrainian parliament that we will have had to date. So, I believe it’s around twenty percent, which is the highest number we’ve had. I think previously it was around eight percent, and I might be mistaken here, but that is important. That perhaps isn’t enough, but that’s a step in-

Dyczok: But that’s like more than twice as much as last time, so that’s an improvement.

Onuch: Absolutely. And I think the new faces story helped in that way. When you are looking for new people to join parliament, there’s, all of a sudden, you find a variety of lawyers, professionals, NGO workers, so on and so forth, and these are women in their- sometimes in their thirties, maybe even a little bit younger, that are already achieving amazing things professionally, and if you’re looking for new faces that weren’t connected to parliament previously this was- so, I think that was a benefit of Holos specifically was quite good at this. SO, perhaps in that light, it’s a shame that they didn’t get even more support because there could have been even more women in parliament. But yes, that’s an interesting shift, and I think that’s positive. Although, on the individual ridings where people could- the first-past-the-post, not on the list, not on the party list, there was a really gendered campaign.

Dyczok: Gendered in which way? Male or female?

Onuch: In that, female candidates were attacked- well, not attacked, but they were criticized on several occasions and even potentially attacked by their- the people balloting against them.

Dyczok: So, their opponents.

Onuch: They were targeted. Yes, their opponents were very much targeting them and there have been a few of these stories. Even someone said, because in Ukrainian it’s called the “majoritarka” [the individual candidates running not on party lists] and they said “ostannya majoritarka,” [reference to the last barricade] the last female candidate remaining, right, because it was much more difficult for women. Generally, in those constituencies, that’s where all those, really, the bad things, you know, not quite fraud but, you know-

Dyczok: Sort of, mild violations?

Onuch: Mild- even not so mild, but violations, buying people things, offering tickets to concerts, buying people a bag of apples, or a variety of different things I’ve heard over the past election cycle, you know, bag of apples doesn’t sound like it’s a big deal, but because in the last-

Dyczok: Well, in a village, it could be.

Onuch: Yes, well, they should- they probably have an orchard. But I mean, maybe in a town, but the reality is in the last five years, people have gotten, people have become much poorer. Especially because in the south and east of the country it’s really difficult for some people and when they’re paying tariffs and their pensions haven’t risen and they’re making decisions, I mean, a few people have told me, they’re making decisions about, okay, I pay my tariffs or-

Dyczok: Utilities bills.

Onuch: Sorry, yes, my utilities bills-

Dyczok: Or I have a nice breakfast.

Onuch: Or I have food, period. And one person that was in Eastern Ukraine told us, you know, in the summer it’s not so bad because you don’t need to turn on the light the whole day so I’m saving a lot of money and I can eat properly. So, when people are telling you this, and this is where Holos, for instance, they didn’t get that message, certainly European Strategy did not, there was no talk about the daily struggle that the average- the median voter faces in Ukraine. And that is a tragedy. And the fact that after this dramatic loss by the president, you know, losing to seventy-three percent with your opponent winning at seventy- that’s absolutely huge. The campaign’s not reacting to this. That was a shock to me. And so as we aw the campaigns, as we saw their posters, as we saw that they were not focusing on bread and butter issues or the things that people most care about, like everyday corruption, the fact that if your mom falls sick, if you don’t have enough money to pay the doctor she probably will not survive.

Dyczok: Make it.

Onuch: Right, that- if that’s the reality that people live in and then these politicians weren’t talking about it, so no matter how great they seemed, you know, even if they said all the right things in this kind of national unity rhetoric, that wasn’t enough for them. And here you have it. Landslide victory. Landslide victory for Sluha Narodu.

Dyczok: Let’s talk about the other party that did well, the Opposition Platform. Describe who these people are, how they did, and what this means.

Onuch: So, Opposition Platform for Life is what, I guess, Western observers would call the “pro-Russian party,” and I think it’s particularly an interesting party this time around because they were previously in a coalition with another party that’s called the [Opposition] Bloc. And so essentially, these two different clans, political clans, political networks in Ukraine divided and formed two parties for this election, which I think was really interesting and telling and not enough people paid attention to.

Dyczok: And these are people who come out of the old Regions Party.

Onuch: Old Regions Party, and so as you know, in the 2000s, the Regions Party was an amalgamation of different Eastern Ukrainian parties, and now they, you know, they fell apart practically after the Euromaidan in 2014, but then they formed around this Opposition Bloc and then currently, yes, they split up again. And the shocking thing about, of course, the Opposition Platform for Life is that Medvedchuk-

Dyczok: Viktor Medvedchuk.

Onuch: Yes, Viktor Medvedchuk, this, I don’t even- how you describe this character in Ukrainian politics, I think-

Dyczok: Well, he’s a lawyer by training, has a long political history, and he is a brother-in-law or something like that with President Putin.

Onuch: Yes, and I think that’s a very light-touch description of who this person is. It’s essentially the major political king-maker in Ukraine on the- especially the Eastern region side, and in terms of manipulations and in terms of falsifications in the past, this man has been involved in various things. And so again, this is a Wikipedia moment for your listeners, but that fact that he is now going to be- this is a party that he is connected to and running, he will be in parliament in Ukraine is shocking to me. And I think a lot of people are shocked by that as well.

Dyczok: And how well they did.

Onuch: I think it’s- people will- so, there’s always a portion of Ukrainian voters that are- about, you know, thirteen percent is about right, twelve, thirteen percent, we’ll see what the final result is- that will vote for this party. They see it as their party, representing their interests, you know, we have those people in our surveys, those people are a little bit different, and they certainly belong to the various clientelistic networks, specifically in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces or oblasts. So that, I don’t think, is surprising that they got that much. If they got more than that, it would be I think much more surprising. I think it’s- I wonder if some voters mistook [Opposition Bloc] and [Opposition Platform for Life], I wonder if they understood the difference, and I think there’s a particular reason why-

Dyczok: They had that name.

Onuch: Medvechuk et al. decided to use that name. I mean, strategically, it’s a very good idea, but for the voters I’m not sure they fully got that. For instance, in Kharkiv region where they are very much supports of their local mayor, Kernes, who’s also a complicated figure.

Dyczok: And he also comes from that background, Party of Regions and pro-Russian.

Onuch: And he’s Opposition Bloc, but I think a lot of the Kharkiv province voters might have thought that [Opposition Bloc] and [Opposition Platform for Life] are more or less the same thing, so when you’re scanning the ballot paper and there’s so many options you just go for the words you remember, and they were higher up in the ballot, so.

Dyczok: So, what you’re saying is that their result shows that support for those views is stable-

Onuch: Yes.

Dyczok: Not growing, not dropping-

Onuch: Absolutely.

Dyczok: So, that’s the thing. Another point is this parliament will be smaller. There will be a fewer number of seats. Because there’s 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament, but there will be fewer actual members of parliament this time. Could you speak to that a little bit?

Onuch: Yes, I believe it’s 423.

Dyczok: Something like that.

Onuch: And it’s the same as the last parliament because it’s- in the occupied territories of Ukraine, in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast-

Dyczok: And Crimea.

Onuch: And Crimea. Sorry, and Crimea, because the government is unable to, obviously, run the elections there, those seats-

Dyczok: Remain empty.

Onuch: Remain empty.

Dyczok: How does that affect the dynamics? Because I wasn’t watching that side of things because, for constitutional majority, do they still need 226, because- or to pass legislation they need a majority. So, they need 226 votes out of 450 – that’s half plus one. But if they don’t have 450, do they still need those numbers of votes, do you know? Like to pass legislation?

Onuch: I’m actually- I believe, and this is a question to somebody else actually, but I believe that the seats that are empty are not counted towards the majority.

Dyczok: So, they adjust.

Onuch: I’m pretty sure they adjust for it. I think they’re not changing the make up of the parliament itself because there is obviously a hope that Ukraine will be united again- that Crimea will be returned to Ukraine and that the conflict will cease in the East, and then, I think, it’s also symbolic not to get rid of those seats in parliament.

Dyczok: Of course.

Onuch: So. But I think- this is a question to a lawyer that knows parliamentary procedures a little bit better. But yes.

Dyczok: Let’s step back and take another big picture look. We’ve got pretty much a clear idea of what this parliament will look like. So, we have a majority, we have a clear outlier, the Opposition Platform, they have very different views. We have a few other parties. So, what do you see this parliament doing? Are there going to be any coalitions? There’s no need for a coalition when you have a majority, so what will be the dynamic with the other parties? What do you see this parliament- how will it function? What do you see in the future, or is it too early to tell? I don’t know.

Onuch: I think it is in some ways too early to tell, but we can say, so, if Sluha Narodu, if the President’s party goes it alone, which they can do, you know, they have the votes, should they ever want to do anything that will require a change- a constitutional change or, because they might want to, there are certain things that are proposed, they will have to find people. Who they turn to will be an interesting question, but I think importantly, if they go it alone, sure, they can get a lot of things done potentially, if they don’t have infighting which is always possible.

Dyczok: Oh, good point.

Onuch: You know, that party came together very quickly!

Dyczok: That’s right.

Onuch: So, who knows what’s going to happen. But also, they will be the only ones left to blame for when things don’t work out and it’s impossible that everything works out. So that’s a risky strategy, perhaps. The inverse, if they are really- I mean, if their leadership, including Zelensky and Razumkov, the leader of the party, they are saying that they want a technocratic government, they want experts, they want an economist as prime minister, and they want, you know, to pass these reforms policies, then they would- it would actually be very smart of them to extend an olive branch to a party like Holos that is saying that they want a technocratic government, they want to pass these reform policies, and I know that Holos’ leader is open to working with Sluha Narodu. That would be an interesting moment to, first off, to show unity, and I think this country would like to see that. I’m sure some of the voters would see that as a positive thing. And also, I think international partners would see that as a positive thing. Secondly, I think it would surprise their critics, because their critics are expecting them to now go it alone, do what they want, and maybe some are expecting this revenge, right? Everyone was talking about the “revanche.” So maybe, if they do that, they just prove their critics right, and if hubris gets to them and they don’t listen to others and don’t cooperate then they prove their critics right. If they extend-

Dyczok: But they still hold power. So, their critics have no way of, you know, doing anything.

Onuch: But it’s still- but, you know, power can be lost very quickly as we saw, as we saw in recent elections in different countries as well as this country. I think that could be an interesting strategy. I think it could be a very interesting- this olive branch scenario, and a lot of people that are advisors, a lot of observers, are saying this, um-

Dyczok: Well, it would be, politically it would make for good optics if nothing else

Onuch: And I think- I think Zelensky is about good optics in some way, so. But also, I think strategically you can get other things done faster as well, and you know, it’s the support, so for instance, Holos’ leader Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, he, um- Svyatoslav Vakarchuk!

Dyczok: We keep getting his first name wrong.

Onuch: It’s- I know, it’s, no. And, um, Vakarchuk, and he has a lot of support from Western partners including people in the U.S., several political scientists in the U.S., not all of them are experts on Ukraine and that kind of came through in how his campaign was guided throughout this process. Rumour mill spread throughout Kyiv that people in his advisors didn’t understand what hybrid war was in Ukraine, so, but okay. I’m sure that’s not all of them. But nonetheless, there is a lot of investment from other foreign partners, foreign supporters, experts, international experts that are very much respected around the world. He also has that, that’s a capital that he can bring to Sluha Narodu. We’ll see.

Dyczok: We’ll see?

Onuch: We’ll see.

Dyczok: Also, he is the one, or his party is the one that former President Poroshenko said he’s ideologically closest to, that they would like to work together. So, we’ve got new faces, new parties, Zelensky, Vakarchuk, in some ways similar, in other ways very dissimilar. What about the old players? What’s going to happen to them? I mean, they’ve really, I mean, have they been swept off the political map? Do they have a political future? I mean they’re going to be in parliament but they really won’t have very much power, so what do you see with these old players? And again, all of them, starting with the, you know, Opposition Platform, the former Regions, and Yulia Tymoshenko who’s made it into parliament but doesn’t have a lot of seats. Former President Poroshenko has made it in, so what about these old players? What do we see with them?

Onuch: Well I think, I’m glad you mentioned this because no one’s talking about Batkivshchyna which is Yulia Tymoshenko’s party. This party has staying power, like-

Dyczok: They’re the only party that we can say has lasted for, I don’t know, since they were created. All the others have fallen apart.

Onuch: Yes. This is- or went through different formations and re-brandings out of necessity. So, I think very few people have been focusing on this, on Yulia Tymoshenko’s staying power, and in a sense, this is the only real party in Ukraine, right, which is complicated in itself. But that is fascinating. So, this is not someone, whether her leadership or the party that you can’t get rid of in Ukraine, and even though her support has dwindled, it’s, yes, it’s- she still did a lot better considering how few places they actively campaigned in. So, they, for instance, in City Center in Kyiv, there were, in the center itself, there were very few campaign posters, but in the outskirts, in the suburbs, much more. But even still, in certain regions where they knew they weren’t going to win they didn’t campaign very much. So, considering that they still got, and whereas European Strategy did campaign across the entire country, considering that they got about eight percent with having this very targeted campaign, that means they have a real base that is very dedicated to them.

Dyczok: But it’s not growing.

Onuch: But it hasn’t grown.

Dyczok: It’s not shrinking, but it’s not growing.

Onuch: Which just means that this is a party you will have to deal with if you are in power, in some way, shape, or form. So, I think, being in the opposition really suits Yulia Tymoshenko and Batkivshchyna in terms of their rhetoric and style of politics. But, yes, so they- she and her party are not going anywhere anytime soon. But if we look to the last elections, the parties like, whether it was- in the past previous elections where it was socialists or communists, when they fell off the grid and they didn’t-

Dyczok: They’re gone.

Onuch: They’re gone. They’re gone.

Dyczok: Right.

Onuch: So, I think, the ones that didn’t make it, they will either have to do a complete rebranding, maybe look to new leaders, maybe unite.

Dyczok: Let’s talk about who didn’t make it.

Onuch: Right.

Dyczok: Because there’s a few parties, political forces, ideologies, that won’t be in this parliament.

Onuch: Yes, right.

Dyczok: That were in the previous one. So, you were talking about who’s been swept off the political map, but-

Onuch: For now, for now, right? But, for instance, the far-right parties, or right-wing parties, because Svoboda, whether it’s far-right or not is something that academics are debating-

Dyczok: But the right-wing, sort of nationalist.

Onuch: Right-wing parties also united for this particular election with far-right parties, they did not make it. And that was, I think, those observers who think Ukraine has been inundated with far-right politics and far-right politicians, they consistently miss the point I think, but this is yet another clear demonstration that that is not a party that can win anywhere near the amount of votes that they need to get into parliament.

Dyczok: They got something like two percent or three percent of the vote, right?

Onuch: They- yes. They will still- I believe they are still within the two percent- from last I recall, because if they receive two percent or higher, they’re going to receive state funds.

Dyczok: They can stay as a political party.

Onuch: Yes, and they’re going to receive state funds to continue their work.

Dyczok: So, they’re not quite off the map but they’re not in parliament so the right-wing nationalists, they didn’t make it into parliament. Who else didn’t make it?

Onuch: They’re on the fringes, yes, absolutely. I think, so there are three that are perhaps the most surprising for people who have been observing politics for a long time. So, one is Groysman’s party. He really didn’t have a chance with this party.

Dyczok: This is the former Prime Minister.

Onuch: Former Prime Minister and this party just came together very quickly, and it was just because there was no way that he could go into the former President’s party, into European Strategy, because they had this quite open conflict now for quite some time. But he has always been previously, the parties that he belonged to were regularly involved in coalitions in parliament. So that is a face that he was previously quite active at the regional level, in Vinnytsia, but he was connected to various blocks. So, that is actually- And by many accounts, he was quite a good Prime Minister and he’s a very good, he’s very good actually technocrat and by some ways, uh-

Dyczok: Possible role for him in the new constellation of forces, or? I hate to ask people to predict but I’m just thinking-

Onuch: I just think that everything-

Dyczok: He’s not a new face but he’s competent with a proven track record.

Onuch: Very competent it seems in recent years, and although he has been able to align himself with all the different parties in power when need be. But, yes, certainly has proven his competence, but because Sluha Narodu and Zelensky keep saying no previous politicians, no politicians at head of the party…

Dyczok: Unlikely.

Onuch: Taking a former Prime Minister seems highly unlikely. Even if they don’t have a conflict that we know of currently.

Dyczok: We are slowly running out of time, so, the other party that didn’t make it, the Radical Party, which-

Onuch: Lyashko’s party, yes.

Dyczok: Yes. I think that’s also, it’ll be a lot less dramatic and comedic in parliament without that character, but I think also, that shows something about, sort of, political attitudes that-

Onuch: Hopefully fewer fist fights, yes.

Dyczok: Is there anything else looking forward that I haven’t asked you that you think is important?

Onuch: Well we haven’t talked about the low turnout.

Dyczok: Oh, thank you!

Onuch: Yes, this is- And, all the, everyone’s saying, oh, it’s the vacation. Well then that should be spread across evenly, across the country, right.

Dyczok: Remind our listeners what the voter turnout was.

Onuch: It’s the lowest in Ukrainian’s- in Ukraine’s history, and it’s about forty-nine point something percent. We haven’t seen it like this. When conflict was at, you know, brewing in 2014 and Ukraine held its parliamentary elections there it was nearly three percent higher, and that, you know, and that vote was severely depressed by the conflict. So, we see a drop in turnout in two ways. We see a really low, record low turnout in places like L’viv.

Dyczok: So that’s Western Ukraine.

Onuch: Western Ukraine. But, so, so that’s one thing. And that needs to be addressed. The other thing we also see, a massive decline in turnout between the presidential and parliamentary elections in the following places: in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Kyiv, and, I believe, Zaporizhia. That is telling me a different story than-

Dyczok: So that is the East, Center, and South.

Onuch: East, Center, and South.

Dyczok: Plus, L’viv.

Onuch: No. It’s- there’s still a drop between the election in L’viv, but it’s not as high. We’re talking double-digit difference of turnout between presidential and parliamentary elections.

Dyczok: What does that mean?

Onuch: So, if it was vacation, why those places and not others? So that’s not really- I’m not convinced there and there’s no data to evidence that. I think it was the places, those places Sluha Narodu was going to win quite comfortably and maybe some voters decided not to turnout. That’s one hypothesis.

Dyczok: So, disengagement with the political process, or?

Onuch: Disengagement, yes. Potentially, if those people were also voters for Holos and for European Strategy they didn’t turn out because they didn’t think their party could possibly win. We don’t know that, there’s probably surveys happening right now, but I don’t buy the vacation story because it’s just not spread out evenly enough.

Dyczok: It’s not across the board.

Onuch: Yes. The other thing is the Western, the lower turnout in Western Ukraine. Everyone is saying it’s the migrants, right? And I just ran an analysis last night with our project Mobilize, just to test whether those who intended to vote for Sluha Narodu and those who intended to vote for Holos and European Strategy, whether they were more likely to also migrate or have friends and family abroad, therefore be connected to already migrated network. And this did not correlate in any way to support for European Strategy or Holos, but it did to Sluha Narodu.

Dyczok: That’s interesting.

Onuch: So, if you were going to- if you said in surveys prior to the election, if you said, “I am planning on voting for Sluha Narodu,” you were more likely to want to leave the country also by about, if I remember correctly, by about five percent, and you also were five percent more likely to family and friends already living abroad, and out of that bunch you were also more likely to be from Western Ukraine. So, there is an interesting story there.

Dyczok: That sounds fascinating.

Onuch: But it’s not working in the way that we thought.

Dyczok: Right. That’s why that kind of research that you do… And for our listeners, Professor Onuch has started at this fabulous new research project which is going to be three years long.

Onuch: Yes.

Dyczok: Looking at precisely these issues. So, we’ll have to have you back on the show periodically to get updates on the research, but we’re going to have to wrap up now so thank you very much. Lots of interesting things. Seismic shift, is that what you called this election?

Onuch: Yes.

Dyczok: So, fasten your seatbelts and let’s see what will come next. Thank you so much for coming to speak to us.

Onuch: Thank you so much, thank you.



One of the new parties that will be in Ukraine’s parliament is called Holos, which means Voice. It is lead by super star musician Sviatoslav Vakarchuk. During the election campaign he wrote a new song. It’s called Choven, A Boat. Enjoy!


Enjoy the rest of the summer! We are working on re-formatting our show and will be back in the fall. So, stay tuned and thanks for listening! This is Marta Dyczok for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv.

Interview transcribed by Leah Wagner. Music selected by Marta Dyczok. Sound engineers Dmitry Smiyan and Andriy Izdryk. Web support by Kyrylo Loukerenko. E-mail distribution Ilona Sviezhentseva.