Poroshenko's party holds lead in parliamentary election polls

By bne IntelliNews September 8, 2014

Graham Stack in Kyiv -


The party of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko leads the latest opinion polls, but voters are focusing on charismatic individuals and the party landscape is still in a state of flux ahead of the early parliamentary elections on October 26. 

Fresh opinion polls give Mr Poroshenko’s party a clear lead, following his landslide victory in presidential elections on May 25. According to a poll published on September 3 by the Kyiv Institute for International Sociology (KIIS), 34.1% of those intending to vote on October 26 would vote for the Petro Poroshenko Bloc; 20.1% for populist Oleh Lyashko's Radical Party, 10.5% for former defence minister Anatoly Hrytsenko's Civil Position, 10.2% for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkyvschina party, 7.7% for nationalist party Svoboda, and 6.9% for a bloc comprising pro-Russian/East Ukraine parties, such as Party of Regions, the Communist Party of Ukraine and Strong Ukraine. Parties polling under 5% do not enter parliament, according to current election laws. 

“Poroshenko has retained his dominant political position, but his party's rating is clearly lower than the 54% he received in the first round of presidential elections in May,” said Volodymyr Paniotto, general director of KIIS. “Voter preferences are now almost entirely determined by personalities and not by policies and parties, which are in flux.”

Shifting alliances

A poll published by GFK Ukraine on September 4 underlined the dominance of personalities in Ukraine's fluid politics. “The poll was taken before Poroshenko renamed his old party Solidarity to Petro Poroshenko Bloc, although his name was provided in brackets,” explains deputy head of GFK Ukraine, Hlib Vyshlinsky. “At the start of August, Solidarity only had a rating of 3%, and one year ago the party was entirely defunct, not having stood in national elections for over 10 years."

As a result, according to the GFK Ukraine poll, only 16% of those intending to vote said they would vote for Solidarity, just ahead of 14% backing Lyashko's Radical Party and 13% backing Tymoshenko's Batkyvschyna party - which in the poll included prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, although he may still split with Tymshenko to join Poroshenko. The poll also listed separately from Poroshenko's party a close Poroshenko ally - boxer and mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko and his UDAR party, which were backed by 6% - also explaining Poroshenko's weaker showing.

The proliferation of parties linked to individual politicians means that for elections to produce stable government, electoral law should be amended to allow electoral blocs, says Vyshlinsky. Poroshenko – without his own force in the current Rada elected in 2012 – has launched the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, but despite the name it currently has only party status. “Poroshenko definitely wants to head a bloc of top liberal politicians and their parties going into the elections,” says Vyshlinsky. 

Poroshenko, having forged a close alliance with Vitali Klitschko's UDAR, is now looking to take more top politicians on board, says Vyshlinsky. Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, speaker of the Rada Oleksandr Turchinov, and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, currently all in the Batkyvschyna party founded and headed by Yulia Tymoshenko, are believed to be in talks with Poroshenko over joining Poroshenko's party directly, or founding their own party – Patriots of Ukraine – to join Poroshenko's bloc. KIIS published a second poll September 3, commissioned by a different customer to include the not-yet-founded party potentially headed by Yatsenyuk, Avakov and Turchinov. According to this poll, 6.4% of voters would follow these three prominent figures to vote for Patriots of Ukraine, causing Batkyvschyna's vote to nearly halve to 6.1%.

Tymoshenko herself is a historical rival of Poroshenko, and ran against him in presidential elections in May. Political scientists thus regard any alliance between her and Poroshenko as unlikely, whereas Yatsenyuk, Avakov and Turchinov are allies of Poroshenko seeking to retain top roles in any new government.

Rise of the populist

Alongside Poroshenko's political dominance, the polls show that the Radical Party of nationalist populist Oleg Lyashko has continued its meteoric rise, astonishingly polling in second place, despite being a marginal party only months ago. Party founder and leader Oleh Lyashko took a sensational third place in June presidential elections, with 8%. Lyashko has since maintained a high public profile during Ukraine's war in the east, receiving extensive TV coverage as a hands-on supporter of popular volunteer battalions fighting rebels. He has featured especially on the Inter TV channel, owned by gas oligarch Dmitro Firtash and Serhiy Lyovochkin, presidential head of staff under former president Viktor Yanukovych. Inter TV, formerly a backer of Yanukovych, is now very supportive of Poroshenko, but has also strongly boosted Lyashko's image, according to TV watchdog Telekritika. 

“Lyashko has now largely upstaged the former No. 1 populist Yulia Tymoshenko, and this may be the point,” says KIIS’s Paniotto.  By splitting the Batkyvschyna vote, Lyashko's rise increases the chance that Batkyvschyna top dogs Yatsenyuk and Turchinov will abandon Tymoshenko and get on board with Poroshenko, according to Paniotto.

Decline of the East

The traditional rival to pro-European liberals in Ukraine parliament – pro-Russian industrialists from East Ukraine, in the form of the Party of Regions, Communist Party of Ukraine and former deputy prime minister Serhiy Tigipko's Strong Russia - are heading for marginalisation in the new parliament, the polls also show. This is partly because the Donbass region currently held by Russian-backed rebels is unlikely to vote. “We were not even able to poll in Donbass, except in the Ukrainian held parts, and it is unlikely elections will take place there,” said GFK Ukraine's Vyshlinsky. “And of course the Crimea has been lost.”

In addition, the former ruling Party of Regions has been reduced to a rump since the ousting and flight of its former boss Viktor Yanukovych, with a large group of deputies splitting off, while the Communist Party has been accused of collaborating with the Kremlin. The Strong Ukraine party of Tigipko, a former ally of Yanukovych who came fifth in presidential elections with 5.23%, will only just clear the 5% threshold to get into parliament, according to the polls.

This raises the question – in the absence of the Party of Regions and their allies, who will be the opposition in the new parliament? “The new dividing line in politics may run between pro-EU liberals grouped around Poroshenko and populist nationalists,” believes GFK Ukraine's Vyshlinsky.


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