Results of "Svoboda" on elections may be explained as protest voting
Read the exclusive interview with Vyacheslav Likhachev, outstanding expert in the far right movements
112 International publishes the second part of the interview with Vyacheslav Likhachev, in which the expert speaks on the issues of Ukrainian domestic politics. In particular, Vyacheslav comments the result reached by "Svoboda" party on the latest local elections, explains the flows of electorate between the nationalist parties, and answers regarding the perspectives of the next electoral campaigns.
Can it be stated, basing on the results of the local elections that Ukrainian far right forces (for example, "Svoboda") return to their electoral positions?
I am cautious about the assertion that the right-wing policies are again the part of political mainstream. Firstly, there is no final information on the elections’ results in the nationwide scale yet to be able to compare it with previous campaigns, taking into account turnout rates and absolute number of votes.
Now, according to preliminary data, "Svoboda" got very unbalanced results - they dramatically lost votes in areas that were their electoral base. Compared to 2010, level of their support halved in Lviv and Ternopil regions, but it increased in central and before peripheral for them regions as Khmelnytsky or Kyiv... It is still difficult to interpret, these figures are to be refined, but the countrywide result, compared to 2010 local elections, when it became clear for the first time that "Svoboda" may cross the electoral threshold, is unlikely to reach 5%.
This is a general trend that has been observed for two years, last year's elections for example, that "Svoboda" is losing its support as the parliamentary party. Matter the political context and presence of competitors in every case.
Generally, these local elections have a very different agenda than parliamentary ones. Among the major issues of this election is the loss of public support to the government parties: "Narodnyi front" [party of PM Yatsenyuk] suffered the heaviest drop (in fact, it ceased to be - the government received all negativity associated with the severe economic situation and disappointment from the lack of any real reform, and victories on battlefield in the eyes of society), and the president's party lost not so much, that is interesting enough.
It is difficult to extrapolate these results to the next parliamentary elections - they will take place not soon, and the agenda can greatly change. We see how it has changed over the last year. "Svoboda" in this case was perceived as some alternative, especially if comparing to the baseline regions where it is already known for a long time. Lviv showed a great disappointment in this party. But it’s different about wavering regions, where people are looking for alternatives to the authorities...
In the east, such role was played by "Opposition Bloc" and other repainted offspring of the Party of Regions. In the center, people are not ready to vote for the latter yet, but one of the problems of post-Maidan Ukrainian politics is that a large number of new faces, civil society activists, who carried out the revolution, could not develop a suitable platform to develop party brands, could not move from public activity to political representation. If these projects were more successful, the voter would vote for them, but they are still unknown to the general public.
The voter is aware of the current authorities and the previous. People are not ready to vote for them, the current is losing support, and "Svoboda" is always at hand as a protest vote collector.
What role in this was played by the involvement of "Svoboda" to the events under the Verkhovna Rada on August 31, when the explosion of combat grenade killed four servants of the National Guard, and more than 100 were injured? The authorities, in particular Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, directly accused "Svoboda" and Tyahnybok personally in what happened, a number of party members were arrested, criminal prosecution opened against them. How did that affect the level of support of the nationalists?
Another factor of popularity of "Svoboda", crucial for understanding the political context of elections is factor of ATO. There is a certain percentage of the population (and it is considerable), which is dissatisfied with the fact of signing of the Minsk Agreement, these people believe this is defeatism and treason.
People really do not understand why it was necessary to start the anti-terrorist operation, in order to lose so many lives and so many resources, stop and say, "OK, we return this to the terrorists." Indeed, it is unclear why this war was necessary, and why the authorities did not negotiate with Putin, as of May last year, after the presidential election. There is certain dissatisfaction with the military situation and the behavior of the government regarding this.
Also, there is the factor of active participation of the ultra-right volunteer units, in fact, exaggerated very much. Purely from a military point of view, the role of the volunteer units is commonly exaggerated - the main burden of the war fell on the shoulders of the regular army.
Even at the beginning of ATO?
At the beginning of ATO, volunteer formations have played an important mobilizing role and multiplier-effect by the very fact of their existence. From a military point of view - yes, there was a month or two of oscillations, when volunteer units were the ones who went forward regardless of who and how sabotaged in the headquarters. This played a role. It was the psychological role - forming perception of the situation in the east as a real war, aggression, which should be reflected.
From a purely military point of view, the volunteer units, of course, had the successes, but also they faced quite heavy, brutal failures. I'm not going to judge those responsible for the Ilovaisk tragedy, but there was a number of situations, when volunteer formations failed to coordinate with the army staff, and this led to unjustified losses.
Obligations to liberate Donetsk, Luhansk, Crimea ... Taganrog, Rostov, anything else - that's nice for the voters to hear, especially frustrated by this situation of de facto admitted defeat. The large part of the territory is cut off, while the government presents the stop of firing as its own achievement. OK, shooting is stopped, but our territory continues to be occupied.
I must say that "Svoboda" is not the best in use of this theme in their propaganda, "Pravyi Sektor" is far more successful, and it was illustrated very well by the opinion polls over the last year since the parliamentary elections. Then the "Pravyi Sektor" as the party got the miserable result, but during the last year, from poll to poll, it stepped up his popularity due to the fact that among all political brands it is primarily associated with the ATO.
"Svoboda" has become particularly active in recent months in using the ATO issue in order to recall about itself and to attack the government. "Pravyi Sektor" did not participate in the latest election. Considering the result of "Svoboda", we must remember that there were no competitors in the right-wing niche.
To understand what "Svoboda" is by itself or in a set of several nationalist parties, we can recall the results of the 2006 and 2007 elections. In the first case, "Svoboda" received the miserable percent, but on the 2007 extraordinary parliamentary elections, "Svoboda" was the only nationalist party on the ballot, and they collected the voices of more or less radical nationalists. They doubled the result of the previous year, when it was the UNA and other right-wing conservative parties. This is one and a half percent, but the fact is that "Svoboda" picks up the voices of people who may not have voted for it, if they had an alternative.
It would be interesting to see the results of local elections if they involved "Pravyi Sektor". I think that "Svoboda" would get fewer votes than "Pravyi Sektor", at least we can state this basing on the results of polls. Now I would not extrapolate the situation for the next parliamentary elections, I do not think that "Svoboda" is now sharply increased in popularity. It now collected not only the right-wing electorate, but generally dissatisfied with the situation at the frontline. And we have a lot of such people.
This is the point to which the authorities should pay attention, I think that it will be exploited in the next election by all who will take part in them, even by the moderate national -democratic parties.
Yes, on the one hand, it can be stated that the tragedy near the Verkhovna Rada on August 31 and other actions of "Svoboda" are provocation and undermining the government’s authority in the war time, and thus this party was confidently and consistently losing its electorate. But in this particular situation, people voted for those who do not agree with the government's position on the war.
So you think that "Pravyi Sektor" has some better prospects for the future nationwide campaign? Does this party have a chance to go to the next convocation of the Verkhovna Rada?
If we look on the tendencies, recorded by ideological polls, at least it can be argued that "Pravyi Sektor " had some higher results than in the previous parliamentary elections. According to recent polls, it was on the verge of electoral barrier. It might be explained by the fact that in the political sense "Pravyi Sektor" could "privatize" the brand of the ATO participant. They have "monetized" their participation in the ATO to the political popularity.
It is quite difficult to say about the future, because the situation is changing rapidly. It is impossible to say whether the relative calm that we are seeing now in the East, will be long. Or whether Kremlin and its puppets want to aggravate the situation.
It is hardly believable that the government wants to resume ATO, taking into consideration the economic and political situation. But on the other hand, worsening of the situation is quite certain. The question is the scale, the time, and how the political situation in Ukraine. If everything goes like it is going now, "Pravyi Sektor" has better prospects than "Svoboda". If the first does not overcome the electoral threshold, then they may have more deputies in majority districts, I think. But the situation is changing rapidly, and within a few years if there is no resumption of hostilities, this agenda will cease to be relevant – as Transdniestria has ceased to be a political factor in the vote in Moldova. The political parties have got some new markers, some other issues, of European integration for example. Similar scenario might happen in Ukraine. In the case of freezing a situation, the issue of ATO would go to the background of the public discourse. Some other moments would seem far more significant.
For example, the relative popularity of the "Batkivshchyna" party is a matter of utility tariffs, Lyashko Radical Party, a little less successful than in the presidential election (when they tried to gain the popularity through the ATO issues), now it also plays in the protests against the tariffs. It means that the agenda changes and it is difficult to predict something for the next few years.
The first part of the interview you may find here:
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