Pre-election populist myths and promises of Ukrainian politicians

Author : Olena Holubeva

Source : 112 Ukraine

A guide of how can Ukrainian voter protect himself from election manipulations
21:44, 6 November 2018

Parliamentary and presidential elections are fast approaching. In the conditions of the current election campaign, the parties and the candidates are ready to use apply the most sophisticated methods to please their voters – from rising salaries and pensions to corruption and even ecology. We have analyzed the populist myths of our time

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Raising the minimum wage and reducing utility rates? Check!

Leader of Batkivshchyna party Yulia Tymoshenko and Radical Party (RPL) head Oleg Lyashko have already launched their usual rhetoric. RPL leader declares the need to raise the minimum wage in the country to 215 USD. Tymoshenko raises her favorite issue of gas prices and utility bills. “Unrealistically high utility tariffs are a damning tax for Ukrainians,” and a narrow circle of people “get their super-profits,” says Tymoshenko, promising to reduce the gas price for the population twice after coming to power.

Issues of reducing tariffs, raising the minimum wage, used by opposition politicians, have already been devalued in a certain way, political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko notes.

According to him, Tymoshenko, Yanukovych, Lyashko, and many others promised to increase wages and pensions; this is part of the mandatory program.

Related: Poroshenko: Russia to actively interfere in Ukrainian electoral campaign

“The gas issue is preferred by those who have earned money on it,” political analyst, Ukrainian MP of the VI convocation, Viktor Ukolov, claimed. “In 2008, signing a memorandum with the IMF, Prime Minister Tymoshenko promised to equalize prices for imported gas and domestic production. In 2014, signing a coalition agreement, she put her signature on the obligation to raise tariffs. Now she says the opposite," he added.

Any question of the tariff policy or the minimum wage might be addressed both in a populist and professional way. The only way to distinguish them is to find out the exact acts of the politician, how has he fulfilled his previous promises, Olha Bodnar, Ukraine’s MP of V and VI convocations, assures.

March to a different drumbeat! Raise environment issues

In addition to the traditional hot issues, not really usual topics are also raised before the elections. Yulia Tymoshenko is trying to involve young people, promising to get rid of corruption with the help of the blockchain. And the political party "Power of people" has taken the environment issue as a pre-election slogan. It has recently presented her environmental program in Kryvyi Rih, organized environmental protests in Mariupol, and actively promotes this topic in the media.

Related: Pro-Russian party wins parliamentary elections in Latvia

Experts are convinced that these steps would unlikely greatly add points to the piggy bank of the politicians. In addition to the usual pre-election populism, one should look for traces and a business component of these steps. Moreover, we are talking about the front-line city, in which we managed to preserve peace; the country's largest metallurgical plants work here, so the well-being of a quarter of a half-million city depends on them(employees of the plants and their families).

Experts note that the environmental situation in Mariupol has not worsened lately, and the activists’ rallies came at the election race start. At the same time, they do not care that business invests record amounts in the modernization of Soviet machinery. For example, the overhaul of the Ilyich Works’ sintering plant is the largest environmental project in the history of modern Ukraine. Thanks to this, the situation has even become better. From 2012 to 2018, only 100 million USD was spent on ecological modernization of the Mariupol plants, the city mayor’s office assured.

Experts note that the intensification of the efforts of the “Power of People” party coincided with the intention of Metinvest group of steel and mining companies to build and launch in Kryvyi Rih a complex for processing crystalline ammonium sulfate, which destroys the long-term monopoly of Dmytro Firtash’s chemical enterprises in the Ukrainian market of mineral fertilizers (Rivne, Sievierodonetsk, and Nitrogen, located in Cherkasy). It is possible that are the oligarch is trying to use the activists to stop the market competitor.

“The politicians usually have the commercial attitude to ecology: the topic is used within some commercial interests, these questions are raised, when they need to close some project, to harm the competitors. Ukrainian politicians use environment issue mainly in such a way,” said  Institute for Strategic Studies 'New Ukraine' Director Andriy Yermolaiev.

Related: Army, language, and faith - three pillars of Poroshenko's pre-election game

However, political analysts are confident that politicians who have placed their bet on the ecology, will not be able to benefit from this topic. "The issue of ecology is relevant for rich countries, for which the question of basic survival is not urgent. Nobody really cares about the environment in a country where one cannot afford paying the utility tariff," said Serhiy Gaidai, political analyst.

“Regions with a high level of industrialization and urbanization are, actually, distinguished by a low level of ecological awareness. Therefore, people don’t particularly reflect on the subject of ecology,” Andriy Yermolaiev adds.

Living in the myths

Ukrainians prefer to have a much better life than it is generally possible with such a level of economic development. Therefore, they always vote for rosy promises or even for some other benefits (like free buckwheat before the elections). Thus, the authorities, as a rule, target the part of society that is easily manipulated. A rational part of the population simply does not even vote.

Political consultant Ruslan Bortnik argues that myths occupy 90% of the Ukrainian informational sphere and the consciousness of voters. So the current presidential company will be a struggle of myths and symbols.

Related: Order on renewal of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission published at official newspaper

Ukrainian politicians do not create myths, but dabbling in the already created realities, Andriy Yermolaiev notes: "Our basic myths are not what politicians say, this is what we are all interwoven with. Every politician has his own interpretation of such a picture."

 "Way to Europe" is one the basic myths. "We have a big road, which we have been following for some 30 years already. The second basic myth is our eternal enemy, our own Mordor – Russia. And this myth is also quite old: it goes back two centuries ago. If we face a failure, we blame our enemy. The third basic myth is the wisdom of the people and the stupidity of those who are elected. The fourth myth is the need for reform," Yermolaiev concluded.

Recently, one more myth has become quite relevant, it was quickly absorbed by our politicians, the myth of the new generation, new formation, Volodymyr Fesenko says: “Certainly, there is a request for new leaders, new faces. This shows a crisis of confidence in traditional classical politicians. That is why someone is ready to vote for such non-standard candidates as Zelensky or Vakarchuk."

Both candidates are present in the public mind in the form of a myth. Vakarchuk uses his musical image, and Zelensky uses his TV show icon. However, there were few positive examples of when representatives of show business managed to make a significant political career, Olha Bodnar warns: “Remember Mykhailo Poplavsky (Ukrainian singer – Ed.). Was his work in the parliament productive? He knew how to lobby his interests, his business, and how to open new restaurants. For how long Ruslana (World Music Award and Eurovision Song Contest winning recording artist, Ed.) stay in the parliament? Vakarchuk has already been in the Rada, and he could not stand the routine work, which was far from pop art. Or acting people's deputy Zlata Ognevich? What did she do as a politician?"

Related: The closer elections are, the more interest politicians show in Donbas conflict, - expert

Bodnar recognizes that professionals must come to power.

A separate set of myths is connected with the humanitarian issues that do not require any real work (activity) and responsibility for promises. Ruslan Bortnik claims: "Church, language, army. Not only the authorities use them for speculations. The opposition also greatly enjoys working with them. After all, by and large, these are myths."

The main populist trick is exaggeration and dramatization. "This is something that, in particular, Yulia Tymoshenko or Oleg Lyashko constantly does. "They absolutize their role, even when they do not have the authority to do so. For example, they shamelessly say: if you choose me, I will reduce the price of gas three times," Viktor Ukolov notes.

Related: Presidential candidate Tymoshenko meets with Ukrainian oligarch behind the scenes

All the politicians will look for points that voters can respond to. Church, army, language, war and peace issues, the improvement of welfare and ecology, experts say. The problem is that there are few devoted politicians in Ukraine. "The key aim of 90% of Ukrainian politicians is coming to power in order to improve their welfare. This is an opportunity to defend their own capital and of their partners, to earn more money. But none of the politicians will write on his billboard - "Now, I have 120 enterprises, and in a year I will have 130 such enterprises, so vote for me." Therefore, everyone is looking for some special points," Gaidai clarifies.

In order not to be trapped, the voter must be vigilant and rational, experts say. "I would advise paying attention to whether the candidates work with the issues that fall within their areas of expertise. In particular, the foreign policy and defense of the country belong to the competence of the president. But, for example, many are creating their companies as if they are running for prime minister, not for president. They constantly talk about the economy and living standards. But the president cannot orderly increase the living wage or reduce gas prices: such promises will not be fulfilled," says Viktor Ukolov.

Related: Tymoshenko is ready to bail Saakashvili

"The voter, I think, should vote rationally. He must clearly understand the abilities and the ambitions of the politicians. Otherwise, the voter will be deceived again," Ruslan Bortnik believes.

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