The International Republican Institute (IRI) has published a survey of political opinion in Ukraine showing overwhelming dissatisfaction with the current government.
The survey, which was funded by the Canadian government, uses polling data stretching collected between May 28 and June 14 this year, with comparisons with data from as far back as 2011. 2,400 eligible voters were interviewed in their homes across the country (with the exception of areas occupied by Russian or Russian-backed forces).
81% of respondents disapproved of the activities of the Ukrainian parliament. A slight improvement can be seen, however, from February, when the Ukrainian government was in the midst of a crisis with coalition members withdrawing, a reviled Prosecutor-General still in place, and the then-prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was awaiting replacement.
Yatsenyuk now ranks near the bottom of 20 politicians respondents were asked to rate. Meanwhile former military officer and now Batkivshchyna MP Nadiya Savchenko, who was abducted and illegally held in Russia for nearly two years, is the most popular political figure according to the survey, with Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi and former Georgian President and now governor of the Odessa region, Mikheil Saakashvili, following in second and third place.
The dissatisfaction with the current situation in parliament is most starkly indicated when one looks at the polling data for how respondents would vote if an election was called.
Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front faction, which still shares government with Bloc Petro Poroshenko in a coalition, would, the data suggests, receive a tiny fraction of votes in a fresh election. In the last parliamentary elections in November, 2014, the People’s Front was the second biggest party, wining 82 seats.
Instead, the Opposition Bloc, formed from the remnants of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, would apparently be the largest party, just edging out Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (although the margin of error in the survey is up to 2%).
This suggests a coalition government to counteract the Opposition Bloc would depend on the support of populists like Tymoshenko or Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party.
However the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) published its own survey last month which showed a somewhat different outcome.
According to the KIIS survey, Batkivshchyna would far outstrip the Opposition Bloc, wining 22% of votes to 12%. Furthermore, 13% of respondents who said they would vote chose Bloc Petro Poroshenko, with the Radical Party and Samopomich both receiving 11%.
But the overall impression from the KIIS survey is similar:
The majority of the Ukrainians believes that government leads the state in wrong direction, and negatively evaluates the activities of the central authorities.
Furthermore, 82% of KIIS respondents said that “Ukraine is in need of a strong leader who would have broad powers.”
Perhaps the shift towards populism should not be so much of a surprise.
Ukraine has been at war for more than two years now, it is seeing sluggish reforms, some of which are deeply unpopular, like cuts to energy subsidies, and politicians are widely perceived as self-interested — making backroom deals for power and carving up controlling interests.
The IRI survey suggests that Ukrainian citizens are still forced to deal with quotidian corruption, with shocking percentages reporting that they were asked to pay bribes:
Furthermore, 78% of respondents reported in June that the economic situation of their household had deteriorated within the last 12 months:
With this in mind, it is worth noting that respondents have consistently prioritised economic security above democracy in polls over the last year:
Progress with the European Union has also been slow. A visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU was one of the biggest attractions for Ukrainians for the Association Agreement that was finally signed after the fall of the Yanukovych government. But while the European Commission has already declared that Ukraine has met the necessary requirements and recommended the implementation of the regime, the Council of the EU and the European Parliament may not end up approving the measure until at least September this year.
Last month Sergei Sidorenko wrote at Ukrainska Pravda that the delayed implementation of this process, which EU member states’ officials themselves blame partially on Kiev’s own failure to reform promptly, may be regarded as a betrayal by Europe.
Populist politicians and powerful oligarchs who would themselves be threatened by some of the reforms demanded by the EU could then use this sense of frustration to push for the cancellation of reforms in “revenge on Europe.”
“Therefore every month of foot-dragging on the visa-free regime for Ukraine is a step towards the abyss. And we very much hope that in Berlin, Paris and Rome, this is finally understood.”
At the same time, the end of the rather more technocratic era in post-Maidan politics was already heralded by the resignations earlier this year of almost all the foreign appointees, most of them in protest at the failure to tackle corruption, and the appointments of Volodymyr Groysman as prime minister and Yuriy Lutsenko as Prosecutor-General.
But the IRI survey suggests something even more worrying: 26% of respondents said that they would not vote at all.
The survey shows an alarming drop in enthusiasm for electoral participation over the last two years, with current numbers even worse than in the Yanukovych era:
In order to reverse this trend the Ukrainian government needs to intensify reforms, which would aid reduce corruption, improve the image of politicians and also speed up implementation of measures like the EU visa-free regime, while shoring up the economy.
Steps like the introduction of the ProZorro public procurement program to aid transparency, or the free-trade deal with Canada that was announced this week (but will have a more symbolic, rather than economic value) are good signs. The comparative popularity of some regional politicians who are perceived as reformers like Saakashvili and Sadovyi also suggests that given political backing, such individuals could do well on the national scale.
But much more will have to be done far more rapidly to prevent a slide back to the demonstrative, populist model of politics that will hinder further progress.