Poll of Polls: The real election is moving forward for May 25 and Putin’s verbal acknowledgement of the need for them – removes the last barrier to them taking place. Thus, I am predicting a Poroshenko to win in the first round. The average of all polls published over the last 30 days and weighted according to sample size (same methodology I used before) shows Poroshenko leading Tymoshenko 45-13% with about 10% undecided. Tyhypko and Dobkin are stuck around 5-7%. Last week there was talk of Dobkin dropping out but he has since bought expensive television ads and billboards indicating that he will at least consent to carry the party banner so that in the autumn, when there are parliamentary elections (and possible governor’s elections), the Party of Regions can recover and regroup. With regard to Poroshenko winning in the first round, expect other 2nd tier candidates like Hritsenko, Bogomolets, Lyashko and others to see their support drop closer to election time as voters seems increasingly ready to “get this over with” and move on with fixing the country. Poroshenko wins 4:1 against all challengers in any potential runoff so voters will not want to draw out the process any longer. It’s also important to note that if the IFES poll is taken out of the mix, Poroshenko wins by an average of 48-14% over Tymoshenko – just under the minimum required to win without a runoff. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems IFES (www.ifes.org) does good work in the sphere of election administration. However political and election polling is not their specialization. Thus, while their numbers are similar to the other polls, it is safe to consider it an outlier.
- May 9 “Victory Day” holiday passed without major incident thanks to heightened security by the Ukrainian government and international pressure on Russia. A battle took place in Mariupol resulting in the loss of one Ukrainian soldier and 20 terrorists. Since last May 2, Ukraine’s security forces have been on the offensive and largely successful in reducing the number of occupied locations/buildings. In addition, when the terrorists try to justify the $500 payment for their work versus losing their life on a mercenary adventure, recruitment of new terrorists becomes more difficult. Russian terrorists are motivated by financial reward – not jihad.
- Separatist Referendums on May 11 in occupied parts of Luhansk and Donetsk. While the separatists don’t control anywhere near enough of the administrative apparatus to conduct a remotely legitimate election, the purpose is public relations for Russia and not about being a model of textbook democratic elections. Following the self-congratulatory celebration and visit by Putin to Sevastopol yesterday, Russia is thumping its’ chest. Expect the Russian self congratulations to continue tomorrow when the results are announced overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia. The actual results are likely to differ dramatically but the so called “official” results are the key as the Ukrainian government has no way to verify the vote count and no international observers will be present. As a precaution, the OSCE has withdrawn its’ long term election monitors from those oblasts for the weekend to avoid any potential claims that foreign monitors remotely legitimized these referendums. The governor’s office in Donetsk instructed schools and other public buildings not to resist armed men who attempt to use parts of the buildings for the “voting” process. Ukraine has received assurances from the West that no one will recognize the vote outside of the usual suspects (Russia, Transnistria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc) and not to take unnecessary risks. If the vote takes place without violence, then that is the best outcome for Kyiv under the circumstances. The world will then be watching how Putin “thanks” the separatists for organizing the referendum: will he treat them like Transnistria and say “thanks but no thanks” or will be try to implement “Crimea II”? If his words are to be believed, then he will say “thanks but no thanks” and not attempt a full annexation but rather continue to use this card for further destabilizing of Ukraine.
- Tensions in the Ruling Coalition. The next big thing to watch for is the tension within the ruling coalition to spill out of control. Already Tymoshenko is aggressively attacking Poroshenko (to no avail) as an oligarch and closet Party of Regions supporter (due to his brief term as Economics Minister under Yanukovych in 2012). UDAR has taken the role of attack dog against Turchynov and Tymoshenko (to help Poroshenko) as old rivalries are being played out now. When Poroshenko wins the presidency, he will constitutionally have the power to appoint all 25 governors, the ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs, National Security, Prosecutor General, and Interior. Arsen Avakov as Interior Minister is likely to be the first causality (Byut loyalist). Also expect the governors to be replaced rapidly –especially the Tymoshenko appointees. Svoboda governors in western Ukraine are likely to stay until the parliamentary elections. Strongmen governors like Kolomoyskyi will survive for now too but lesser known governors in central and western Ukraine will be replaced with Poroshenko loyalists in preparation for the parliamentary elections. This will of course exacerbate the tensions in the coalition. While the coalition will probably survive till the parliamentary elections, the goal of the parliamentary elections will be to minimize Tymoshenko’s and Svoboda’s influence, maximize Poroshenko’s and UDAR’s in parliament and possibly bring in new coalition partners from Hritsenko, Lyashko, Bogomolets, etc. Also, former Party of Regions businessmen will likely switch to Poroshenko’s Solidarity party and eventual faction in parliament as a sign of his ascendency as president.
- Mayoral Elections in Kyiv. Like Poroshenko’s presidential bid, Klitchko’s third mayoral bid (he finished second in 2006 and 2007) is more of a coronation than a competition. His challenger from Byut, Kyiv Governor Volodymyr Bondarenko trails 53-11% in the latest polls. Other Kyiv characters like MP Katerynchuk (9%), Orobets (4%), Illenko with Svoboda (4%) and others are competing to win seats on the city council. It’s important to note that that if you combine the votes for UDAR and Solidarity (Poroshenko’s party) for city council, they have 50.3% – just enough to form an outright majority even without other partners. Final results may differ of course but clearly the Klitchko-Poroshenko alliance is establishing itself as formidable. Other parties likely to pass the barrier include Motherland/Byut with 15%, Svoboda at 10%, Katerynchuk’s European Party with 8%, and Lyashko’s Radical Party with 6%. Hritsenko’s “Civic Position” is on the bubble at 3% followed by Right Sector at 2.8%. The Party of Regions and Communists are less popular in Kyiv than leprosy at the moment, receiving just 1.6% and 1.5% each.
- The Odesa Mayoral Election is going to go down to the wire. MP Eduard Hurvits (UDAR) faces a tough challenge from fellow Odesa MP Gennadiy Trukhanov (Economic Development faction but formerly Party of Regions). Odessa’s mayoral elections are unique because the post essentially has more clout than the governorship. Thus, Odessa’s mayoral elections have been among the dirtiest in the country’s history and always highly contested. The one source of stability in Odesa politics over the last 20 years though has been the roller coaster career of Eduard Hurvits. Hurvits was the first democratically elected mayor of Odesa in 1994. Generally popular and reform minded, Hurvits won 2:1 in his re-election in 1998 only to have a court in Kirovohrad (not even Odesa) de-register him AFTER he won the election on a technicality. Hurvits returned in 2002 and despite polls showing him winning by a 3:1 margin, the administrative resources turned the tide against him and he temporarily lost his comeback bid. However, the violations were immense and eventually a court ruled in May 2005 that Hurvits was the winner. A year later Hurvits won a clear majority over weak opponent to serve a full term. In 2010, local Party of Regions apparatchiks conducted an anti-Semitic campaign and stole the election despite exit polls showing Hurvits winning by more than 10%. The vote count was delayed for three days and international election monitors in the region stated it was the worst election they have seen in the former Soviet space. The “official” winner, Oleksiy Kostyushev didn’t last long and resigned in disgrace for mismanagement and neglect after less than three years in office. This created a vacancy which existed for a year until the new parliamentary majority voted to hold the election simultaneously with the presidential on May 25. In the meantime, Hurvits returned to the political scene in 2012 being elected on the party list for UDAR. His rival, Gennadiy Trukhanov won a single mandate district in Odessa’s Suvorovski rayon the same year. Trukhanov, who is the Deputy Head of the Odesa Port, has proven to be an aggressive campaigner and the city is covered in billboards and campaign materials. The usual “gifts” of food products and money are being circulated as well. Trukhanov is helped by Hurvits’ age (66) and silent support from Motherland/Tymoshenko who carries an old grudge against Hurvits. Parliament also kept in place the infamous 2010 city election commission which presided over the fraudulent election. Lower level commissions have been changed according to the presidential law but the potential for fraud again in Odesa is high. Local polls showed Hurvits leading by 3-4% over Trukhanov prior to the May 2 violence from separatists. However, that lead is not likely enough to overcome any well organized falsification effort led by Hurvits enemies in cahoots with the city election commission. We will wait to see additional polling data closer to the election before making a prediction on this race. The mayor will inherit the city council from the fraudulent 2010 local election and be forced to seek re-election again during regularly scheduled local elections in autumn 2015.