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By John Helmer, Moscow

The defeat by Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk of President Petro Poroshenko in the party voting at Sunday’s Ukrainian parliamentary election reveals a shift of voter sentiment no pollster predicted beforehand – neither the independent Ukrainian polling organizations in Kiev, nor the US Government-funded surveys.

On the other hand, the independent Ukrainian pollsters believe the election outcome will reinforce the anti-Russian, war party in the new Verkhovna Rada, despite the failure of the Svoboda (“Freedom”) and Pravy Sektor (“Right Sector”) organizations to cross the 5% threshold for party representation. Their failure, along with poor support for Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleg Lyashko, had been evident in the pre-election polling. How Yatseniuk managed to capture both war party votes in the western regions, and peace party supporters of Poroshenko in the centre and east is unclear.

This outcome was unforeseen, according to Nikolai Churilov of the Kiev-based Centre for Social and Marketing Research (SOCIS). He believes Yatseniuk was able to steal the war programme of the extreme right.

“For us the election results are a bit surprising, especially the fact that the West [region] voted for Yatseniuk. For the moment we can find only one explanation – that in their election programme, they fronted with fighters who have great prestige in Western Ukraine.

“There was too much compromising evidence on Lyashko,” Churilov added. “Poroshenko waged a weak campaign, especially in the last two to three weeks. We are investigating the reasons for such unpredictable results.”

Victor Misyuk of the Razumkov Centre (Ukrainian Centre for Economic and Political Studies), a survey company in Kiev, believes Poroshenko’s bloc had discredited itself. “They were too overconfident – they had already announced themselves as the majority in the new parliament. Of course, researchers were not expecting such a difference in the votes. Perhaps they are now in shock.” The Razumkov Centre is part-financed by eastern Ukrainian pipemaker, Victor Pinchuk. For more Razumkov polling, read this.

Vladimir PaniottoVladimir Paniotto (right), the professor heading the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), also says Poroshenko discredited himself, triggering a crossover of voters in Yatseniuk’s favour. “The downward trend in Poroshenko’s popularity was observed before the election. Our first poll showed [him at] 38%. He then fell to 30%, and we were expecting a further decline to 27%. But our last survey took place about a week before the election. So the dynamics of the fall in his popularity accelerated during the final days. The president’s party list was much criticized in the media before the election. There were allegations that his candidates were involved in corruption. He was blamed for the peace initiative. There was speculation that he was trying to usurp power from parliament.”

“Poroshenko and Yatseniuk have a common electorate. Those who said they were going to vote for Poroshenko answered our second-preference question by naming Yatseniuk’s party.”

According to Paniotto, “another unexpected result for us is a result of [Andrei Sadovyi’s Self-Help Party] Samopomich. In our view, they managed this result due to the fact that they are a new party, and they have not yet gained a negative rating. Against the background of how the rest of the parties neutralized each other, they managed to gain a better result than was previously expected.” For KIIS forecasting of the Samopomich result, click here. A month ago, Sadovyi’s party was polling less than 5%.

The official results for the 225 seats allocated to party lists, and 198 seats elected in single-member constituencies will be confirmed by the Central Election Commission (CEC) on October 30. With 98% of the ballots counted, the CEC says Yatseniuk’s People’s Front has won 22.2%. Poroshenko’s bloc has received 21.8%. Comparing these results to polling published before the balloting commenced, Yatseniuk has roughly tripled the poll projections of between 5% and 8%. By contrast, Poroshenko has lost roughly ten percentage points or about a third of his 32% pre-election estimate. At the same time, voters who have been consistently giving Poroshenko 10% higher approval ratings than Yatseniuk appear to have reversed themselves. For the last of the US Government-funded polls, read this. For Friday’s forecast from KIIS, click here.

oppositon blocAccording to the CEC today, another four parties will cross the representation threshold: Sadovyi’s Samopomich with 11%; the Opposition Bloc led by Yury Boiko (right) with 9.4%; Lyashko’s Radical Party with 7.4%; and Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (“Fatherland”) party, 5.7%. The opposition based in the east and south did better than had been expected from the pre-election polling; Lyashko did worse. The steady erosion of support for Tymoshenko has been visible for months. Oleg Tyagnibok, once a favourite of the US State Department, has been displaced by the Yatseniuk vote, and together with Dmitry Yarosh’s Pravy Sektor drew sub-5% totals; this outcome has been evident in the polls for weeks.

The European Union (EU) has officially described the results as “a victory of the people of Ukraine and of democracy.” The State Department claims the outcome is that “three pro-reform and pro-European parties received the most votes, clearly showing the Ukrainian people’s determination to see Ukraine take its rightful place in Europe’s whole, free society.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry declared: “Parties supporting a peaceful resolution of the internal Ukrainian crisis won a majority. This gives them a new chance to return to the agreements made, first and foremost, in Minsk. The fact that openly nationalistic and chauvinistic forces won considerable support and will be represented in the Rada creates an additional threat that again calls will sound … for the use of force, for bloodshed. That is extremely dangerous.”

For the opposition bloc, Boyko said the result confirms that “we are the voice of eastern Ukraine, the industrial party of the country and of the real economy.”

Analysts acknowledging the unpredictable results of the election have so far not charged the government in Kiev with fraud. Russian press reporting has identified evidence of ballot tampering in Odessa; the Ukrainian media have reported voter intimidation in Kiev and in the west. Here is a detailed Ukrainian summary of incidents reported across the country.

The International Republican Institute (IRI), which is funded by the US Government, said its “observer teams were also able to witness voting in liberated Ukrainian territory, Donetsk oblast, specifically in Sloviansk. Observers were impressed by the patriotism and willingness of the brave residents who participated in the electoral process. The delegation praises the election commissions who were able to operate polling stations on Election Day under difficult circumstance in this recently fought-for territory, seeking to ensure that as many voters as possible were able to vote as part of a united Ukraine. IRI observers reported only minor non-systemic irregularities and none that would affect the outcome of the election. In a sharp contrast with elections before 2014, observers did not witness abuse of administrative resources during the campaign.”

Fraud at polling stations is unlikely to have contributed more than 2% of the recorded vote, according to Kiev and Moscow analysts. Could the Vybory computer system used by the CEC for scanning ballots and transmitting vote tallies to Kiev have been manipulated to produce the Yatseniuk surge?

An analysis of how the parallel Russian Vybory system operates has been published by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). That can be read here. Ballot processing units (BPUs), according to this presentation, “do not contain any devices that would enable wireless communication to be established with them. The units are also protected against electromagnetic effects (and are certified in accordance with the relevant norms). The technology used in the BPUs makes it impossible to manipulate the results recorded in the BPUs during voting.”

Radio Free Europe, a US government outlet, announced ahead of Sunday’s polling that there has been no penetration of the Ukrainian system for vote counting.

If not fraud at the ballot-box, or in the computer counting programme, how did Yatseniuk pull off his October surprise, enabling him to dictate terms to the five-month old president?

Yatsenyuk Poroshenko

The answer is in the fractional arithmetic of the turnout figures. In essence, with just half the eligible Ukrainian voters casting ballots across the country, and substantially fewer than that in the south and east, Yatseniuk was able to trump Poroshenko with small numbers of votes producing relatively low percentages, and a concentration of these minorities in Kiev and western Ukraine.

According to the CEC’s published data on turnout, of almost 35 million eligible Ukrainian voters, 52.4% cast votes. There were big regional differences, ranging from 70% in the western Lviv region to 32.4% and 32.9% in the parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the east, where Ukrainian forces controlled the polling stations. Outside the ceasefire zone, turnout was just 41.1% in the south and east; 47.9% in the Dniepropetrovsk region; 39.5% in Odessa. All turnout numbers were 5 percentage points or more below the last election to the Verkhovna Rada in 2012.

In this pattern of minority voting, the front-runner has taken just 22%. That’s a mandate from one-fifth of one-half of the voters, or about one voter in ten. And this is in the country west of the Dniepr River. East of the river, the fraction which Yatseniuk (and Poroshenko) can claim is smaller.

Vyacheslav IgrunovVyacheslav Igrunov (right), Vyacheslav Igrunov (right), a former State Duma deputy and a founder of Russia’s opposition party Yabloko, believes Yatseniuk’s win over Poroshenko was not achieved by fraud. He also believes the election result represents Ukrainian minority sentiment, and is not the majority mandate the US and EU governments are claiming.

“Misrepresentation or technical means cannot affect the results by much. The [Ukrainian] result corresponds to the mood of the electorate who agreed to go to the polls. It must be borne in mind that a huge number of people did not go to the polls, especially in the southern part of Ukraine. They do not consider this state as their own, and that’s all. They are not interested to go to vote. They would have voted if there was a political force which represents their interests. At the moment, there is no such force. The reported violations could not have greatly affected the results. Maybe 2% — maybe 3%, not more than 5%. In these specific conditions in the Ukraine, such machinations could not significantly change the results.”

Igrunov, who directs Moscow’s Institute for Humanities and Political Research, believes the pollsters failed to detect the surge for Yatseniuk because of the civil war conditions. “Sociological surveys are suitable for a society in a stable condition; they are totally unsuitable for a poll in a society undergoing revolution. People just do not realize what they are thinking themselves. Their views do not correspond to some of their feelings, and at the last minute the feelings win. Events have been changing from day to day. In our sociology there are precise tools, but you need to consider many factors. The pollsters cannot do that now [in Ukraine]. I would not trust the polls.”

“To be sure, no one expected such results from Yatseniuk. Yatseniuk has taken a much tougher anti-Russian line than Poroshenko. Ukrainian society is in a state of extreme excitement; Russophobia has been heated up by the media every day. Poroshenko has been perceived as a man who went into collusion with Putin – that’s a person who is unable to protect the nation. Therefore, his electorate went to Yatseniuk. Ukrainian society is not very committed to radical action, to armed struggle. It would prefer the quieter methods. But they believe they must paint themselves as a strong nation. Yatseniuk is in the best position to meet these expectations.”

“I am fully convinced of the credibility of the election results. I am convinced that it is not about distortions or fraud.”

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