Despite collecting nearly double the votes she had in the first round, Prime Minister Yulia Tymsohenko still lost the Feb. 7 runoff to opposition leader Victor Yanukovych. Some 11.6 million people supported Tymoshenko, giving her a majority in 17 of Ukraine’s 27 administrative regions. The result demonstrated that a large share of the population finds it difficult to stomach a presidency led by Yanukovych, who would become the first ever Ukrainian president that failed to muster at least 50 per cent nationwide support.
“The people haven’t given either of them a full mandate,” said Iryna Bekeshkina, research director at the Democratic Initiatives policy center in Kyiv. “Yanukovych will, in reality, have to convince the public that [he’s president], otherwise he won’t be able to accomplish much.”
Votes cast for Yanukovych in the runoff increased from 8.7 million in the Jan. 17 first round, to 12.5 million. As in the first round, he took the more populous nine oblasts in eastern and southern Ukraine.
More than 3,000 international observers, including a delegation led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, dubbed the vote as a democratic milestone for Ukraine. The OSCE, for example, called it an “impressive display of democratic elections,” and called upon Ukraine’s politicians to respect the results, which saw Yanukovych edging Tymoshenko by nearly 1 million votes, giving him a 48.95 percent result compare to her 45.47 percent.
“This is a loss but not an utter defeat” for Tymoshenko, said Bekeshkina. She said the Ukrainian premier did remarkably well considering how last year’s recession weighed down on her popularity, but “she didn’t sufficiently mobilize the ‘against all’ voters,” which was crucial for a victory.
“Her single message between rounds was to scare voters into voting against Yanukovych and she missed out on some of the smart swing voters” who backed alternative candidates in the first round, namely that of banker Sergiy Tigipko, former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk and ex-defense minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko.
The “against all” vote, which doubled in the runoff to 4.4 percent of the total, is seen as the ultimate protest vote and worked to Yanukovych’s advantage since he emerged 2.5 million votes ahead of Tymoshenko in the Jan. 17 primary election. Thus Tymoshenko had to work hard to scoop up the remaining 8.8 million votes cast for the other 16 candidates, who included Victor Yushchenko, Petro Symonenko and Volodymyr Lytvyn.
And she almost did it by winning the majority of support from 10 of these candidates’ electorate and split Tigipko’s estimated 3.2 million votes equally with Yanukovych, according to the ICTV exit poll, which asked second round voters for whom they voted in the primary.
In turn, Yanukovych predictably garnered most of Communist leader Symonenko, lawyer Inna Bohoslovska and Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz’s electorates.
Geographically, creases started to emerge across the traditional Orange-Blue and White divide. Tymoshenko made inroads in Yanukovych’s east and south base of support, whereas Yanukovych did the same in the Orange west and center, even taking first in six territorial election districts in Zhytomyr, Zakarpattya, Kirovohrad, Sumy and Poltava.
Yanukovych boosted his rating in the city of Zhytomyr by 8 percent since the 2004 election to 36.8 percent while Tymoshenko saw Orange support sink by 11 percent to 57.35 percent. The city, with nearly 300,000 residents, saw 7 percent vote against both candidates bridging the gap in Yanukovych’s favor.
Experts said the Orange paradigm worked in reverse this time since Tymoshenko was perceived as being in power and in charge of the executive branch of government as prime minister.
“In 2004, a chunk of the Orange electorate cast protest votes against the government’s policies at the time,” said Mykhailo Mishchenko of the Razumkov Center, a Kyiv-based think tank. “Now, the dissatisfied votes ended up benefiting Yanukovych,” he said ironically.
The ICTV exit survey also revealed that the older the female voters were, the more likely they were to vote for Yanukovych and without hesitation – only 1.4 percent of women over 66 years chose the “against all” option. Men aged 26-35 had the hardest time identifying with either candidate with 11.3 percent voting for neither.
No age group among men or women gave more than half their votes to Tymoshenko. She was most successful with male voters aged 46-65 (48 percent) and women aged 26-35, a group she split with Yanukovych with 48 percent each. Tymoshenko took the youngest female age bracket while Yanukovych was more popular with men aged 25 years and younger.
Kyiv Post staff writer Mark Rachkevych can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.