6% for an incumbent president!

Does anyone know of a worse showing for a president seeking reelection than Viktor Yushchenko’s 6%, according to exit polls from today’s election? I can’t even think of another incumbent who failed to make the top two.

Speaking of top two, those would be (as expected) Viktor Yanukovych and Yuliya Tymoshenko. They finished at 32% and 27%, respectively (and again, according to exit polls), and will face off in the runoff.

I suppose it would be far too much to ask of journalists and headline writers to refrain from saying that any candidate “wins” the first round of an election that must go to a runoff, wouldn’t it? It seems to me that if anyone wins the first round of a top-2 runoff it would be, well the top two. Unlike all the other candidates (sixteen of them in Ukraine), those two get to go on and see who ultimately will win.

10 thoughts on “6% for an incumbent president!

  1. I can’t think of a sitting President being crushed like this in an election – to be honest I think his bad reputation and that total embarassment is undeserved. The trouble is right from the start he was absorbed into the mess that is Ukrainian politics. It would have been ideal for him to take office and announce a cleansing of Ukrainian politics. Yet he couldn’t do anything without the support of the very corrupt ‘bandits’ who were sitting in Parliament that he blamed for Ukraine’s problems – so he got co-opted. Plus the Presidency has been weakened as a result of his party being forced into a marginal position. He has to work with his foes who control the votes in the Rada so he’s pretty hamstrung. All I will say is he has upheld democracy, he knew he was going to be crushed at the ballot box but still stood on a platform of ‘defending democracy’ – I think in years to come his popularity will increase and he’ll be remembered as one of the better President’s although one that squandered certain opportunities. The same will happen to Tymoshenko if she wins. Ukrainian politics is rotten to the core – stuck in a perpetual state of what I’d describe as ‘gangster democracy’. Voters are only able to choose between the various mobs and clans, none of whom offer any real hope of cleaning up the state and progress – genuine hardworking outsiders who want to stamp out corruption are kept out of the system.

  2. What about Gorbachev’s 0.5% in the 1996 Russian presidential election? Admittedly he had not previously been democratically elected.

    If we count prime ministers and parliamentary seats as well as presidents and popular votes, there are Adolfo Suárez (Spain, 1982) and Kim Campbell (Canada, 1993) whose parties crashed from majorities of 168 and 211 seats respectively at the previous election to precisely two (2).

  3. Actually, Adolfo Suarez had tendered his resignation as prime minister in January 1981, and the following year he left the ruling Union of the Democratic Center (UCD) to found the Social and Democratic Center (CDS), which as you pointed out won only two seats in that year’s vote.

    That said, UCD fared very badly as well in the 1982 general election, going from 168 seats to just 11, and its share of the popular vote plumetted from 35% in 1979 to 6.8% -one of the most disastrous results ever for a ruling party in a democracy; meanwhile, CDS polled just 2.9% of the vote.

    Incidentally, UCD did so poorly that even outgoing Prime Minister Leopoldo Calvo-Sotelo – who had stepped down as party leader before the election – failed to win a seat in Madrid (he was number two on the UCD provincial list but the party won only one of thirty-two seats in the constituency, down from twelve in 1979).

    A more recent but similar example was the collapse of Costa Rica’s then-ruling Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC), which nosedived from 38.6% of the presidential vote in 2002 to 3.6% in 2006 (in the Legislative Assembly ballot they went down from 29.8% to 7.8%). However, the incumbent president was not running for re-election.

    My website’s Spain and (recently added) Costa Rica pages have detailed results of these elections.

  4. You ask some tough questions! In Guinea-Bissau Kumba Yala was elected president in January 2000 with 72% at the second ballot. However, at the next presidential election in July 2006 he came third at the first ballot with 25%. OK, there was a little matter of a coup in September 2003 when Yala was desposed. So, he wasn’t exactly an incumbent president, but it’s the best I could come up with.

  5. Puerto Rico’s 1968 gubernatorial election (which I forgot to mention in my previous comment) was another case of an incumbent head of government coming in third, with Gov. Roberto Sánchez-Vilella, who had been elected to office with 59.2% of the vote in 1964, polling only 11.7% four years later. The reason? He left the pro-Commonwealth Popular Democratic Party (PPD) after he was denied the party’s gubernatorial nomination in 1968, and ran as a third-party candidate on the People’s Party (PP) ticket; see Elections in Puerto Rico for detailed results.

    Incidentally, Sánchez-Vilella’s third-party run split the PPD vote: the party’s official gubernatorial candidate won only 40.7%, and the emergent, pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) won the election with just 43.6%, bringing twenty-eight years of uninterrupted PPD rule to an end; PNP and PPD have been alternating in power since then.

  6. Mexican president Felipe Calderon has presented an initiative to adopt a runoff formula in presidential elections. Whta makes it more interesting, however, is that the legislative election is proposed to be held concurrently with the second round, in contrast with what happens elsewhere. Please, discuss it!

  7. Mariano, that’s really interesting, but it would make more sense to discuss it elsewhere.

    (Granted, the linked location is also not on this topic exactly, but at least it is on Calderon’s reform proposals.)

  8. “The trouble is right from the start he was absorbed into the mess that is Ukrainian politics. It would have been ideal for him to take office and announce a cleansing of Ukrainian politics. Yet he couldn’t do anything without the support of the very corrupt ‘bandits’ who were sitting in Parliament that he blamed for Ukraine’s problems – so he got co-opted.”

    I hate to inject partisan political commentary here, but I kept thinking of the Obama administration when I read this comment.

  9. My apologies, Manuel, for mixing up Suarez’s two “Democratic Center” parties… I even checked with Wikipedia but was not careful enough!

    Another example of a dramatic support crash in a parliamentary system was Vince Gair, Labor Premier of Queensland from 1952 until expelled from the ALP in 1957 – not, as I had always assumed, because of the ALP/ DLP “Split” on 1954-55 but because he bucked the union movement over paid leave and strike-breaking. Only 11 of Labor’s 49 members in the 75-seat Assembly went with him, and he lost his own seat in 1957. He later merged with the DLP and was elected a Senator.

  10. “I can’t even think of another incumbent who failed to make the top two.”

    Well, one week and ten replies later, here’s one at last: Slovakia’s President Rudolf Schuster won only 7.4% in his 2004 re-election bid, finishing fourth and plunging forty points relative to his showing in the 1999 presidential election’s first round.

    My site’s Slovakia has detailed figures, but in all fairness I had completely forgotten about that one – credit goes to glhermine over at World Elections.

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