Ukraine’s second Orange Revolution–an electoral-systems perspective

[UPDATED below]

The mass protests in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are reminiscent of the Orange Revolution of November-December, 2004, when protests were critical to overturning the fraudulent official victory for the candidate of the old establishment, Viktor Yanukovych. Those protests succeeded in getting a re-vote of the presidential election runoff, which was won by Viktor Yushchenko. Now, nine years later, protesters are calling on Yanukovych, elected president in 2010 to succeed Yushchenko, and his cabinet to resign. The trigger for the protests appears to be the government’s decision not to sign an agreement with the European Union. But aren’t the protests now against a legitimately elected president and parliament?

It depends on what one means by “legitimate”–a word I discourage my students from ever using in my presence. If we compare the current parliament, the product of the most recent national election in Ukraine (28 October 2012), to that elected in 2007, some important qualifications to the electoral standing of the current government and its legislative support become obvious. Yanukovych is the head of the Party of Regions. Consider the following data:

Year; total valid votes; votes for Regions; % of votes for Regions; seats for Regions (out of 450)
2012;  20.4M;  6.1M;  30.0%;  185
2007; 22.3M;  8.01M;  34.4%;  175

Note that the total valid votes are lower in 2012 than in 2007. In addition, the vote percentage for Regions declined from 2007 to 2012, yet it won ten more seats. Its greater success in turning votes into seats in 2012 is entirely a product of a change in the electoral system, from pure nationwide proportional (with 3% threshold) in 2007 to a mixed-member majoritarian (or parallel) system in 2012. In the more recent election, the Regions won only 72 of the 225 nationwide proportional seats, but it bagged a bare majority of the nominal-tier seats (113 of 225), which are elected by plurality in single-seat districts. In addition, 49 of the nominal-tier seats were won by independents, and most of them are Yanukovych supporters who did not run under the Regions (or any) label. With the Regions-labelled winners and the Regions-supporting independents, the Yanukovych bloc rises to a majority. (Votes totals here refer to party list votes; I do not have a nationwide aggregation of the nominal-tier votes available.*)

Thus the electoral system change was critical to the success of Yanukovych’s bloc in the current parliament. It lost votes, but gained seats, even if we look only at the seats won by those bearing the party label, but even more so if we include the pro-Regions independents. Thus the MMM system benefited the Party of Regions via both its majoritarian and its nominal (candidate-based) features, relative to the pure party-list system in use in 2007.

Whether that makes Yanukovych’s parliamentary majority “legitimate” or not, I will leave to the reader’s judgment. But this electoral-system perspective demonstrates a key basis for the opposition’s claims that Regions does not represent the country at large.

What about Yanukovych himself? He was, after all, elected president in 2010. Consider the following from the runoff votes:

Year; total votes; Yanukovych votes; Yanukovych vote %
2010; 24.07M; 12.48M; 51.8
2004; 27.93M; 12.83M; 45.9

So, yes, he won a majority in 2010. But with fewer votes than his losing total in 2004. Of course, those who did not vote for his runoff opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, have only themselves to blame for not showing up at the polls. And we can also blame them for failing to coordinate in the single-seat districts in 2012 to beat a ruling party that was so unpopular it won only 30% of the (list) votes. But it is not as if the protesters are facing off against a government with a broad mandate from the electoral process.

* UPDATE. Actually, I do have access to the nominal-tier results. Somehow I neglected another page at Adam Carr’s site where this information is available (national aggregate and regional, though not individual districts). And the Party of Regions had an even smaller vote share in the nominal tier than for party lists: 27.7%. That’s right, it won a majority of the 225 plurality contests on not quite two sevenths of the votes. “Others”, which would be mostly independents, combined for a third of the votes. The second largest party, All Ukrainian Fatherland, and which managed 25.5% of the list votes, had only 16.9% of the nominal votes. It now gets even easier to see why Yanukovych and his supporters wanted to change to a system that diminished the role of party-label voting and enhanced that of candidate factors.

3 thoughts on “Ukraine’s second Orange Revolution–an electoral-systems perspective

  1. Or I could have ended the entry with:

    –unlike Thailand, for example.

    I have seen the comparison made, given that protests against an elected government are going on simultaneously in the two countries. In 2011 in Thailand the For Thais Party won its majority (265 of 500 seats) on 48.4% of the list votes. (It is also MMM.) So not quite a majority, but close. The Democrat Party came in second with 35.2% of votes and 159 seats. This is much closer to a mandate, which might explain why at least some of the opposition apparently has given up on electoral democracy altogether.

    • Rob, because MMM is both (1) less proportional, and (2) better for independents or nominees with a strong personal vote. The change back to MMM (after the period of pure nationwide PR) was, as I noted above, done for the political advantage of the pro-Yanukovych forces.

      Obviously, had Ukraine used MMP in the most recent election, Yanukovych’s party would have had only around a third of the seats. And, while independents can win districts under MMP, a political tendency like the pro-Yanukovych bloc can’t gain as much an advantage when the parties get their under-representation compensated through the party lists, as they do under MMP.

      In answer to a question you asked in another thread, Rob, Albania has changed between the two types of mixed-memebr systems at least twice, the most recent being the move from MMM to MMP after the 1997 election. (Since 2009 the system has been purely list PR.)

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