Why Yanukovych Has the Advantage

This is a guest post by Lucan Way, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. Lucan originally posted this on Facebook, and I am reproducing it here with his permission.

I am in Kyiv right now. It is truly an inspiring scene. The level of spontaneous self organization is truly unprecedented. No one who is here can avoid rooting for those on the street fighting for their ideals. The protesters have been far less violent than other protests in the world – including the G20 protests in Toronto in 2010. Simultaneously, Yanukovych is weak. His support has plummeted such that just about any opposition candidate wins against him in polls inthe 2nd round. His oligarchic support is also soft – as evidenced by the relatively balanced coverage on oligarchic TV channels. In 2004, only channel 5 was presenting protests in a positive light. Now it is many channels. This suggests that oligarchs are reluctant to put all their chits behind Yanukovych.

Nevertheless, in my view a sober analysis of the situation suggests that Yanukovych has the clear advantage—despite reports that momentum is on the opposition’s side. He has the advantage (at least until 2015) for the following reasons:

1. The opposition lacks a plausible politician who can clearly claim leadership of the movement.

Most opposition is fairly close in the polls to Yanukovych. But first round polls are still fairly close to Yanukovych – who in many polls has a plurality of support. The important thing is that there is no clear consensus on who is dominant – the way that Yushchenko was sufficiently dominant in 2002/2003 to convince Tymoshenko to back him. This creates a situation in which too many cooks spoil the broth. Many complain that the opposition lacks a clear strategy. But this is not the opposition’s fault – there is simply no way any one of them can dictate such a unified strategy.

2. Civil society as great traffic cop but not a powerful mobilizer of crowds:

The opposition has limited control over the crowds. The opposition/civil society has done a miraculous job of organizing food etc. for the protests. But a survey of protesters by Democratic Initiatives suggests that a full 90% of protesters came to Kiev on their own – not as part of an initiative by civil society groups or parties. In other words, civil society is clearly good at organizing those who make it to Kiev. But it is less obvious that civil society is able to actually bring them here.

Partly as a result, the “leaders” of the protests seem to have limited central control over the crowds. Thus, an initiative by leaders to protest the Central Election Commission tonight (over 5 obviously fraudulent by-elections by the regime) resulted in a miserly 150-200 protesters maximum (I just came back from there).

3. Rats will only jump a sinking ship if there is another boat to go to.

In a nutshell, there is no viable force for the Party of Regions to defect TO. Right now, the oligarchs are obviously not enthusiastic about Yanukovych. Most people here think that oligarchs would jump ship. But the opposition is not a clear bet the way Yushchenko was in 2002/2003. History shows that autocrats can survive for a long time in this situation – when the regime has weak support within but the opposition is even more fragmented.

4. Yanukovych was democratically elected.

It is sometimes forgotten that Yanukovych was elected in a relatively fair election – and was in the opposition in 2010 – which meant that he had far less access to administrative resources as in 2004. This puts the opposition in a far less advantageous position than in 2004. Of course, Yanukovych has engaged in all sorts of serious abuse. But (as many admit), the opposition does not have a clear legal rationale for holding early elections This puts Western actors in a somewhat difficult position regarding the opposition and Yanukovych.

5. There is no obvious clear majority for Europe in Ukraine.

Polls vary but the most optimistic ones show just above 50% for the EU. Most recent respected polls (by Razumkov and the Kyiv Institute for International Sociology show about 40% for the EU and 30% for the Customs Union – an advantage for the EU but hardly a clear majority.

6. Protests can’t go on forever.

Protesters have been brought to the streets mainly by Yanukovych’s stupidity – violently clearing protesters on Nov 30 etc. However, in principle there is nothing stopping Yanukovych from sitting on his hands, not giving anything serious and letting the protests peter out. Right now, it seems impossible to imagine this happening – but comparative cases suggest that protests are likely to peter out if they aren’t either provoked or obtain clear victories. (think Serbia 1996/1997; Iran 2009)

In sum, I sincerely hope I am wrong. And this thing is clearly not over. But I think there are unfortunately a lot of reasons to be pessimistic.

Competitive Authoritarianism in Action in Armenia

In a nice backgrounder on parliamentary elections upcoming this Sunday in Armenia, RFE/RL’s Liz Fuller summarizes the state of play as follows:

The election is widely perceived as a vote of confidence in [President] Sarkisian’s administration and, by extension, as a preliminary to next year’s presidential ballot in which Sarkisian will seek a second term. As such, it is a struggle between Sarkisian and his team to retain power and personal wealth in defiance of the opposition parties’ determination to supplant and bring to account a leadership they regard as corrupt, venal, inept, lacking legitimacy, and as having contributed to the emigration over the past four years in search of a better life of at least 78,000 people.

The key difference between today and 1996 is that then, Vazgen Manukian was widely regarded as a viable, credible, and acceptable alternative to incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossian, whereas now many voters either do not trust any opposition political party or, convinced that the HHK will rig the election outcome, have concluded there is no point in voting.

That last sentence hints at a crucial aspect of some contemporary regimes, including Armenia’s, that often eludes cursory assessments of their elections. Steve Levitsky and Lucan Way refer to the kinds of cases I have in mind as competitive authoritarianism, and here‘s how they describe them:

In competitive authoritarian regimes, formal democratic institutions are widely viewed as the principal means of obtaining and exercising political authority. Incumbents violate those rules so often and to such an extent, however, that the regime fails to meet conventional minimum standards for democracy…Although elections are regularly held and are generally free of massive fraud, incumbents routinely abuse state resources, deny the opposition adequate media coverage, harass opposition candidates and their supporters, and in some cases manipulate electoral results. Journalists, opposition politicians, and other government critics may be spied on, threatened, harassed, or arrested. Members of the opposition may be jailed, exiled, or—less frequently—even assaulted or murdered.

Levitsky and Way see notable examples of competitive authoritarianism in “Croatia under Franjo Tudjman, Serbia under Slobodan Miloševic, Russia under Vladimir Putin, Ukraine under Leonid Kravchuk and Leonid Kuchma, Peru under Alberto Fujimori, and post-1995 Haiti, as well as Albania, Armenia, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia, Mexico, and Zambia through much of the 1990s.”

In these regimes, ruling officials didn’t or don’t retain power by banning opposition parties or blatantly falsifying vote counts. Instead, they win by blurring the lines between the ruling party and the state, keeping their opponents weak and off-balance, and, in some cases, demoralizing rather than inspiring voters. Come election day, the game appears to be more or less fair, but the deck has already been stacked.

Another recent RFE/RL Caucasus Report nicely summarizes how the Armenian regime has done this kind of deck-stacking in recent years.

The most widespread and pernicious irregularities registered during successive national elections in Armenia fall into two broad categories. The first is the use of “administrative resources” by the ruling party, meaning intimidation of voters in general and public sector employees in particular, ballot-stuffing, and the casting of ballots for the ruling party (or that party’s presidential candidate) in the name of people whose names remain on voter lists even though they are no longer resident in Armenia…

The second is vote-buying in the form of either financial or material incentives or under the guise of charitable activities. This approach has been particularly favored in previous parliamentary ballots by wealthy businessmen with links to the HHK running in single-mandate constituencies, generally in rural districts where poverty and unemployment are higher than in Yerevan.

Here’s a sample of what that looks like in present-day Armenia, as described in an April 27 interim report from European election observers. In the snippets that follow, RPA and PA refer to the Republican Party of Armenia and Prosperous Armenia. The former, also known by its Armenian initials as HHK, is the party of incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan; the latter is one of its junior partners in parliament’s ruling coalition.

While Article 18.6 of the Electoral Code prohibits campaigning and distribution of campaign material by pedagogical staff and in educational institutions, OSCE/ODIHR long-term observers (LTOs) reported a number of cases of teachers and students involved in the RPA campaign. In Edjmiadzin, on 11 April students and teachers were released from school to attend an RPA rally. On 14 April in Arabkir (a district of Yerevan), teachers asked students to attend, after classes, an RPA rally with President Sargsyan. LTOs observed RPA majoritarian candidates (constituencies 19 and 21, Armavir province) campaigning in schools with students and teachers present.

Some cases of the use of administrative resources by the RPA were observed, including use of an ambulance for announcing a campaign event in Kapan (Syunik province). OSCE/ODIHR LTOs also noted staff from the local tax office discussing that they had been released early from work on condition that they attended an RPA rally in Talin (Aragatsotn province) on 20 April…

On 15 April, in a village in Armavir province, a number of residents separately informed OSCE/ODIHR LTOs that they had been threatened with job loss by the authorities, the mayor and the RPA if they attended a Heritage rally scheduled for the same day…

Article 18.7 of the Electoral Code prohibits parties and candidates, as well as charitable organizations whose names may be associated with them, from giving or promising goods and services to voters during the campaign period. OSCE/ODIHR LTOs noted that after the start of the campaign period, new tractors appeared in Aragatsotn, Ararat, Armavir, Kotayk, Lori and Shirak provinces, next to or adorned with PA campaign material. According to a PA brochure, the party attached importance to the creation of tractor stations in all provinces. The OSCE/ODIHR was informed by the general director of Multigroup, a company which belongs to the PA leader, that the distribution of tractors is part of a business project. PA headquarters issued a statement that no tractors were being donated and that the party was not implementing any charitable programs…

Before the start of the official campaign period, the President and government officials received extensive news coverage by the media monitored by the OSCE/ODIHR EOM. This coverage decreased significantly after 8 April…

And the list goes on.

Considered individually, none of these transgressions seems particularly egregious. It is the cumulative effect that matters. To win multiparty elections, the ruling party doesn’t have to make itself look better than the other guys. It can also win by making the other guys look worse, and demobilizing or demoralizing voters along the way.

In Armenia, there may be a heightened sense of uncertainty around this Sunday’s elections, but the most likely outcome is still another ruling-party victory. Importantly, the HHK will effectively retain power even if it fails to secure a parliamentary majority because President Sargsyan is the country’s chief executive, and his term doesn’t end until 2013. Whichever adverb international observers stick in front of “free and fair” in their post-election reports, Armenia will still be stuck under authoritarian rule.

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