With all but a handful of polling places reporting, Ukraine’s parliamentary election is every bit as big a victory for president Volodymyr Zelensky as it looked on Monday.
Zelensky’s party, Servant of the People, won 43.1% of the vote – more than three times as much as its nearest rival, the Opposition Platform, with 13.0%. Another three parties cleared the 5% threshold for winning proportional seats, all broadly pro-European: Fatherland (8.2%), European Solidarity (8.1%) and Voice (5.8%).
The largest party to miss out was the right-wing Radical Party on 4.0%, just ahead of the centre-right Strength & Honor with 3.8%. Neither of those won a single-member seat either, although four small parties managed a seat each (including the far-right Svoboda), and the Opposition Bloc (a broadly pro-Russian party, similar to Opposition Platform), with 3.0%, won five.
Unsurprisingly, Servant of the People cleaned up on the single-member seats, winning 130 of the 199 on offer. Adding proportional and single-member seats gives it 254 out of 424; independents are next with 47, Opposition Platform 43, Fatherland 26, European Solidarity 25 and Voice 20.*
Late counting favored Servant of the People slightly, so those numbers are a bit better for it than what I reported on Monday. (I said it would have a majority of “more than fifty”; it will actually be 84.) Nonetheless, the general shape of the result was clear immediately.
Which makes it somewhat mysterious why several media outlets got it wrong. Radio Free Europe, for example, said that “the exit polls indicate [Zelensky] will likely need to form a coalition with another party to achieve a majority in parliament,” while Politico said that “Despite Servant of the People’s clear victory, it appears to not be large enough for the party to enjoy a parliamentary majority.”
I can understand why a reporter might at first blush think that 43% wouldn’t deliver a majority of the proportional seats – although because so many votes were wasted on parties that fell below the threshold, the president’s party actually had 55% of the votes that counted. But surely you don’t have to be an elections expert to realise that a party that’s thirty points clear of its largest opponent is going to win a big majority of first-past-the-post single-member seats.
It’s also interesting to look at the pattern of the result. Servant of the People was strong across the country, but its best area was in the provinces immediately south and east of Kiev – it had more than half the vote in places like Dnipropetrovsk, Kirovohrad and
Poltava. These are provinces with significant Russian-speaking minorities, which have traditionally voted for more pro-Russian candidates.
Its strength fell off a little in and around Kiev, and more so further west, in the provinces that were once part of Poland, where the pro-European parties were strong. But even in the six westernmost provinces, Servant of the People won more than a third of the vote and 16 of the 40 single-member seats.
Although the president’s party did well in most areas with an ethnic Russian presence, that didn’t extend to the Donbass provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk – there, Opposition Platform and Opposition Bloc had a clear majority of the vote between them, and won ten of the 18 single-member seats. It should have been 32 seats there, but in 14 voting was impossible due to Russian occupation.
With a reaffirmed mandate and the ability to frame a government to his liking, Zelensky now has to tackle Ukraine’s many problems, of which the separatist conflict in the east is merely the most obvious. But in an increasingly strange world, it may be that the skills of a comedian are just what we need.
* Wikipedia’s numbers are very slightly different to mine. Half a dozen or so of the single-member seats are still very close and could conceivably change with late counting or recounts.