“Yuliya’s Bloc”, “Petro’s Party”, “Oleh’s Party” … Starting from the fourth convocation, the political forces that made it to Verkhovna Rada usually have had the names of their leaders in their party title. Usually, the name implied that the political party relied on support of their charismatic leader rather than on ideology or political platform. The present ninth convocation is the first in seventeen years that does not have any “name-dependent” party. However, have the parties started relying less on their leaders and depending on their popularity? OPORA searched for answers in political ads on social media.

The party’s leader-oriented approach is not the problem but rather the symptoms. The political forces usually pop up from nowhere, and disappear into thin air after the failed elections (the average life span for a party in Ukraine is 5 to 15 years). They may not have any clear ideology, declare blurry principles and political guidelines, often change positions and are not much different from all other parties, except for the leader’s name. During the election campaign, such parties rely on the recognizable leader.

Has the trend prevailed in 2019? To find it out, OPORA researchers analyzed official Facebook pages of five political subjects that eventually made it to the parliament: “Servant of the People”, “Oppositional Platform — For Life”, “Batkivshchyna”, “European Solidarity” and the "Holos”. In total, these were 2,200 posts; almost 500 of them — mentioned the leaders.

 

Number of posts per period

Number of posts, where leader has been mentioned in the text

(%) fraction of posts, where leader has been mentioned in the text

Servant of the People

246

26

10,5

Oppositional Platform — For Life

550

99

18

Batkivshchyna

322

74

22,9

Holos

731

233

31,8

European Solidarity 346

107

30,9

Videos posted on the pages feature the leaders even more often — in 44% of videos on average. In this respect, Yuliya Tymoshenko takes the lead: she has been mentioned in nine out of ten videos posted by the “Batkivshchyna” page. Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is featured in two thirds of the “Holos” videos, Petro Poroshenko — in 40% of the “ES” videos. The OPFL’s videos feature Vadym Rabinovich in 14.5% cases, while 53% of videos present Yuriy Boyko. The lowest rates are with the “Servant of the People” again (28%). The role of a charismatic party leader at the “Servant of the People” was played by the elected president Volodymyr Zelensky. Even though he was not engaged in the parliamentary campaign, he was featured in 12% of posts and in 11% of videos. In other words, in total, the formal “spiritual” leaders have been mentioned in almost 23% of posts and were featured in 37% of videos.

 

Number of posts with photo

Number of posts with leader's photo

(%) fraction  of posts with leader's photo

Number of posts with video

Number of posts, where leader has been mentioned in the video

(%) fraction of posts, where leader has been mentioned in the video

Servant of the People

171

14

8.1

61

17

27,8

Oppositional Platform — For Life

402

36 

8,9

55

14,5

Batkivshchyna

105

46

43,8

82

73

89,0

Holos

433

145

33,4

269

171

63,5

European Solidarity

103

11

10,6

207

84

40,5

“Batkivshchyna” regional pages exploit their leader’s image in a variety of ways. Whereas in Kyiv oblast, over half of posts mentioned Yuliya Tymoshenko, the Lviv page used the leader’s name in 14% of posts only.

A typical “leader-related” content shared on Facebook included a photo of the head or of the number-one from election list, plus a quote from his speech or the party’s agenda. These kinds of posts were used by all parties but for the “Servant of the People” party.

Servant of the People” and the “Holos” posted a series of videos about the election tours of their leaders around the country.

The videos of other parties mentioned the leaders in a more common format: interviews, air time of TV shows, the pre-election ads.

On their official pages, “Batkivshchyna” mostly reposted the materials from Yuliya Tymoshenko’s page. It is notable that Yuliya Tymnoshenko is always depicted in the center of photos, and usually on her own, rather than with other party members or candidates from the list.

On the other hand, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is often featured in a company of other candidates from the election list or the volunteers in the photos posted by the “Holos” official page. The posts mostly write about the party rather than the leader.

Thus, despite the fact that no party passing to the Verkhovna Rada contain their leader’s name in their titles, a charismatic personality of the “number one”, or the head of state related to the party, as was the case of the “Servant of the People”, was an important if not crucial element in the campaign. Videos included especially many references to leaders since it is the most emotional format of campaigning materials. The “Oppositional Platform – For Life” stands out in the general picture. In addition to their official head Vadym Rabinovich and the number one on the list Yuriy Boyko, this party also promoted Nataliya Korolevska and several more politicians. The “Holos” party, established shortly before the start of election campaign as an electoral project of Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, at least tried to create their reputation of a less leader-dependent party. They tried to draw attention to other candidates on the list. It is possible that the party identification with at least several leaders rather than one person is a step from the leader-oriented projects towards the genuine parties as teams of likeminded people, who will take their place in a political system of Ukraine for dozens of years rather than one year.