How MPs Moved Between Factions: The Analysis Of Party Switching In Ukrainian Parliaments

18 November 2019

The new (ninth) convocation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (VRU) began its term in late August. At their first meeting, the MPs formed factions (groups). The new parliament has six of them: the Servant of the People, Opposition Platform – For Life, Batkivschyna, European Solidarity, Holos and the parliamentary group For the Future. Altogether they include 389 MPs. 33 people’s deputies are non-affiliated with any faction.

These numbers are not fixed. The deputies’ faction or group affiliation will be changing during the convocation. Some may be expelled from their faction, some will withdraw their mandate for one or another reason, and some will switch factions at their own will. We took a closer look at the latter phenomenon.

People call it party-hopping and the MPs leaving one faction for another are referred to as hoppers (or turncoats). Those MPs who do not act in the interests of their faction without leaving it (for instance, they do not vote with the majority of their faction) are also called hoppers. However, the analysis of this particular group is beyond the scope of our study.

Party switching is not unique for Ukraine. MPs do this in Brazil, the Phillipines and many other developing countries. This, however, is not typical of developed countries. In the USA, for example, only 38 senators and 160 congressmen have switched their party over the course of 163 years.

The MPs’ motives for switching factions may be different: personal, pecuniary or ideological. Irrespectively of a motive, leaving a faction is regarded by many as betrayal of the party and the voters in case of the deputies representing political parties. Leaving a faction is also one of the major tools for disrupting coalitions in other countries. This is not the case in Ukraine: MPs can leave the coalition simply by submitting a resignation letter. This does not necessarily entail leaving the faction. Absence of coalition is the reason for the president to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada.

We used the VRU’s open data to see who does the switching, their original factions and new affiliations, the reasons behind it, as well as how the MPs’ faction switching is affected by the law.

We studied the VRUs of the 3rd  to 8th  (1998-2019) convocations since the data on faction switching are available only for this period.

For more information on what we consider to be faction switching, see the “Calculations” section below.

The main findings: 

  1. In 1998-2019, there were 1,822 instances of faction switching by 735 MPs. Presumably, the scope of faction switching is affected by significant changes in the political situation. Thus, 30% of all switching of the 4th convocation occurred in 2005 (after the Orange revolution), while 90% of all switching of the 7th convocation occurred in 2014 (after the Euromaidan).
  2. The most extensive switching occurred during the 4th convocation amounting to 846 instances. Most likely, this was due to the large number of factions that broke up (7), which was almost one fifth of all the factions formed at the time. The MPs of those seven factions crossed the floor 348 times which is about 30% of all switching.
  3. Overall, about 58% of the MPs did not leave their factions in the period from the 3rd through the 8th convocations. A little over half of the MPs switching between the factions were elected under the majoritarian system. On average, they switched factions more often  (2.2 times) as compared to the MPs elected under the proportional representation system (1.8 times). 2/3 of the switchers did that once or twice, with the rest doing it more often.
  4. The imperative mandate is highly likely to reduce the number of faction switching. In its absence, 33% to 44% (in various convocations) of MPs elected by party lists crossed the floor. With it in force, only 3% to 17%. Under the imperative mandate, the MPs who switched factions did so on average one time less than in its absence (the difference is statistically significant).

Facts and details

Factions and parliamentary groups

Between 1998 and 2019, the parliament had 79 factions and groups (excluding non-affiliated MPs sometimes considered a separate faction). Their largest number (31) was during the 4th convocation (2002-2006), see Figure 1. It was also the time of the Orange Revolution in the country. The MPs may have been more active in establishing new factions because of this fact. The smallest number of factions and groups (5) was observed during the 5th  convocation (2006-2007). However, that parliament was dissolved in 1.5 years after being elected.

Figure 1. Number of factions formed during each convocation

Switching factions

Through 3rd to 8th convocation the parliament saw 1,822 instances of faction switching. Each MP who crossed the floor (out of 735) did so on average 2.5 times. Over this time, the parliament had 1,718 MPs. That is, about 42% switched factions during the defined period. 54% of the MPs who switched factions during the convocation were elected under the single-mandate districts (majoritarian system). On average, such MPs switched factions 2.2 times, whereas MPs elected by party lists did this 1.8 times. The difference is statistically significant (according to the Mann–Whitney test).

The largest number of faction switching (846) occurred during the 4th convocation and the smallest (16) during the 5th . What affects the number of faction switching cases? The data suggest that the underlying factor may be significant political changes. Thus, during the 3rd convocation the largest number of switching cases occurred in the second year of the parliamentary term (1999) when Leonid Kuchma was re-elected the president. During the 4th convocation, 266 cases (about 30% of all faction switching of the 4th convocation) occurred in 2005 following the Orange Revolution. In the Parliament of the 7th  convocation 186 cases (about 90% of all faction switching of the 7th convocation) were registered in 2014, after the Revolution of Dignity. However, this hypothesis needs further research.  

Figure 2. Number of cases of faction switching during each convocation

Two-thirds of the MPs switched factions once or twice (Figure 3). Two MPs – Viktor Razvadovsky and Volodymyr Nechyporuk  – did it the most often – 15 and 10 times respectively. Both were elected under the majoritarian system and remained MPs for four and two convocations respectively. The average faction term for Razvadovsky was  281 days and for Nechiporuk 240 days (medians of 237 and 161 respectively). To the constrast, the average length of time an MP spent in a faction among all MPs who switched factions was 522 days (median – 385 days).

Figure 3. MPs by the number of cases of faction switching

Reasons for faction switching

Why do MPs decide to switch factions? We have examined two factors that may affect the likelihood of switching:

MPs’ overall parliamentary term

We assume that the longer MPs are in the parliament, the more likely they are to switch factions because they will try to be with the party that is more likely to win the elections in the future. We calculated the correlation between the total number of days spent in the parliament and the number of instances of faction switching per MP. The correlation was rather weak (correlation coefficient 0.24). This means that MPs may be in the parliament for a long time without switching factions very often. To the contrast, for MPs that were at least once elected under the majoritarian system, the correlation coefficient between their overall term in the parliament and the number of instances of faction switching is 0.5.

The imperative mandate

During the 5th , 6th and again starting from the 8th convocation, the so-called imperative mandate has been in force in Ukraine.Generally, the imperative mandate is a legal opportunity to recall those MPs who do not act in the interests of their voters. Our country has a special kind of imperative mandate: it applies only to the MPs elected by party lists. According to the law, an MPs’ mandate may be revoked if they leave the faction of the party by the list of which they were elected. This is based on the decision of a party leadership. The purpose of imperative mandate is to reduce faction switching. But is this what usually happens?

To answer this question, we compare the number of cases of faction switching per one MP during the convocations with or without the imperative mandate. If the former group average number of faction switching cases is lower,  we may infer that the mandate is effective. We can also see how many MPs crossed the floor during those convocations. That is, if more MPs did it, then we may also assume that the imperative mandate works.

Our analysis yielded the following results:

  1. During the three convocations under the imperative mandate, on average 1.4 cases of faction switching per an MP took place. The other convocations on average reveal 2 such instances. The difference is statistically significant (according to the Mann–Whitney test).
  2. Under the imperative mandate, 3% to 17% of MPs elected by party lists crossed the floor. By comparison, 33% to 44% of MPs elected under the proportional representation system switched factions in its absence. The difference is statistically significant (according to the Mann–Whitney test). That is, something made MPs stick to their factions more with the imperative mandate in force. We assume that it is the imperative mandate itself.
  3. With the imperative mandate in force, 27% of a convocation’s MPs elected under the majoritarian system switched factions. By comparison, with no imperative mandate, 42% to 80% of MPs elected under the majoritarian system switched factions . The difference turned out to be statistically significant (according to the Mann–Whitney test). This means that those elected under the majoritarian system also switch factions less often while under the imperative mandate. That is, in addition to the   direct effect of the imperative mandate, other factors may be in place.

Figure 4. Ratio of the number of party-lists MPs who switched factions during the convocation to the total number of MPs elected from party lists *

*convocations during which the imperative mandate was not in force are highlighted in red


How we counted

We used open data of the Verkhovna Rada to obtain information on the instances of faction switching. Specifically, we used  the following two arrays: mps-trans_fr_arh and mps-trans_fr. The former contains data on the deputies’ switching factions during the third through the seventh convocation. The latter contains data on the instances of faction switching during the eighth convocation. Combining the two arrays resulted in 8,667 instances of switching.

After that we performed additional data processing:

  1. At the beginning of each convocation, MPs remain non-affiliated until the VRU approves the list of factions of the new parliament. However, in the VRU arrays, this is considered faction switching. So we got rid of those rows.
  2. It was also necessary to remove the initial faction that MPs entered since they did not transfer to it from another faction.
  3. A  number of factions in the VRU were renamed during the convocation which was counted as faction switching. However, we did not consider this faction switching. So we needed to merge those rows into one. We regarded faction mergers or their dissolution as faction switching. Since the MPs could have opposed their faction leadership’s decisions and left it before it came about. But they did not. Therefore, it was their choice.
  4. We also retained the rows where MPs remained non-affiliated over 30 days. If they were non-affiliated for shorter periods of time we did not consider it faction switching. That is, if  (1) MPs left their faction and became non-affiliated and remained so less than 30 days, and then (2) joined another faction, we counted it only as one instance of faction switching.
  5. We excluded from the calculation those MPs who held positions in the presidium. For they did not in point of fact leave their factions becoming instead formally non-affiliated while holding the post. When they quit their post they returned to their faction.

All this data processing has left an array of 1,839 rows. Each of them represents one instance of faction switching. The row contains the surname, given name and patronymic of the MPs, the convocation number, the name of the faction, the entry and exit dates and the length of stay therein.



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