Elections (or war) in Ukraine

Ukraine has never seen such an unusual election campaign; part of it – Crimea – is no longer Ukrainian; there are Russian tanks on its eastern frontiers, and separatism is rampant in the eastern regions. (на русском языке)

Valery Kalnysh
10 April 2014

In such a complicated situation the number of candidates standing for the job of president has hit a record high – 23 people – since presidential elections began. A maximum of only four, however, have any real chance of success. 

There would have been five, but an hour before start of the UDAR party conference, its leader, Vitali Klitschko, announced that he would not be standing. He has thrown all his weight, electoral support and party resources behind the independent businessman Petro Poroshenko. Joint research carried out by four sociological organisations (KMIS, ‘Sotsis’, ‘Rating’ and the Razumkov Centre) suggests that Poroshenko is the current favourite, with 25% of people prepared to vote for him.

Poroshenko shakes US State Secretary John Kerry's hand. Klitschko stands to the left.

The man who would be King. Poroshenko shakes US State Secretary John Kerry's hand. Klitschko stands to the left. via US Gov.‘The future President of Ukraine has to have the best possible ratings and support, as well as maximum legitimacy. This will only be possible if we don’t spread the democratic vote too thin and the best way to do this is to put forward just one democratic candidate. In my opinion that candidate is Petro Poroshenko,’ declared Vitali Klitschko. 

‘I am grateful for Vitali Klitschko’s trust and for his strong, responsible decision. This must be the first time in Ukrainian politics that the importance of national identity, unity, and the integrity of the country has been stronger than personal ambition. I am confident that with Vitali Klitschko and his team on board we will not disappoint, and will be able to prove that the time has come to start a new life,’ said Poroshenko in reply.

Klitschko has twice attempted to become mayor of Kyiv and twice failed to do so.

Klitschko will nevertheless take part in the campaign as a candidate – but in the Kyiv mayoral election, rather than the presidential. It too will take place on 25 May. ‘I took the rational decision to stand as a candidate for the post of mayor. I want to make Kyiv a genuinely European capital and together we will make the country European.  I’m sure we will be able to make this happen,’ said Klitschko. It should, however, be remembered that World Champion Klitschko has twice attempted to become mayor of Kyiv and twice failed to do so.

Petro Poroshenko

His chief claim to fame is as the owner of the Roshen Confectionery Corporation, whose best known product is the famous Kyiv Cake.  He also has media interests: his main asset here is the TV station Channel 5. According to Forbes, Poroshenko is seventh on the list of the richest Ukrainians, with a fortune reputed to be worth £775m.

Presidential hopeful Darth vader meets potential voters in Kyiv.

  Presidential hopeful Darth Vader meets potential voters in Kyiv. via VK.comPoroshenko worked in government for a long time. In 2005, under President Yushchenko, he was Secretary of the National Security Council, a post he held for less than a year. In the September of that year the president dismissed both Poroshenko and his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. The reason for this was their mutual accusations of corruption and lobbying personal interests. ‘People around Yushchenko behaved in such a way as to reduce a popularity rating of 70% to single figures, which were embarrassing to talk about,’ said Tymoshenko. Poroshenko retorted that ‘the best measure of the efficiency of Tymoshenko’s government was that when it was in power even a dog kennel couldn’t be sold honestly and transparently.’ The two of them later made up and Poroshenko also had a job in Viktor Yanukovych’s government: in 2012 he was minister for economic development and trade.

Experts calculate that the number of Tymoshenko's sympathisers is likely to grow.

Yulia Tymoshenko

Having been at loggerheads with Poroshenko, she is now his chief rival in the election. Or so the polls would have us believe. The former prime minister is second in the ratings with 9% of the population prepared to vote for her. Experts calculate that the number of her sympathisers is likely to grow, and indeed at every previous election she has polled more votes than had been forecast.  What is as yet unclear is from whom she will be taking those votes. Her election manifesto is the same as in 2010 when she lost to Viktor Yanukovych. Except for Crimea.

Tymoshenko with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tymoshenko is expected to make gains in the polls.

Tymoshenko with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tymoshenko is expected to make gains in the polls. CC European Peoples' Party‘I am convinced that the time has come for clearly-defined financial measures against Russia for its annexation of Crimea,’ she said, calling for economic and financial sanctions against Russia to be very considerably increased. ‘When an aggressor starts a war in today’s 21st century, he should feel the loss every day – both financially i.e. in billions, and the stability in his own country…from the moment Putin annexed Crimea his regime was on countdown and in the democratic world we shall put an end to the story of the authoritarian regime in Ukraine. Democratic Russia has been expecting this for some time and Ukraine will achieve this goal.  We will help our fraternal nation!’ On the whole her rhetoric has changed little: the need to fight the oligarchs and corruption, unifying the nation and improving its prosperity.

Party of Regions

Candidates from the old opposition are facing candidates from today’s opposition. After the Party’s honorary leader, Viktor Yanukovych, had fled the country, the authority of the formerly biggest political force (party figures for membership stood at more than 1.5m) took a noticeable knock. Members spent a long time trying to decide which of them would be most worthy of taking on the mantle of leader. There were four contenders: former deputy prime ministers Serhiy Tyhypko and Yuriy Boyko; the former governor of Kharkiv Oblast Mykhailo Dobkin and parliamentary deputy Oleg Tsaryov. The party congress upheld the candidature of Dobkin; the other three were asked to put aside their ambitions and start working for the victory of one candidate. This did not happen and all three were expelled from the party. 

In Dobkin’s election manifesto there are the general statements about fighting corruption and an ‘open door’ policy for the economy, but he also makes absolutely specific points. He calls for Ukraine to have non-aligned status; to take up the cudgels against neo-fascism; he supports the idea of a second official language; and the decentralisation of government and budgetary autonomy for the regions. 

Tyhypko stands out for his ability to express his thoughts clearly and is a gifted public speaker.

However, Serhiy Tyhypko (one of those expelled from the party) has as much chance of becoming president, or at least getting into the second round, as Mykhailo Dobkin. Tyhypko stood in the election campaign of 2010 and came third. As deputy prime minister he was responsible for social questions, increasing pensions by 15%. He stands out for his ability to express his thoughts clearly and is a gifted public speaker; the ideas in his election manifesto were comprehensible to party members, particularly his statement that Russian should be declared the second official language. 

The situation with the candidates may be clear enough, though there were probably many disappointed sighs when it was announced that the Central Election Commission had refused to register Darth Vader – conduit of the Force, who allied himself with its Dark Side. Actually, the mask concealed the deputy leader of the Ukrainian Internet Party, known in the outside world as programmer Alexey Shevchenko.

But will there be elections?

But, more seriously, few in Ukraine today would risk a precise affirmation that the elections of 25 May will actually take place. There is a great fear of war in the country, war with Russia. If there are military operations and a state of emergency is declared, the elections will automatically be cancelled. The same might happen if the situation in the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv compels the Speaker, Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, to issue a decree declaring a state of emergency, and the decree receives the support of parliament.

Anti-government protesters waving russian flags in Luhansk occupy government buildings.

  Anti-government protesters occupy government buildings in the eastern city of Luhansk . (c) RIA Novosti/Yury Streltsov‘It’s quite clear that no candidate will win outright, so the most likely time for things to go wrong will be between the first and second rounds. Complications will be created for us in the eastern regions of Ukraine: destabilisation, whipping up tension, causing chaos and doing everything possible to create circumstances justifying the assertion that election was held in an atmosphere of political instability, which means that it cannot be considered free and fair,’ said the political scientist and director of the Institute of Global Strategies, Vadim Karasyov.

The Central Election Commission refused to register Darth Vader 

If there is a war, the new president will probably be the person who can end it. But such a pessimistic scenario for the appearance on the scene of a legitimate head of state is not even under discussion in Ukraine today.


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