Inside Ukraine's Make-Or-Break Elections
Old battles are renewed in the May 25 vote to be Ukraine's next president. But the first order of business is to make sure the ballot takes place.
KIEV — The mood around Ukraine is tense, and some places are even seeing military battles. But in the capital, there is only one issue on the minds of the political elite: the Presidential elections, slated for May 25.
Ukraine has never been so eager to go to the polls. The country needs a new president in order to be able to interact with the rest of the world with a legitimate representative, whose mandate has been confirmed by the whole country. But is that simple goal achievable?
It’s obvious to everyone that the current presidential election in Ukraine is, like previous elections, a choice based on likability, “voting with the heart,” and facing the cold reality that none of the candidates actually has a solid electoral platform. The current candidates spend most of their time just saying that “everything will be OK,” mixed with some military rhetoric and talk of strengthening Ukraine’s armed forces as a top priority for the nation.
It seems, however, that Ukrainians are not too interested in a military president: The most strident rhetoric comes from the least popular candidates. Sociologists say that the real demand is for an economist, someone capable of increasing Ukraine’s standard of living. But that person should be honest and not provide growth by trading away Ukrainian territory.
A common theme among all of the candidates is the idea that Ukraine’s regions need to have more autonomy. That is an obvious response to the current situation, amidst clashes in the east, the loss of Crimea, and declarations of independence by self-appointed local "republics."
Many support the idea that local decisions need to be made locally, not through orders from Kiev. At the same time, no one is prepared to discuss the idea of a federalist Ukraine, or otherwise risking a loss of national unity.
In summary, the portrait of the successful candidate for president of Ukraine would be patriotic, would support local independence, especially in the economic sphere, would speak both Russian and Ukrainian and would be oriented towards Ukraine’s integration into the European Union.
Reliving past battles
Just over a week ahead of the vote, Petro Poroshenko is ahead in the polls, garnering some 33% support, ahead of once jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at 10%. The Razumkov Center, which conducted the poll, predicts, that Poroshenko is in a very strong position to win in the second round runoff.
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Petro Poroshenko — Photo: Munich Security Conference
This is not the first time that Poroshenko and Tymoshenko have competed. In 2005, they both served in Viktor Yushchenko’s cabinet after the "Orange Revolution," and wound up accusing each other of corruption in a political firestorm that led Yushchenko to dismiss his entire cabinet.
The two leading candidates have remained more civil towards each other during the current campaign, though Tymoshenko has called Poroshenko “a compromise candidate for Ukraine’s oligarchs.”
At a recent press conference, Andrei Magera, deputy director of the Central Election Commission, said the May 25 vote "will take place no matter what." He acknowledged that there was the risk that voting in certain occupied territories may be hindered by the ongoing clashes.
Magera said the elections will be considered valid no matter how many areas do not participate, according to Ukrainian law on presidential elections. “It’s hard for me to believe that the entire Luhansk or Donetsk regions would not participate,” he said.
Theoretically, at least, there is a chance that the elections could be cancelled. The law provides for canceling elections in “emergency” situations. But it is unlikely that you would find any politician who would argue that Ukraine doesn’t need these elections.
Mykhaylo Okhendovsky, director of Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, said in an interview to “Left Bank,” a Ukrainian magazine, said the campaign goes beyond the simple act of electing a president. "The elections allow the country to pull back the curtain of tension and not lead to the political alienation of any region,” he said.
In Kiev, everyone we talked to agrees: There is simply no option other than holding elections. The harder question is to know what might happen afterwards.