On March 31st, at 8:00 local time Presidential Elections began in Ukraine.
This is Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s first test since he assumed seat in 2014, following the “Revolution of Dignity.”
Approximately 35 million people are in the voting lists, while several million of them are in Crimea, as well as in the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, thus they are either unable or unwilling to vote.
There are 39 runners in the election, and according to opinion polls only 3 candidates have a chance at securing the seat.
Somewhat surprisingly, the latest surveys show comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky leading with 20.6%, followed by opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko with about 13%.
Petro Poroshenko is coming in third, which reflects his leadership in the past nearly 5 years. In May 2014, he won the election with 55% of the vote, after Former President Viktor Yanukovich was ousted in February 2014.
A Ukraine expert from the NATO think-tank Atlantic Council, Anders Aslund said the conflict with Russia “is not at all a factor” in this election campaign, since all front runners are allegedly against warmer ties with the country.
Aslund said that “many want to make a name for themselves for the October parliamentary elections” and entering the presidential race “gets them name recognition”. “There is also the vanity factor – it doesn’t cost so much to run.”
Volodymyr Zelenskiy the populist frontrunner, who reinforces the notion that right-wing populism is gaining steam in Europe, is a TV personality.
He plays the Ukrainian President in a satirical TV show. Essentially, he portrays an ordinary citizen who rises to the presidency by fighting corruption, in the series Servant of the People. He kept playing his part in the show while the campaign was running.
The show is a hit on Channel 1+1, owned by billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, a leading opponent of President Poroshenko. So Mr Zelenskiy is generally seen to be close to Kolomoisky.
Kolomoyskyi is the leading partner of the Privat Group and a de facto chairman of the FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk. Following Crimea becoming part of Russia in 2014, he Crimean assets of Kolomoyskyi have been nationalized; according to Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov this was “totally justified due to the fact that he is one of the initiators and financiers of the special anti-terrorist operation in the Eastern Ukraine where Russian citizens are being killed.”
Thus, it is quite unlikely that if Zelenskiy wins relations with Russia would improve. Regardless, he is a populist and the rise of such agenda in Europe has been an increasing trend in recent years.
On the other hand, Petro Poroshenko’s campaign slogan was “Army, Language, Faith.”
His crown achievements are the following: increased backing of the military, which has kept the “Donbass separatists in check;” an association agreement with the EU, which allows visa-free travel, which with every passing year is in more threat of being revoke, due to increasing illegal migration; and the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
An EU Commission report from November 2018 praised some of Poroshenko’s reforms but said that much more needs to be done to stabilize the country.
Finally, Yulia Tymoshenko is one of the politicians that played a part in the 2004 Orange Revolution. She served as prime minister and ran for president twice before, in 2010 and 2014.
She is bothered by the fact that a candidate Yuriy Tymoshenko is also in the elections. She accused Poroshenko of using him as a “puppet” to confuse voters and damage her chances. Yuriy, however, insists that voters “will easily understand where is Yulia and where is Yuriy.”
She also compared Zelenskiy to Cheburashka, a Soviet-era cartoon character with big ears. She said he was like a “Cheburashka borscht [beetroot soup] – creative… but not tasty.”
If no candidate receives 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place on April 21. If pre-election day polls turn out correct, that would be Yulia Tymoshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Poroshenko said he would accept the result of the vote, “whoever wins”.
“I am ready to accept the victory of the Ukrainian people, because fair elections are a victory for the Ukrainian people,” he told Ukraina TV.
The vote is being monitored by observers from 18 countries as well as 139 Ukrainian civil society organizations, according to Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (CEC).
In a report, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said that nearly all of its “interlocutors expressed concerns about the affiliation of many of these NGOs to particular candidates and doubted their intention to conduct election observation activities impartially.”
According to information provided by Ukraine’s CEC, Poroshenko spent more than $15 million during the election campaign; Tymoshenko about $6 million; and Zelensky almost $4 million.
Separately, in the days leading up to the election, the Ukrainian Presidency approved two noteworthy petition requests, and published them on its website.
The first one is aimed at an interesting sanction against Russia: to prohibit spelling of the country’s name in the Ukrainian language with a capital “R” and rather spell it with a lower case “r.” This is aimed at punishing the “aggressor.” The petition system is moderated, so the suggestion passed preliminary approval and was deemed acceptable for citizens to vote on it.
The second one is aimed at changing how “Ukrainian” and similar other equivalents are spelled in the Ukrainian language, to not mean “border zone” any longer (the Ukraine means the border zone). Since it was a derogatory term and it played into “Moscow’s slaves, feet and mud” agenda.
If the petition passed it would introduce legislation that would fine all people who misspelled adjectives derived from Ukraine and would even include tougher sanctions.