With a majority of the votes counted, presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko seems to be the new president of Ukraine. Early presidential elections were held in Ukraine on Sunday 25 May as former president Yanukovych was ousted by the EuroMaidan revolution on 22 February. Poroshenko is expected to become president of a country in chaos. Two eastern regions declared independence and are plagued by violence as the country faces bankruptcy. The new president of Ukraine will be tasked with restoring peace and order in the country.
On Monday morning 26 May the Central Election Commission announced it had counted over 60 percent of the votes. Gaining 53.7 percent of the votes, Poroshenko seems to be heading to an absolute majority in the first round, making a second round superfluous. Runner-up is former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, candidate for the Batkivschyna All-Ukrainian Union, with 13.1 percent of the votes. Radical Party leader Oleh Liashko surprisingly became third with 8.5 percent of the votes. Liashko is well known for his television appearances. The final results are expected later on 26 May.
Poroshenko claimed the victory at his Kyiv headquarters on Sunday evening 26 May. He spoke in Ukrainian, Russian and English saying “The first steps of my team will focus on ending the war, the chaos, the unrest and bring peace to the land of Ukraine.” Poroshenko promised leniency towards non-violent separatists in eastern Ukraine “For those people who don’t take [up] weapons, we are always ready for negotiations to guarantee them security, to guarantee their rights, including speaking the language they want.” He is also committed to end the conflict with Russia and wants to start negotiations the replace the Budapest Memorandum. He said “Without Russia it would be much less effective or almost impossible to speak about the security in the whole region.”
The Presidential elections
Petro Poroshenko is one of the richest men in Ukraine. He has made his fortune by producing and selling chocolate and is known as the ‘Chocolate King’. As oligarchs grabbed control of former state-owned assets during the fall of the Soviet-Union, Poroshenko was credited for building his Roshen confectionary empire by himself. Also, Poroshenko has extensive experience in Ukrainian politics. He has been National Security Council Chief, Minister for Trade and Minster of Foreign Affairs and he is known to be a pragmatist. Poroshenko was a vivid supporter of the EuroMaidan protests and has worked closely with liberal acting Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk. Poroshenko announced his intention to hold early parliamentary elections as soon as the political chaos in the east has been resolved.
Many of the people in the eastern part of the country were not able to vote. The Kyiv government has lost control in large parts of the Donbas region were separatists do not allow people to vote. In the city of Donetsk, home to one million Ukrainians, not a single polling station was opened. With the rise of armed groups, the increasing paramilitary activity and a population that distrusts Kyiv, voter turnout in the eastern regions of Ukraine was very low. In other parts of Ukraine the voter turnout was very high. The elections were seen as the most important since Ukrainian independence. Mykola Hosovskiy, of the General Prosecutor’s Office stated “For the first time in the history of election processes in Ukraine, there were no complaints [...] about the use of administrative resources.”
British analyst Timothy Ash said “turnout seems to have been very high, representing a vote by the population in favour of an independent Ukraine. This represents a defeat for separatists in south-eastern Ukraine”. A representative of the non-governmental civil society watchdog organisation OPORA, Olesya Maximenko, said “These elections have cost us lives and blood, so knowing the price, the least people could do is come out and vote.”
Kyiv municipal elections
The citizens of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv could also vote for a new mayor and city legislator. According to an exit poll by Savik Shuster Studio political talk show, Vitaly Klitschko is expected to win 57 percent of the votes. Klitschko’s party, UDAR, is believed to have won 42.3 percent of the votes in the city legislator, making UDAR the biggest political party in the city. Klitschko will have to work together with the legislator, where half the seats are elected through party lists and half through individual contests.
Klitschko was a EuroMaidan protest leader and partly responsible for the ousting of former president Yanukovych. He claimed victory on Sunday evening 25 May and said “I want to sincerely thank all those who came to the polling station despite the lines, the heat, and all the conditions that Ukraine is at now, and preformed their duty”. He stated his most important job is to tackle the corruption in the capital. He said “we won’t be able to do any reforms until we stop the corruption. All the changes [in the country] will begin with Kyiv.”
The city has been without a mayor for over two years. The last mayor resigned in June 2012 and a presidential appointee has ruled the city ever since. Ukraine’s ruling Party of the Regions kept sabotaging the local elections because it had lost popular support. The new mayor and council are elected until the fall of 2015, after which new elections will be held. The official results are due by 31 May.
Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko said he would not pursue NATO-membership. The Russian government stated on Saturday 24 May that it would cooperate with the new government in Kyiv. The deputy speaker of the Russian Parliament, Sergei Neverov, took a harsher stand and stated “It is hard to recognize the legitimacy of elections when tanks and artillery are wiping out civilians and a third of the population is driven to the polling stations at gunpoint.”
In a reaction by the White House, United States President Barack Obama is waiting with recognising the victory of Poroshenko until the complete and final election results are in, but stated that the elections were “another important step forward in the efforts of the Ukrainian government to unify the country and reach out to all of its citizens to ensure their concerns are addressed and aspirations met”.
European leaders do seem to acknowledge Poroshenko’s victory and call for reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia. British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the elections a “decisive signal” of Ukraine’s support for reform. German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier said “whether Poroshenko manages to unite a divided country will depend above all on how the constitutional process will now be approached, what kind of massages will be sent to the eastern region [and] also to the Russian speakers.” If the exit polls turn out to be correct, Poroshenko can be sworn in as early as 9 June.
Sources: BBC, Kyiv Post I, Kyiv Post II, Kyiv Post III, Reuters, The Guardian.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink