Hot cam­paign ends with very calm elec­tion in Ukraine

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RUDENKO [email protected]

Ed­i­tor’s Note: Elec­tion Watch is a reg­u­lar up­date on the state of the 2019 races for the pres­i­dency and par­lia­ment. The coun­try elected a new pres­i­dent on April 21 and will vote for a new par­lia­ment in Oc­to­ber. The Elec­tion Watch project is sup­ported by the Na­tional En­dow­ment for Democ­racy. The donor doesn’t in­flu­ence the con­tent. Go to for more elec­tion cov­er­age.

It hap­pened: On April 21, show­man Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy won the Ukrainian pres­i­dency in a land­slide with 73 per­cent of the vote.

Af­ter a sur­real cam­paign that re­sem­bled re­al­ity TV and in­cluded a sta­dium de­bate and a pub­lic drug test, Ze­len­skiy went silent. Four days af­ter the vote, he has largely avoided the spot­light. His Facebook and Instagram accounts, which were his pre­ferred com­mu­ni­ca­tion plat­forms dur­ing the three-month cam­paign, also went silent.

While the pres­i­dent-elect is catch­ing his breath some­where out of the pub­lic eye, an­a­lysts and politi­cians are dis­cussing his pos­si­ble first steps and ap­point­ments.

Thanks to Ze­len­skiy’s no­to­ri­ous vague­ness and his cam­paign’s lack of clear sub­stance, there are plenty of grounds for spec­u­la­tion about his first steps and his can­di­dates for the key posts, which in­clude the chief of staff, de­fense and for­eign min­is­ters, pros­e­cu­tor gen­eral, and the head of the state se­cu­rity ser­vice, or SBU.

Fair elec­tion

For all the strange­ness of the cam­paign, the ac­tual runoff Elec­tion Day was calm and brought no surprises. Polls pre­dicted that Ze­len­skiy would win by a large mar­gin, leav­ing lit­tle to no chance for his com­peti­tor, Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko, to get a sec­ond term.

The polls turned out to be ac­cu­rate: Ze­len­skiy won over 73 per­cent of the vote, while Poroshenko took only 24 per­cent.

The elec­tion saw a rel­a­tively low turnout of 61 per­cent — the sec­ond low­est voter turnout in the his­tory of Ukrainian pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Even fewer peo­ple, 59 per­cent, took part in the 2014 elec­tion where Poroshenko won in the first round. Ev­ery ear­lier elec­tion saw a con­sid­er­ably higher voter turnout, es­pe­cially in the sec­ond round, in which peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally showed more in­ter­est. Yet in this elec­tion, even fewer peo­ple showed up for

the runoff on April 21 than for the first-round vote on March 31, which fea­tured 39 can­di­dates.

As polling sta­tions closed and the exit poll results came in, Ze­len­skiy cel­e­brated vic­tory. The gap be­tween him and Poroshenko, at 49 per­cent, was the big­gest mar­gin of vic­tory in Ukrainian elec­tion his­tory. It was so large that no one waited for the of­fi­cial re­sult to come in.

Ze­len­skiy cel­e­brated his vic­tory at his team’s head­quar­ters, but only ap­peared be­fore the press twice on elec­tion night: once to re­act to the results and to prom­ise “he will never fail” Ukraini­ans, and once to an­swer sev­eral ques­tions. His most mem­o­rable state­ment of the night was the one he didn’t ad­dress to Ukraini­ans.

“To all post-Soviet coun­tries: look at us. Ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble,” he said.


Poroshenko ac­knowl­edged his de­feat im­me­di­ately af­ter the exit polls came out.

The pres­i­dent went on stage at his cam­paign head­quar­ters in Kyiv to con­cede, and called Ze­len­skiy, ac­cord­ing to the pres­i­dent-elect, soon af­ter.

Poroshenko’s con­ces­sion speech won him praise among his sup­port­ers and ob­servers. The out­go­ing pres­i­dent was dig­ni­fied, calm, and seemed to be in a good mood. The elec­tion re­sult wasn’t a sur­prise to any­one, in­clud­ing Poroshenko.

He of­fered his help to Ze­len­skiy and em­pha­sized that he would pass to him “the in­ter­na­tional net­work of sup­port” that Ukraine has.

But Poroshenko’s best post-elec­tion mo­ment ar­rived on the fol­low­ing day, when sev­eral thou­sand peo­ple held a rally near the pres­i­den­tial administra­tion to thank him for his ser­vice. Poroshenko wel­comed the crowd and took selfies with his sup­port­ers. He and his wife Maryna also came to the administra­tion’s bal­cony to wave, re­sem­bling Bri­tish roy­alty.

The pleas­ant surprises for Poroshenko ended there. The elec­tion tested the loyalty of some of his top al­lies.

On the day af­ter the elec­tion, the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice, led by Poroshenko’s ap­pointee and ally Yuriy Lut­senko, pub­lished sub­poe­nas for sev­eral former top of­fi­cials

from Poroshenko’s cir­cle, who are sus­pects in a mas­sive em­bez­zle­ment case linked to the peo­ple of dis­graced ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych. The sub­poe­nas were first sent weeks ago by a controvers­ial pros­e­cu­tor within the agency, but de­nounced by Lut­senko as non­sense.

Lut­senko, who en­dorsed Poroshenko for re-elec­tion, was no­tably ab­sent from Poroshenko’s head­quar­ters on elec­tion night. So was Poroshenko’s former protégé, Prime Min­is­ter Volodymyr Groys­man, and the Mayor of Kyiv, Vi­tali Kl­itschko, who both en­dorsed him.

What’s next?

Ze­len­skiy’s in­au­gu­ra­tion has yet to be sched­uled. Ac­cord­ing to the law, it can hap­pen no later than June 3. Poroshenko’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2014 took place less than two weeks af­ter Elec­tion Day.

To sched­ule the in­au­gu­ra­tion, par­lia­ment will need to vote for it. It is in par­lia­ment’s in­ter­est to post­pone it un­til late May: Then the in­au­gu­ra­tion would take place less than six months be­fore the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, sched­uled for Oc­to­ber. That will mean that Ze­len­skiy can­not dis­solve par­lia­ment and sched­ule a snap elec­tion — some­thing he said he has been con­sid­er­ing.

On April 25, Ze­len­skiy com­plained that the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion was in­ten­tion­ally hold­ing off the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment of his vic­tory to post­pone the in­au­gu­ra­tion and pre­vent him mak­ing such a move. "This is un­fair," Ze­len­skiy said in a video he pub­lished on so­cial me­dia — the first he has recorded since the elec­tion. "The pres­i­dent, who has the trust of 73 per­cent of the peo­ple, has the right to at least con­sider (dis­solv­ing par­lia­ment)."

When­ever it hap­pens, the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion is likely to see many new par­ties.

Prime Min­is­ter Groys­man an­nounced on April 22 that he was go­ing to cre­ate and lead a party, giv­ing no fur­ther de­tails. Law­mak­ers Ye­gor Sobolev and Se­men Se­menchenko, former mem­bers of the Samopomich Party, said they will be start­ing a re­formist party of their own.

Busi­ness­man and Kyiv city coun­cil mem­ber Ser­hiy Gusovskiy is also start­ing a party. His will be a con­ser­va­tive lib­eral.

Also, former deputy prime min­is­ter Ro­man Bezs­mert­niy said in Jan­uary that he was start­ing a neo-con­ser­va­tive party, to be named Move­ment +380 af­ter Ukraine’s in­ter­na­tional di­al­ing code.

How­ever, these new par­ties may find it hard to gain a foothold in par­lia­ment in Oc­to­ber. An April poll by the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy shows that 25 per­cent of Ukraini­ans sup­port Ser­vant of the Peo­ple, the party of Ze­len­skiy, named af­ter his satir­i­cal TV show. It was reg­is­tered in 2018 and has not yet been ac­tive. Nei­ther its ide­ol­ogy nor its mem­bers are known.

The sec­ond most-pop­u­lar party, sup­ported by nearly 16 per­cent of Ukraini­ans, is Op­po­si­tion Plat­form — Za Zhyttya, a pro-Rus­sian party led by pop­ulist law­maker and TV per­son­al­ity Vadym Rabi­novich and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s friend and un­of­fi­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Ukraine, Vik­tor Medved­chuk. Their can­di­date, Yuriy Boyko, came fourth in the first round of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on March 31, win­ning nearly 12 per­cent of the vote, mainly in eastern Ukraine.

Ac­cord­ing to the poll, other par­ties that will reach the 5-per­cent min­i­mum needed to get into par­lia­ment are also the ones con­nected to top pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates: Poroshenko’s Bloc (14 per­cent), Yu­lia Ty­moshenko’s Batkivshch­yna (12 per­cent), Ana­toliy Grytsenko’s Civic Po­si­tion (5.1 per­cent) and Ihor Smeshko’s Strength and Honor (5 per­cent).

Russia is watch­ing

As Ukraine waits for its new pres­i­dent to take to power, Russia has been flex­ing its mus­cles.

The hos­tile neigh­bor that an­nexed Ukraine’s Crimean penin­sula in 2014 and has been wag­ing a war that killed over 13,000 peo­ple in eastern Ukraine took new steps to ap­ply pressure to the coun­try, likely try­ing to im­prove its hand in any fu­ture ne­go­ti­a­tions with Ze­len­skiy.

The first blow came be­fore the elec­tion. On April 18, Rus­sian Prime Min­is­ter Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would ban ex­ports of crude oil, oil prod­ucts, and coal to Ukraine start­ing from June 1.

When asked about the ban, Ze­len­skiy con­fessed that he didn’t know “this is­sue pro­foundly” and sug­gested Ukraine could search for al­ter­na­tive im­ports from Western coun­tries.

An even stronger sig­nal came af­ter the elec­tion, when the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment moved to sim­plify the pro­ce­dure of re­ceiv­ing Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship for Ukraini­ans liv­ing in the parts of eastern Ukraine oc­cu­pied by Rus­sian and Rus­sian­backed forces since 2014. Now, Ukraini­ans from the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries can get Rus­sian pass­ports no later than three months af­ter ap­ply­ing.

The provoca­tive de­ci­sion was met with harsh crit­i­cism in the U.S., the U.K., and the Eu­ro­pean Union. Ukraine asked the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil to call a meet­ing and dis­cuss Russia’s move.

Both Poroshenko and Ze­len­skiy con­demned the de­ci­sion, but while Poroshenko recorded a video ad­dress on the mat­ter, Ze­len­skiy put out a writ­ten state­ment.

Mean­while, Putin first com­mented on the Ukrainian elec­tion only four days af­ter it took place, on April 25. He called Ze­len­skiy’s land­slide vic­tory “a com­plete and utter fail­ure of Poroshenko’s poli­cies.” ■

Chil­dren watch as an el­derly wo­man fills out her bal­lot in front of her house in the vil­lage of Koro­livka, Kyiv Oblast on April 21, 2019, dur­ing the sec­ond round of Ukraine's pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. El­derly peo­ple who can­not come to the polling sta­tions can vote at home. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.