Compass World: Ukrainian Election 101

Ukraine has a history of dozens of candidates participating in presidential elections: 24 in 2004, and 39, a record, in the election on Sunday, March 31. A candidate must receive 50 percent plus one vote in order to win the election outright, an unlikely outcome. If no candidate wins outright, the top two candidates participate in a run-off election, which Ukraine’s Central Election Commission scheduled for April 21. The following is a list of the issues defining the election and the three top candidates according to polls.

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The TV President - Volodymyr Zelenskiy:

Volodymyr Zelenskiy is already President of Ukraine, albeit in the TV-show Servant of the People, a satirical critique of the current state of the country’s politics. In reality, he has no experience in politics and a vague platform. These unimpressive, yet boldly anti-establishment credentials resulted in him rocketing to first place in the polls and most likely first place victor in the first round election.

The Chocolate King - Petro Poroshenko:

The incumbent president and oligarch Petro Poroshenko is in a dead-heat with Yulia Tymoshenko for second place in the first round of the election. His slogan “Army, Language, Faith” and his provocative, yet failed attempt to declare martial law after the Kerch Strait Incident - in which Poroshenko ordered several Ukrainian naval ships to sail through the strait connecting the Black Sea to the Azov Sea and the Russian coast guard illegally attacked the boats and detained the crew - were appeals to nationalist, conservative voters. He remains committed to the reforms begun during his presidency, though he himself faces accusations of corruption. The biggest problem facing Poroshenko is his incumbency at a time when Ukrainians overwhelmingly lack confidence in the establishment.

Third Time's the Charm - Yulia Tymoshenko:

Twice Ukrainian Prime Minister between 2005 and 2010 and twice a failed Ukrainian presidential candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko is running for the presidency once more. Like Poroshenko, Tymoshenko has competed in the political arena since the 1990s, but has remained a committed reformer throughout. During the reign of pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a court sentenced her to seven years in jail on allegedly trumped-up and false corruption charges. After the Maidan Revolution, the authorities released Tymoshenko. While Tymoshenko once polled first in the race, Zelenskiy pulled ahead into first while she sank into competing for second place with Poroshenko. As her star sank, her campaign grew more populist in its promises in an attempt to broaden her base.


Above All - Corruption:

9 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in their government. Since 2015, that number has never risen above 14 percent. This lack of confidence exceeds any other former Soviet republic and poses a challenge to whichever candidate becomes president. That 91 percent of Ukrainians believe corruption is rife in government helps explain their distrust of government.

Since the 2014 Maidan revolution overthrew pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, anti-corruption efforts have steadily progressed. The state now makes more data available to the public, solicits bids for contracts via an online, more transparent system, and has closed some tax loopholes. Nonetheless, public perception of rife corruption is high because corruption remains endemic to Ukraine in part due to the influence of the oligarchs who dominate entire economic sectors.. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO), which, respectively, investigate cases of corruption and try cases of corruption, have feuded throughout 2018. NABU accuses SAPO of interfering with investigations and engaging in corruption, both of which SAPO denies. These two bodies, meant to cooperate, are instead attacking each other.

Further progress on anti-corruption efforts will require the next Ukrainian president to build consensus among the elites and propose comprehensive reforms.

The Runner-up - The Economy:

Ukraine has nominally recovered from the devastating recession which followed the onset of war in the east of the country. The economy is growing at 3 percent and average monthly wages stand at Hr 9,042 ($331), well above the minimum wage. However, inflation stands at 10 percent, which negatively affects the value of that monthly wage and the reforms have yet to produce economic benefits for the average Ukrainian, many of whom remain dissatisfied with the standard of living.

The War in the East:

The ongoing, Russian-backed rebellion in the East, which has resulted in 13,000 dead and significant economic damage, hovers in the background during this election. Voters remain focused on which candidates will effectively fight corruption and improve their lot in life - not which candidate will better manage the stalemated war in the East.