Exit-polls and preliminary results showed a decisive victory for Petro Poroshenko at the presidential elections in Ukraine on May 25. One of the richest man in the country (7th rank according to Ukrainian Forbes list) with liberal economic program is taking 54% according to over 64% counted protocols from electoral precincts. Yulia Tymoshenko – the major competitor – is far below with 13%. The third place got Oleh Lyashko who should be most precisely characterized as populist political clown. The candidates who could be seen as representing ‘South-Eastern Ukraine’ like Serhiy Tyhipko, Mykhailo Dobkin or Petro Symonenko are getting marginal support.
The high voting result for Poroshenko was anything but unexpected. He emerged as the greatest winner of Maidan uprising with the highest electoral support that was credited to him as early as in March. After the strongest contestant Vitalii Klitchko resigned from presidential elections in favor of Poroshenko the support for the former skyrocketed. Instead Klitchko balloted for Kiev mayor elections and is winning them according to the exit poll with over 57% support.
As usual, these elections were not competition of political programs. Whoever was going to win would have continued neoliberal policies of austerity being highly dependent on IMF financial support. The main intrigue of these elections was whether two rounds would be necessary to elect Poroshenko or he could win the first round with absolute majority. There was a very strong motivation to vote for Poroshenko to allow him to win in the first round. Many people saw it as a possibility to prevent more deaths in the Eastern Ukraine in the hope that the country finally will get a ‘legitimate’ president and it will stabilize the political situation.
Unfortunately, these hopes are not justified. Though Poroshenko, who according to the preliminary results got at least relative majority in every region of Ukraine (even in the East and in the South), is by far a national unifying leader. In fact the turnover appeared to be the lowest in the history of presedential elections in Ukraine. The turnover rate in the whole Ukraine was 60.3%. The major reason for this was, of course, the situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions were in only 10 from 34 electoral districts totally was possible to organize elections at all. Even in these districts some precincts opened lately or closed earlier, there were several reported cases of attacks by armed separatist groups on electoral precincts. The turnover in Lugansk region (in working districts only) was only 38.9% and in Donetsk region (in working electoral districts) – only 15.4%. However, these very low voting numbers in Donbass (even in working electoral districts!) cannot be attributed only to the terror of separatist armed groups who are not recognizing the elections. Though the factor of fear to come to the elections or to open electoral precincts cannot be disregarded completely, it should not be exaggerated as well. The phone poll conducted by respectable Kiev International Institute of Sociology on the day of elections among Donbass and Luhansk regions citizens showed that only 17% were going to vote but could not do this (http://www.kiis.com.ua/?lang=ukr&cat=reports&id=324&page=1). 67% said that they were not going to vote. Among those who did not have intention to vote 46% did not go to the elections because of political reasons (no candidate worth to vote, did not believe that these elections were fair or because they thought Donbass were not Ukraine any more), 32% because no elections were organized or the precinct did not work, 17% because of personal and other reasons and only 7% said that it was dangerous to go to the elections. These findings show relatively high number of Donbass citizens (31% at least) who boycotted elections because of political reasons. Moreover, the turnover in two other important South-Eastern regions – Odessa and Kharkiv – where mass federalization/separation mobilizations had been taking place before also appeared to be below 50%.
This is why the elections will not be the step forward for a peace in Ukraine. It is doubtful that revolting Donbass will accept Poroshenko as the new legitimate president. To make things worse the first words from Poroshenko, after exit-polls’ results had been published, were that 85% of Ukrainians voted for ‘unitary Ukraine’ and ‘European choice’ thus not promising any significant concessions to the Donbass rebels demanding at least autonomy within federalized Ukraine if not separating from Ukraine totally. Moreover, so called ‘anti-terrorist’ operation will continue even more active. After elections Kiev government can finally declare emergency state in Donbass and proceed with full-scale army involvement against armed rebels escalating civil war but without definite chances to suppress the rebels supported by local population.
Another significant result is low voting for the far right leaders – Oleh Tyahnybok (Svoboda)and Dmytro Yarosh (Right Sector) – each is going to get something around 1%. No doubt, these number show how exaggerated was Russian propaganda, especially about the Right Sector influence. In the same time, however, these numbers should not be used to downplay the danger of the far rights in contemporary Ukraine. It is not possible to simply extrapolate from personal ratings on the presidential elections (especially when many people were voting for the leading candidate just to avoid the second round) to the party and ideological support. In fact according to the most recent poll (conducted on May 8-13 by three leading pollster companies: www.kiis.com.ua) Svoboda’s support has grown from 5% to 7% (support for Right Sector, though, seemed to decline from 3% to 2%). According to the exit-poll in elections to Kiev city local council Svoboda as well as the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko are going to win around 8% each. Their party lists include some of the leadership of Neo-Nazi groups like S14 and Social-National Assembly. What is even worse, dehumanizing hate speech against ‘colorados’ (Donbass rebels are derogatively compared to Colorado beetles for their orange and black stripes) has spread among even liberal government members and pro-Maidan politicians. In the civil war situation Svoboda and Right Sector support figures are not even as dangerous as continuing shift to the right of Ukrainian political mainstream.
The only candidate that could remotely be called ‘left’ at these elections – the leader of the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) Petro Symonenko – withdrawed his candidacy (in fact he declared about this so late that his name was still included into the voting bulletins and he is getting around 1.6% of the votes). In the last weeks the CPU has been under attack threatened to be disband as the parliamentary faction and to have the trial banning the party overall being accused in support for Donbass separatists. Overall CPU can hardly be called a leftist party as it was becoming quite culturally conservative, selling its MP places to oligarchs and playing a role of minoritarian partner for the former ruling Party of Regions. The Communist MPs voted unanimously for the laws restricting civic liberties passed by Yanukovych-controlled parliament on January 16. However, its ban might have McCarthyist consequences extending attack on the CPU to attack on the communist ideology in general thus putting under threat almost every leftist organization in the country. The banned CPU itself may radicalize up to the total support for the armed rebellion in Donbass or may give a number of radicalized activists to the far left and Russian nationalist groups in the Eastern Ukraine.