Marco Levytsky, National Affairs editor.
February 9, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced that it had approved a record 44 candidates for president out of the 83 who had applied by the February 4 deadline. Under Ukrainian law, if no candidate wins a majority on the first ballot, which will be held on March 31, the top two vote-getters face each other in a runoff on April 21.
Many of our readers are eligible, or potentially eligible, to vote in this election. That’s because anyone who was a resident of Ukraine on August 24, 1991, the day the Verkhovna Rada declared independence, or was born in Ukraine after that date, remains a citizen of Ukraine even though they may have moved to Canada 25 years ago and obtained Canadian citizenship since then. However, in order to vote you must be registered at one of the consular offices in Edmonton, Toronto or Ottawa and you must have a valid Ukrainian passport. If you are a citizen and do not have an up-to-date passport, you may apply for one. But since the process takes about two months, people who do not have one at this time will probably not get registered in time for the presidential elections, but will be eligible for the parliamentary ones in the fall.
The vast majority of those running in this election are fringe candidates who have no chance of winning. Then there is a group that we could call second-tier candidates – ones who are behind the front runners, but have an outside chance, should fate smile upon them. These include Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi; Anatoliy Hrytsenko, former Minister of Defence (2005-2007); Yanukovych-era relic Yuri Boyko, a former Minister of Fuel and Energy of Ukraine; and flamboyant populist Oleh Lyashko. But, at present, the real race is between three front-runners – one of whom will not make it to the second round. While former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was leading in the polls for most of last year, she has slipped recently. The leading candidate now is comedian Volodymyr Zelensky who plays a fictional president in the immensely popular TV series, Servant of the People. In an interview in December 2018 Zelensky stated that as president he would try to end the ongoing War in Donbas by negotiating with the Russian Federation. Really, is there any room for negotiation with any country run by Vladimir Putin? And does Ukraine really need a television star who has never run for office and has no political experience as president? That’s what the Americans chose and look what they ended up with.
Tymoshenko has lots of political experience, but there are some very disturbing aspects about her candidacy. One is her apparent disdain for the diaspora, exemplified by her comment that U.S.-born, acting Ukrainian Health Minister Ulana Suprun was “sent by foreigners” who want to “experiment on Ukrainians.” Suprun has been responsible for a dramatic and much needed reform of Ukraine’s health system and any such comment is a sign of bigotry and ignorance. Then, there is Tymoshenko’s popular slogan of “A New Strategy for Peace”. As with Zelensky, where we stated there is no room for any negotiations with Putin, there is no new strategy for peace. Any peace with Moscow under its current regime, can only be achieved by offering huge concessions. These will leave Ukraine with an entrenched fifth column in Donbas that will thwart any attempts to move towards a closer relationship with Europe and further democratic development, while saddling the country with the cost of rebuilding all the infrastructure the Russians destroyed. Unfortunately, we are stuck with a frozen conflict until such time as the Russians choose to elect a civilized, democratic government, which, given their 850-year history, remains a pipedream, at least for now.
Among the frontrunners, there is only one candidate who is worthy of our support and that is the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. Although his record may not be perfect, it does stand out when compared with all his predecessors. Among his accomplishments he has:
- Managed to turn a pathetically-equipped, rag-tag outfit of some 6,000 troops which he inherited from former President Viktor Yanukovych, into a modern professional army capable of standing up to Russian aggression;
- Moved Ukraine decisively towards closer integration with the west and reduced its economic dependency upon Russian gas;
- Overseen an average 3.5% growth in GDP spurred by booming agriculture and IT sectors, with a vastly improved infrastructure;
- Given local government greater authority and significant resources;
- Overseen a massive reform of both the health system and law enforcement, much of it with assistance from western countries;
- Reformed the education system on all levels and bolstered Ukrainian language and culture.
Perhaps his most significant accomplishment was prevailing upon the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople to issue a Tomos establishing the (autocephalous) independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine. He is the candidate who has taken the most resolute stand in moving Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit and has thus become Putin’s Public Enemy Number One.
No doubt more could be done in terms of battling corruption and improving the living standards of the population, but even there, Ukraine is moving in the right direction.
Ukrainians, however, tend to be cynical, anti-authoritarian to a dangerous degree and very prone to simplistic, populist appeals, which is one reason Poroshenko’s poll numbers are not much higher.
But voters should not be deluded by populist appeals and simplistic solutions. They should look at a candidate’s record and accomplishments.
As we earlier mentioned, Poroshenko is not perfect, but his record stands out as the best of all the presidents in Ukraine’s brief history of independence. That, in itself, is ample reason to re-elect Poroshenko and give him a solid mandate to continue moving Ukraine along the path it has been on during the past four years.