The View From Here: Lost in the Crowd

Volodymyr Kish.

The Presidential elections in Ukraine are just over a month away, and as expected, the whole affair is starting to more resemble a farce rather than any kind of rational process for democratically electing a nation’s leader. There are no fewer than forty-four, yes, I kid you not, forty-four candidates in the running for President in Ukraine. Sad to say, almost three decades after Ukraine became “free” and independent, it is no closer to developing an effective political system based on a workable number of stable political parties representing the normal spectrum of political ideology.

In most of the world’s democracies, you typically have two to maybe half a dozen major parties that account for the majority of votes cast. They span the political spectrum from right-wing, to center to left-wing, or in more common parlance, from big C Conservative to radical Socialist. Voters will coalesce around the party whose ideology most closely aligns with their particular set of opinions and beliefs around how the country should be run.

Until recent times, the parties that are usually the most successful are those that are either slightly to right or left of center of this spectrum. Although the leaders of these parties at any given time are important, they are not the most important determining factor in determining the party’s political success. The party’s ideology, programs and platform, are the things that matter most.

Sad to say, Ukraine, like many post-Soviet countries, has not yet reached this stage of political evolution. In Ukraine, politics has been and continues to be a game played by well financed populist individuals, whose actions once in power bear little resemblance to what was promised during election campaigns. Their unstated but obvious purpose has always been to maintain an oligarchic system of governing, that insures that the wealthy elite controls all the wealth and power in the country. Because this elite has unlimited wealth at their disposal, they control the media, the parliament, and the electoral process, ensuring that nothing much changes from election to election.

This coming Presidential election is no different. There are forty-four candidates because the election rules basically allow anyone who can raise the approximate $100,000 registration fee to run for office. You don’t have to be the leader of, or even belong to a real political party. For the super-rich power brokers in Ukraine, the $100,000 entry fee is chicken feed, so let the games begin. The shenanigans are shameless.

For example, one the leading candidates for President is the perennial populist Yulia Tymoshenko (Y. V Tymoshenko). Well, it so happens that there is another registered candidate by the name of Yuri Tymoshenko (also Y. V. Tymoshenko). Coincidence? Nothing like a little confusion to make marking the ballot a complicated affair for the distracted voter!

Currently leading the polls is candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyy, an actor and comedian famous for a popular show on Ukrainian television where he portrays an activist teacher who by a strange set of circumstances becomes President of Ukraine. I suppose, there are enough people in Ukraine that believe that makes him an excellent candidate with Presidential experience, since he is leading the pre-election polls. He is said to be backed by and beholden to one of Ukraine’s richest people, Ihor Kolomoiskyy. This would not be surprising, as one can assume that the vast majority of the candidates are funded and controlled by one or more of the country’s oligarchs.

The list of those running includes characters whose credentials and platforms are mind-boggling. Roman Nasirov was formerly head of the governments fiscal service before he was arrested and charged with embezzlement. Ilya Kiva believes homosexuals should be punished. Ihor Smeshko is rumoured to have been involved in the poisoning of former President Victor Yushchenko. Yuriy Derevyanko wants to legalize cryptocurrency such as bitcoin and make it a basis for a new economy. Oleksandr Vashchenko claims that what happened at Chernobyl was a conspiracy and he wants the power plant re-opened. Yuriy Karmazin professes to be the Hetman of all Ukrainian Kozaks. Former Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko is running on a platform of “enlightened authoritarianism.” Radical Oleh Lyashko wants to impose the death penalty for crimes of corruption.

What is lost in this crowd of kooks, eccentrics, egotists and pretenders, is any real element of true choice for the electorate. Likely none of these candidates will garner more than ten or fifteen percent of the vote. This will lead to a runoff between the top two vote-getters, meaning that the new President will be one of Poroshenko, Tymoshenko or Zelenskyy. This also means that Ukraine will continue to stumble along as it has for the past four years, and likely many more elections to come.