NP-UN National Affairs Desk. With files from RFE/RL and Ukrinform.
Incumbent Petro Poroshenko will face comedian Volodomyr Zelenskyy in the April 21 runoff for the Presidency of Ukraine following the first round of voting March 31.
With almost 99.5 percent of ballots counted, Zelenskyy was on a pace for a strong first-place finish with 30.22 percent of the vote, according to results from the Central Election Commission (CEC). Poroshenko was well behind with 15.94 percent, followed by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who had 13.40 percent.
Pro-Russian candidate Yuriy Boyko ran fourth with 11.68, followed by reformer Anatoliy Hrytsenko with 6.91, former security service chief Ihor Smeshko with 6.03, populist Oleh Liashko with 5.48% and another pro-Russian candidate, Oleksandr Vilkul with 4.15%.
The numbers mirrored three separate exit polls, which showed Zelenskyy, who portrays a teacher-turned-president in a television sitcom, with at least 30 percent. All the polls put Poroshenko in second with about 18 percent, while Tymoshenko followed with about 14 percent.
A record 39 candidates ran in the first round, but should no one win an outright majority, the top two contenders advance to the second.
Zelenskyy won a plurality in 20 out of the 25 regions of Ukraine where voting was held, the exceptions being the three Galician and two easternmost oblasts. Lviv, and Ternopil went to Poroshenko, while in Ivano-Frankivsk, Tymoshenko was narrowly leading the president. The unoccupied sections of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts went for Boyko, energy minister in the administration of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the country following the 2014 Revolution of Dignity.
Poroshenko won the extraterritorial district which included 125 polling stations at embassies and consulates of Ukraine in 72 countries, including three in Canada – the embassy in Ottawa, the consulate in Toronto and the newest consulate in Edmonton.
Many in Edmonton, like Vitaliy Romanchuk, who came to Canada from the Sniatyn area of Ivano-Frankivsk oblast in 2003, were voting for the first time. Romanchuk told New Pathway – Ukrainian News that it simply had been to far to go to Toronto previously.
The Edmonton Consulate, which was opened in September of last year and moved to its permanent office in January, serves British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. (More about the voting at the Edmonton Consulate in next week’s issue.)
International observers said on April 1 that the election was “well administered” and “competitive.”
“The elections were very fair, met international standards for democratic elections and should generate confidence in the voters according to these assessments,” said Lloyd Axworthy, head of Canada’s election observation mission to Ukraine CANADEM.
Axworthy stressed that a matter of concern was “a high concentration of media ownership.”
“I’d like to begin by congratulating all the candidates and the Central Election Commission, as well as district commissions and precinct commissions for their conducting a well-organized voting day. I strongly believe and, in fact, witnessed ballots being voted on with a degree of confidence that their voices will be heard. I spent as many days as you did visiting different sites and in each case the response back was that the people felt that the system was working. The essential and fundamental principle of democratic system is the participation of people,” he said.
At the same time, Axworthy noted that the turnout of 63% is well within the range “that many democracies around the world would be very pleased to achieve.”
He also added that CANADEM would remain in Ukraine until completion of the electoral process in the country.
“Fundamental freedoms were generally respected and candidates could campaign freely, yet numerous and credible indications of misuse of state resources and vote buying undermined the credibility of the process,” Ilkka Kanerva, special coordinator of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) short-term observer mission, told a news conference in Kyiv.
CEC head Tetyana Slipachuk said that voting and counting of votes took place “without systemic violations.”
“Therefore, we can say that we have completed the first stage of the election in accordance with the law,” Slipachuk added. “There will be a runoff.”
A somber Poroshenko, 53, said he felt “no euphoria” following the exit poll results.
“This is a harsh lesson for me and the authorities as a whole. It is a reason to work on our mistakes,” he said at his campaign headquarters in the capital.
He also tried to put a positive spin on the exit polls, saying Russia did not want him in the second round.
“My friends, today you — Ukrainians, we — Ukrainians, smashed Russia’s scenario for the first round [of Ukraine’s elections], because Poroshenko was precisely the person they did not wish to see in the second round. That failed completely.”
Poroshenko has pushed to integrate the country with the European Union and NATO, while strengthening the military which is fighting Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country.
While calling for their support in the second round, Poroshenko said the message behind the “protest” votes of younger Ukrainians had been heard.
“You see changes in the country, but want them to be quicker, deeper, and of higher quality. I have understood the motives behind your protest,” he said.
The OSCE, which independently monitored the voting, said the first round offered a broad choice of candidates with strong turnout.
“Election day was well administrated and without disturbances,” Doris Barnett, the head of the German delegation to the OSCE parliamentary assembly, told a news conference.
“The real work lies ahead. There are so many untouched reforms,” she added.
Poroshenko attempted to portray the politically inexperienced Zelenskyy as unprepared to hold the office, especially when it comes to dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin “dreams of a soft, pliant, tender, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically undecided president of Ukraine. Are we really going to give him that opportunity?” Poroshenko said.
Tymoshenko’s campaign team, meanwhile, claimed its own exit polling showed her comfortably in second place.
At a news conference after the polls closed, Tymoshenko called on her supporters to head to polling stations to ensure an honest count.
The 58-year-old, who was among the leaders of the 2004-05 Orange Revolution that was sparked by a flawed presidential vote, campaigned heavily on anti-Poroshenko sentiment and pledged to cut household gas prices and drastically raise pensions.
Several rumours circulated in the media that Tymoshenko was planning to make a deal with Zelenskyy in return for being named Prime Minister.
At an April 1 briefing, Zelenskyy campaign spokesman Dmytro Razumkov did not dispel the possibility, but added that much depends on their ability to form a coalition for the parliamentary elections later this fall. Zelenskyy is expected to creat his own party called “Servant of the People”.
Ukrainians and outsiders hope the eventual winner can bring much-needed stability and reform to a country that is a key transit route for Russian gas and an ally in Western efforts to keep the Kremlin in check.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said it had received more than 1,600 complaints about electoral violations, included alleged unauthorized campaigning at polling stations, attempts to bribe voters, and removal of ballots.