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Ukrainian presidential election: preliminaries

Never before has the presidential campaign been that intriguing

Ukrainian presidential election: preliminaries

                Ukraine will vote in the presidential election in less than six months, on March 31, 2019, which will undoubtedly be the key event of the year for the country. Why is it the presidential, not parliamentary election scheduled for next October that matters? According to the Constitution, Ukraine is more likely to be a parliamentary republic, and one of Maidan's main demands was the return to the edition of the Constitution of 2006-2010 that was reinstated on February 22, 2014.

            Yes, the president enjoys great powers under this edition of the Constitution, but it is not the main thing. The legal constitutional custom of the independent Ukraine is behind the significance of the presidential election. Both Ukraine's elite and society treat the president as an absolute ruler rather than perceive his post as ceremonial. And the schedule of elections in Ukraine that was formed following Maidan events – the parliamentary election take place slightly after the presidential – is another cushion for this custom.

            This is probably a feature of hybrid political systems. For example, the president in France has never enjoyed more real powers than in Ukraine, which became quite obvious when Francois Mitterrand and Jacque Chirac were to work with the parliamentary majority and the government composed of their opponents. However, starting from 2002, parliamentary elections are held one month after the second round of presidential elections, which immediately strengthened presidential positions. Now results of National Assembly elections are predetermined by presidential elections. The presidential party gets additional support thanks to credit of confidence that the newly elected nation's leader has after the victory. As a result, both Chirac (during his second term), Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande had a strong parliamentary majority of their supporters, while prime ministers they picked remained largely technical figures. And this became very vivid during the latest election, when Emmanuel Macron's party formed just months before the election convincingly won majority of seats in the parliament.

            In fact, in Ukraine, unlike France, the pause between the elections is six, not one month. And given instability Ukraine it is quite a while. That is why one cannot say that the parliamentary election will inevitably reflect the results of the presidential election; however, in any case this is highly probable. Ukrainian opinion polls indicate that all Ukrainian presidents enjoy a credit of trust during their first six months in power.

            This will be Ukraine's seventh presidential election, but never before has the presidential campaign been that intriguing. Previously, one could easily say four and a half months before the elections what candidates would get to the second round, with the only exception in 1999. Never before have the presidential race leaders been that close to each other, and this means that each of them gets little support separately.

            It comes clear from opinion polls that Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader of the Batkyvschina party, leads the presidential race, but she has the support of no more than 15% of voters. And should we limit ourselves to polls by highly-reputed sociological services, the figure will be even smaller. Tymoshenko's rating has grown slightly over the past six months, probably, because the positions of Oleh Lyashko, the Radical Party leader, who voices similar national populist rhetoric, have shattered. This is a natural weakening of his positions, because he combined flamboyant anti-presidential speeches with the support of all necessary Petro Poroshenko's initiatives in the Verkhovna Rada.

            Increasing already very high gas and heating tariffs also plays into hands of Tymoshenko, who has been promising to lower these tariffs for a long time. Impartially, these pledges are not mere populism, as the Ukrainian domestic production of gas, whose prime cost is rather low, covers the demand of people and budget organizations. However, Tymoshenko was twice in power as prime minister, and a lot of people got disappointed in her. Her anti-rating is very high, which, according to opinion polls, allows her to beat only Yuriy Boyko, the leader of the Opposition Bloc, or any other candidate of southeastern Ukraine, and incumbent President Poroshenko in the second round.

            In summer, Poroshenko made the 'Army. Language. Faith' a motto of his election campaign. The nationalistic rhetoric made his rating grow 1%-2%. According to a major part of polls, Poroshenko is now the second; however, the distance between the second and the third place does not exceed a statistical error. Regretfully, results of opinion polls conducted after the decision of the Constantinople patriarch to give autocephaly to Ukrainian church dissenters and after the government resolved to increase public utilities tariffs are not yet available. The first is expected to benefit Poroshenko, while the second to play against him. In any case, the main problem of the incumbent president is still with him, and that is a low electoral reserve. This problem is evoked by his high anti-rating and great difference between people who vote for Poroshenko and other voters in Ukraine. The majority of Poroshenko's supporters believe that the situation in the country is going the right way, while the majority (around of 75%) of other voters, including those undecided and not willing to vote, share an opposite opinion.

            Poroshenko's rhetoric so far does not almost affect Tymoshenko. He is centered on Russia and the forces that he considers pro-Russian. There is an impression that this reflects not only his stake on the nationalistic voters but also his fear of unification of political forces supported by voters in southeastern Ukraine, whose unified candidate could prevent Poroshenko from getting into the second round.

            These parties are the Opposition Bloc, consisting mainly of former members of the Party of Regions, and the For Life, whose political council is headed by Ukraine's most pro-Russian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. Both Yury Boyko, the leader of the Opposition Bloc faction in the parliament, and Vadim Rabinovich, the leader of the For Life party, enjoy good ratings, but Boyko stands higher in a major part of polls. If we suggest that a unified candidate will have about 75% of support that these politicians enjoy, then, according to opinion polls results, it will be enough to get into the second round.

            On November 9, Boyko and Rabinovich signed an agreement establishing a joint opposition platform seeking peace in Ukraine and its neutrality on the foreign political arena. They promised to pick up a unified candidate before the end of November. However, it is clear that this option does not suit the part of the Opposition Bloc that supports Ukraine's richest businessman, Rinat Akhmetov. He has long ago found a common ground with Poroshenko and his allies, and judging by the position of media outlets that Akhmetov controls, Oleh Lyashko is a candidate in demand for him.

            Finally, there is a group of three politicians who not only have a high first-round rating but also the best confidence-no-confidence balance, which allows them to get ahead of both Tymoshenko and Poroshenko in the second round. Their popularity is the result of people's weariness of the incumbent and previous authorities and of their demand for new persons in politics. However, in case of Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who was defense minister during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, everything old is new again. But now Hrytsenko is not a member of the parliament and his party, the Civil Position, has seats in just local councils of some regions in western Ukraine. In spring and summer, he would have come second as results of the majority of opinion polls showed, but now his rating has slightly went down.

            The two other potential candidates are not even professional politicians. They are Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the leader of the Okean Elzy rock band, and actor and showman Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The latter got into opinion polls later than others, but now his rating is higher than of Hrytsenko and Vakarchuk. According to some opinion polls, he can place second. Judging by opinion polls the electorate of Zelenskiy and Vakarchuk is more coherent than that of Boyko and Rabinovich. Vakarchuk, however, has not yet clearly stated that he is going to run for presidency. It escapes from voters' attention that Ihor Kolomoyskiy, who broke up with Poroshenko, is behind the singer.

            The presidential election is to take place in four months and half, and it is likely that many dramatic events will happen in Ukraine by it. However, the thick plot of the second round is likely to be over only after the results of the first round are known.

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