An American’s Guide to the Ukrainian Presidential Election

A pool of candidates want to unite the country with Sunday’s vote, but separatists are making it extremely difficult.

A woman cleans a poling station in a village near the eastern Ukrainian town of Velyka Novosilka on May 22, 2014,
National Journal
Marina Koren
May 23, 2014, 8:25 a.m.

It has been a long five months in Ukraine, and you’ve prob­ably heard a lot about it. Its pres­id­ent was ous­ted after vi­ol­ent street protests, Rus­sia took over an en­tire chunk of its ter­rit­ory, and sep­ar­at­ist groups have wreaked hav­oc in its cit­ies to the east.

On Sunday, all of this in­stabil­ity will serve as the back­drop for something that re­quires max­im­um co­oper­a­tion: a massive, pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

About 36 mil­lion Ukrain­i­ans are eli­gible to vote in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion, which was sched­uled to take place on March 29 be­fore the up­ris­ing that drove Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych out and es­tab­lished an in­ter­im gov­ern­ment in Feb­ru­ary. The win­ner will serve a five-year term — and help de­cide the fu­ture of the frac­tured coun­try.

Here are the ba­sics you need to know for Sunday’s wa­ter­shed event.

Weeks of pres­id­en­tial de­bates wrapped up Fri­day.

There are 23 can­did­ates in total, 21 of whom agreed to par­ti­cip­ate in a series of tele­vised de­bates this month. One can­did­ate, whose cam­paign is fin­anced by the richest man in Ukraine, has had his as­sets frozen by Switzer­land over his role in the Ukraine crisis. Many are run­ning as in­de­pend­ents, in­clud­ing one who re­cently sat down with Na­tion­al Journ­al. You can read that in­ter­view here.

A poll of 6,200 Ukrain­i­ans re­leased Tues­day put bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Petro Poroshen­ko in the lead with 54 per­cent of the vote. Poroshen­ko, nick­named the “chocol­ate king” for his chain of con­fec­tion­ary shops, was the only ol­ig­arch in the coun­try to im­me­di­ately voice his sup­port for the up­ris­ing when it first began in Novem­ber, long be­fore Ukrain­i­an Pres­id­ent Vikt­or Ya­nukovych fled the coun­try.

Former Ukrain­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Yulia Ty­moshen­ko is a dis­tant second, at 10 per­cent of the vote. A pop­u­lar politi­cian known for her trade­mark hair braid, Ty­moshen­ko was re­leased from pris­on in Feb­ru­ary after serving two and a half years for ab­use of of­fice, but she hasn’t been able to re­vive her base. Banker Ser­hiy Ti­gip­ko, an in­de­pend­ent, is in third place with 9 per­cent. His sup­port is strongest in the mainly Rus­si­an-speak­ing parts of east­ern Ukraine, where, he says, Kiev’s in­ter­im lead­ers have mis­handled sep­ar­at­ist re­bel­lions.

Most of the can­did­ates stand united in their cam­paign rhet­or­ic. They have been highly crit­ic­al of the in­ter­im Kiev au­thor­it­ies, and say that res­ist­ing fur­ther Rus­si­an in­ter­ven­tion and fix­ing the Ukrain­i­an eco­nomy are top pri­or­it­ies. If no can­did­ate re­ceives an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity in the first round of vot­ing on Sunday, an­oth­er round with the two highest polling can­did­ates will take place on June 15.

Re­gion­al re­bel­lions are cre­at­ing ma­jor prob­lems for a smooth elec­tion.

The good news is that can­did­ates have cam­paigned with min­im­al in­ter­fer­ence from sep­ar­at­ists, and there have been few form­al com­plaints about elec­tion law vi­ol­a­tions or in­tim­id­a­tion of voters, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tion­al Demo­crat­ic In­sti­tute. The bad news is that sev­er­al pres­id­ents and vice pres­id­ents of loc­al elec­tions com­mis­sions have been ab­duc­ted, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions, and their captors are un­known. 

The east­ern re­gions of Don­etsk and Luhansk have been taken over by pro-Rus­si­an sep­ar­at­ists in re­cent weeks, and they are re­fus­ing to co­oper­ate with loc­al au­thor­it­ies and lead­ers. Kiev has at­temp­ted to re­gain con­trol, lead­ing to bloody clashes. If the re­bel­lion dis­rupts elec­tion pro­ceed­ings there — as ex­pec­ted — as many as 2 mil­lion people could be de­prived of their right to vote, ac­cord­ing to Ukraine’s elect­or­al com­mis­sion.

And Kiev’s in­ter­im lead­ers can’t do much about that.

“We clearly re­cog­nize that on the vast ter­rit­ory of the Don­etsk and Luhansk re­gions there is no way to hold elec­tions in a nor­mal way,” Ukraine’s In­teri­or Min­is­ter Ar­sen Avakov said Monday.

But they’re go­ing to try.

Kiev politi­cians have been meet­ing and co­ordin­at­ing with re­gion­al groups in the lead-up to the elec­tion. About 1,000 elec­tion ob­serv­ers from the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Se­cur­ity and Co­oper­a­tion in Europe have been dis­patched throughout the coun­try to keep an eye on the ground. More than 55,700 po­lice of­ficers and 20,000 vo­lun­teers have been tasked to keep the peace on polling day.

Mean­while, Rus­sia is watch­ing and wait­ing.

Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin keeps say­ing that the 40,000 Rus­si­an troops sta­tioned along­side Ukraine’s bor­der are pulling back, while the White House and NATO keep say­ing there is no proof of that. On Fri­day, Putin said that he would re­spect the out­come of Sunday’s elec­tion, but the rhet­or­ic from oth­er Rus­si­an of­fi­cials has sug­ges­ted that Mo­scow may back­track on that prom­ise.

What We're Following See More »
AT LEAST NOT YET
Paul Ryan Can’t Get Behind Trump
3 hours ago
THE LATEST

Paul Ryan told CNN today he's "not ready" to back Donald Trump at this time. "I'm not there right now," he said. Ryan said Trump needs to unify "all wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement" and then run a campaign that will allow Americans to "have something that they're proud to support and proud to be a part of. And we've got a ways to go from here to there."

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Preet Bharara Learned at the Foot of Chuck Schumer
3 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin gives Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the longread treatment. The scourge of corrupt New York pols, bad actors on Wall Street, and New York gang members, Bharara learned at the foot of Chuck Schumer, the famously limelight-hogging senator whom he served as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee staff. No surprise then, that after President Obama appointed him, Bharara "brought a media-friendly approach to what has historically been a closed and guarded institution. In professional background, Bharara resembles his predecessors; in style, he’s very different. His personality reflects his dual life in New York’s political and legal firmament. A longtime prosecutor, he sometimes acts like a budding pol; his rhetoric leans more toward the wisecrack than toward the jeremiad. He expresses himself in the orderly paragraphs of a former high-school debater, but with deft comic timing and a gift for shtick."

Source:
DRUG OFFENDERS
Obama Commutes the Sentences of 58 Prisoners
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

President Obama has announced another round of commutations of prison sentences. Most of the 58 individuals named are incarcerated for possessions with intent to distribute controlled substances. The prisoners will be released between later this year and 2018.

STAFF PICKS
Trump Roadmapped His Candidacy in 2000
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

The Daily Beast has unearthed a piece that Donald Trump wrote for Gear magazine in 2000, which anticipates his 2016 sales pitch quite well. "Perhaps it's time for a dealmaker who can get the leaders of Congress to the table, forge consensus, and strike compromise," he writes. Oddly, he opens by defending his reputation as a womanizer: "The hypocrites argue that a man who loves and appreciates beautiful women (and does so legally and openly) shouldn't become a national leader? Is there something wrong with appreciating beautiful women? Don't we want people in public office who show signs of life?"

Source:
‘NO MORAL OR ETHICAL GROUNDING’
Sen. Murphy: Trump Shouldn’t Get Classified Briefigs
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
×