Ukraine – Petro Poroshenko claims presidency in the first round, but faces many challenges ahead

On May 25th Ukraine held presidential elections. With more than 90% of the votes counted, Petro Poroshenko is leading the race with 54% of the vote. His main competitor, Yulia Tymoshenko, is a distant second with 13%. Deemed to be country’s most crucial election, the vote followed months of mass demonstrations, which eventually ousted the former president, Viktor Yanukovych; Russia’s annexation of Crimea; and on-going separatist insurgency in the eastern regions of the country. Holding an election in Ukraine was a challenge in itself but the new president will face even more tests when he assumes office.

As usual in Ukraine, the contest was a crowded affair with 21 presidential candidates. Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire confectionery magnate, emerged as an early favorite and it appears that he will be the first Ukrainian president since independence to avoid a runoff.

Given the exceptional political context, commentators questioned the likelihood that the elections could achieve domestic compliance as well as international recognition, especially from Russia. Electoral compliance is a recurring issue in Ukrainian presidential election campaigns. In 2004, Viktor Yushenko refused to recognize the outcome of the second round, which led to the Orange Revolution; in 2010, Yulia Tymoshenko challenged the results of the presidential runoff but later withdrew her appeal. This year, however, the main challenge came from the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where currently the Ukrainian Army is battling separatists. To address the pressing issues of peace and security, Petro Poroshenko announced that his first trip would be to the East. However, he did not say what exactly he would do there to end the conflict.

Poroshenko’s other main priorities are the fight against corruption and the achievement of an association agreement with the European Union. He will also inherit a failing economy but, most importantly, a divided parliament infamous for its infighting. In February 2014, Ukraine returned to the 2004 constitution, which curtails the powers of the president, empowering the parliament to form and dismiss the government. Poroshenko does not have his own party. He is backed by the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), but this party commands few seats in the current parliament. The new president may have a lot of ambition but he may not have many tools to realize it. Given the recent return to the 2004 constitution, an important question concerns how the president will be able to work with the existing parliament and, if parliamentary elections take place, what the composition of the new parliament will be.

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