Ukraine’s presidential election is still set to take place on May 25, despite waves of violence and political instability in the country’s eastern and southern regions. The Central Election Commission said on Saturday that it might be impossible to open voting booths in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, large portions of which are under the control of well-armed militant separatists. This means that approximately 2 million of the country’s 36 million eligible voters will not have access to a local polling station.
Ukraine’s interim government might have more to lose by postponing the elections than by carrying on under current circumstances. Choosing a new, popularly elected president would add legitimacy to Kiev’s government, which could help facilitate negotiations in the east. On the other hand, carrying ahead without electoral stations in the east could fuel frustrations that Kiev is ignoring the demands of eastern Ukrainians.
The current presidential front-runner, Petro Poroshenko, has been playing up the importance of going ahead with the election in the coming weeks and uniting behind one candidate—him—to avoid the possibility of a long and divisive presidential runoff election.
According to a poll from the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, conducted from April 29 to May 11, 54 percent of eligible voters who had already made up their minds as to whom they were going to vote for said they would cast ballots for Poroshenko. Former Prime Minister and leader of the Batkivshchyna political party Yulia Tumashenko came in second at 9.6 percent. Some 34 percent of all respondents said they would vote for Poroshenko, with Tumashenko trailing in second place, with 5.9 percent.
Poroshenko has steadily moved toward the top of the polls, in part, because he is the least tainted of all the presidential candidates. The “chocolate king,” as he is known in Ukraine, made billions through his candy company, Roshen; his business dealings are considered, by Ukrainian standards, relatively honest. During his time in politics, Poroshenko worked in Viktor Yushenko’s pro-Western government as well as in Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian government, and he has emerged untainted by large public scandals.
A veteran politician, Poroshenko has said he does not support lustration, or political purification that would flush the old ranks from Ukraine’s new government. However, he has promised snap parliamentary elections by the end of this year to placate voters who are frustrated that many members of Parliament who colluded with the Yanukovych government are still in office.
Under Ukraine’s current constitution, parliament has the right to chose the prime minister. The change was made in February, after Yanukovych fled Kiev and the parliament voted to return to a 2004 version of the constitution. The 2004 version also greatly cut down on presidential powers, which expanded generously under Yanukovych.
Of all the candidates, Tumashenko probably has the greatest name recognition in the West from her politically-motivated trial and imprisonment under Yanukovych’s presidency, but her name also carries a great deal of baggage. Since her dramatic release from freedom after the Maidan protests, many voters have come to view her rather as a sports figure that should have retired at the peak.
Though Poroshenko’s European looking plan does not greatly differ from what Tumashenko has proposed, Poroshenko has played upon his business background and cast himself as someone willing—and able—to sit down and negotiate twin paths toward integration into the European Union and reconciliation with Russia.
Other notables in the election include Sergey Tihipko, formerly of the Party of Regions, who reestablished an old political party, Strong Ukraine, for the upcoming election. The Party of Regions, whose popularity plummeted after Yanukovych, its former leader, fled the country, has nominated Mikhail Dobkin, who has close ties to the governor of Kharkiv, Gennady Kernes, also a former Yanukovych supporter.