- As predicted, Petro Poroshenko won the presidential election without a runoff, garnering 54.7% of the vote. Former Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko finished a distant second with just under 13%. Poroshenko is the first Ukrainian president to win every region of the country, albeit with just 21% turnout in Luhansk and 15% in Donetsk due to intimidation by Russian separatists. Nonetheless nationwide turnout was 60% in constituencies that were open which is higher than the 2012 Parliamentary Election when just 58% voted. Poroshenko has a unique opportunity and huge international support to make tough decisions to move Ukraine forward. Shortly after his victory he confirmed his support for early parliamentary elections this autumn. With momentum from his victory and the likely coalition support of Klitchko’s UDAR, Poroshenko hopes to win enough seats to form a majority –even without some of the current coalition partners like Byut and Svoboda.
- Tymoshenko’s Troubles. The election results confirm that Tymoshenko’s star is on the wane. Expect some of her faction members in parliament to start leaving and joining other factions and/or cut deals with Poroshenko’s team for the autumn elections. Yatsenyuk will stay on as Premier Minister which will ensure that faction doesn’t lose many members. Nonetheless, every MP is now evaluating his/her re-election prospects and Byut clearly will have a smaller faction after the parliamentary elections.
- Regions Wither? With suppressed turnout in Donetsk and Luhansk due to violence and intimidation of voters by Russian separatists, Sergiy Tyhypko and Mykhailo Dobkin received just 5.2 and 3% percent of the vote respectively. That does not mean though that the Party of Regions is dead as a political force. Their strategy is to return with a strong showing this autumn in the parliamentary election. The faction is still the largest in parliament despite losing 80 members over the last three months. Also, up to 46% of the electorate is favorable historically to pro-Russian candidates and this bodes well for a Regions return later this year. Now however the real battle for the electorate begins with Tyhypko planning to rebuild his “Strong Ukraine” party and compete for former Party of Regions voters. Expect the Communists to return in full force this autumn too and compete for their share of the pro-Russian electorate as well. Russia’s strategy is likely to openly support the Communists and indirectly support the Party of Regions. Their stealth game will be to financially support independent candidates in the single mandate districts to collect “favors” for future use. Russia has made itself radioactive with Ukrainians by its’ annexation of Crimea and backing of separatists. Nonetheless, through stealth and support for traditional allies (albeit more discreetly this time), Russia is likely to have a large influence in the new parliament.
- Rising Stars: Oleg Lyashko has beaten the odds and gone from being a backbench clown to the hottest new political ticket in town. His third place finish with 8% confirms that his Radical Party stands a strong chance of winning seats in the parliamentary election. Expect defections from Byut to migrate towards the Radical Party as well wealthy financial supporters of the party to dramatically increase. Anatolyi Hritsenko also broke through with a solid 5.5% which positions his party Civil Position Party strongly for the parliamentary election too. Unlike 2012, Hritsenko won’t have to negotiate with Yatsenyuk or Klitchko to get seats for his team as his Civil Position party will pass the threshold for victory this autumn.
- Spare Parts: Olga Bogomolets began the campaign polling over four percent but finished a disappointing 1.9%. She declined an offer to join the new government and now it appears her political career may be over before it ever really got started. Communist Petro Symonenko dropped out of the race and received just 1.5% – his worst performance ever (in 1999 he reached his high water mark at 38%). However the Communists will roar back for the parliamentary elections and seek to consolidate the ethnic Russian votes. They received 13% in 2012 and could receive the same or more this autumn. The same goes for MP Oleg Tyahnybok and Svoboda. His 1.2% performance is deceptive because his party received 10.4% in the last parliamentary election. While some believe that Poroshenko would like to see Svoboda’s faction fade from parliament after the autumn election to avoid having a controversial coalition partner, the odds are “for now” that Svoboda will return to parliament (but likely with a smaller faction). Dmitro Yarosh’s Right Sector candidacy received just 0.7% of the vote but received vast media attention –particularly from Russia.
- Mayoral Elections: As predicted Vitaly Klitchko won the Kyiv’s Mayoral election with a clear majority and Sergiy Odarych returned to the mayor’s office in Cherkasy. While Odarych edged his Byut opponent 35-25%, his Free Democrats Party won 18% versus Byut’s 12.6% in the simultaneous city council election. UDAR and Lyashko’s Radical Party received 11.5% each and Svoboda crossed the barrier with 7.5%. Odarych had been forced out of office a year ago in a coup organized by then Governor Sergiy Tulub and oligarch Dmitro Firtash. Now Odarych is back at the helm as mayor whereas Tulub is on an international most wanted list and Firtash is facing charges for bribery in Austria. Suffice to say that short of Odarych’s professional basketball team (the Cherkasy Monkeys) winning the Ukrainian championship, Odarych couldn’t be happier. The trumped up criminal case against Odarych is expected to be dropped shortly. Current Acting Mayors of Mykolayiv (Yuri Hranaturov, independent but former Party of Regions member until a few months ago) and Kherson (Volodymyr Mykolayenko, Byut) won full terms with 28% and 36% respectively. In Chernivtsi, Byut backed mayoral candidate Oleksiy Kaspruk who won a solid mandate with 55% of the vote. Meanwhile Sumy gave Byut one more victory by electing Oleksander Lisenko with 42% of the vote. Thus, while Yuliya Tymoshenko’s career may be on the wane, the party still maintains strength in the regions.
- Recounts: In Kyiv, Klitchko’s UDAR won almost 40% of the vote followed by Lyashko’s Radical Party with 9%, the Self-Help Party led by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadoviy with almost 7%, Tyahnybok’s Svoboda Party at 6%, Byut at just 4%, Hritsenko’s Civil Position Party at 3.5%, Lesia Orobets “New Life Party” with 3.3% (she finished second to Klitchko for mayor with 8.45%), and former Kyiv Mayor Oleksander Omelchenko’s Unity Party received 3.2%. The Democratic Alliance Party is just under the 3% barrier (2.93% according to the latest tally) and is asking for a recount. They claim that their votes were stolen during the count and awarded to other parties. President elect Poroshenko has backed the call for a recount. However the real recount drama is taking place in Odesa. Despite the Shuster Live Exit Poll showing former Mayor Eduard Hurvits winning 43-36% over MP Gennadiy Trukhanov, the final results showed a Trukhanov victory by a 43-32% margin. Trukhanov wasted no time in organizing a hastily called city council session on Wednesday to get sworn in. However, the discovery of 13,545 pre-marked Trukhanov ballots combined with the use of city administrative resources in favor of Trukhanov gives Hurvits a chance to prevail in court. In addition, due to election law changes, the case will be heard in Kyiv and not Odesa. However the behind the scenes dynamics are the key and the outcome strongly depends on President-Elect Poroshenko. Poroshenko and Hurvits are old friends and allies. Poroshenko already commented that if the allegations of Trukhanov holding a Russian passport are proven, then his mandate will be canceled. At that time the courts would either call a new election (like they did in 1998 after Hurvits won but was de-registered after the election) or declare Hurvits the winner as the candidate next in line with the most votes (as was done in 2005 when courts invalidated Bodelan’s victory from 2002). If Poroshenko were to make a public statement of support for Hurvits’ court case too (as he did for Democratic Alliance in Kyiv), then it would likely influence the courts to rule in Hurvits favor. However the situation is complicated by the fact that whoever wins the race faces a re-election in just 15 months during the regularly scheduled October 2015 elections take place. It is widely speculated that popular 33 year old Odesa oblast deputy Oleksiy Goncharenko (estranged son of disgraced former Mayor Oleksiy Kostyushyev) will run for mayor at that time. Goncharenko has good poll ratings and was the Chairman of Poroshenko’s campaign in Odesa oblast. Thus Poroshenko has to weigh the fallout of being accused of influencing the courts to help his old friend Hurvits and offending Goncharenko at the same time. In addition, Poroshenko will receive pressure to let Trukhanov stay on as mayor from fellow oligarch (and Dnipropetrovsk Governor) Igor Kolomoyskyi. Kolomoyskyi relies on Trukhanov for his Odesa port shipments and Trukhanov is a member of the Economic Development faction in Parliament which is strongly influenced by Kolomoyskyi. Given that Hurvits is past the age for appointment as Odesa governor (law prohibits anyone over the age of 65 and Hurvits is 66), if he doesn’t prevail in court this time, it will be difficult for him to make a comeback next year. Based on the political intrigue and election violations, I give Hurvits a 33% chance of winning through the courts to become Mayor of Odesa.
Table: Eduard Hurvits & Odesa Mayoral Elections & Court Decision Results:
- Overseas Voting:Almost 73,000 Ukrainians living abroad turned out to vote in the presidential election. This is the second highest turnout ever from this largely disenfranchised segment of the population (see the graph below). The December 2004 repeat presidential runoff had 103,000 votes cast from Ukrainians abroad. In contrast, the 2012 parliamentary elections had only 20,000 votes cast from abroad. Since voting takes place at embassies and consulates, many Ukrainians who are not officially registered or legally working abroad are afraid to exercise their voting rights. Hopefully the new government will pass electoral reforms to liberalize opportunities to vote abroad for Ukrainians.