On March 31, Ukrainians will head to the polls to elect their next president. Leading the candidates are incumbent Petro Poroshenko, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and newcomer to the political field, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who are polling within 10 percentage points of each other.
“Army, Language, Faith”: Poroshenko’s Campaign Focuses
Running on a pro-EU, anti-Russia campaign, Poroshenko claims that “electing anyone but him would play into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin” (Talant). In his campaign, he has repeated “previous unfulfilled promises” such as “zero tolerance for corruption” which is “the exact phrase he used” when he was elected in 2014 (Talant).
In 2014, Poroshenko ran on the motto “to live in a new way;” in 2019, his motto has changed to a more hawkish “army, language, faith: we are heading our own way” (Grytsenko). Showing this hawkishness in a last-ditch attempt to gain support on March 17, Poroshenko promised that if elected, he would regain control of Crimea by doing “everything” to regain it “as soon as possible… without haggling and behind-the-scenes agreements” (Talant). This commitment is “reminiscent of his 2014 election vow to end the war in the Donbas quickly,” a war which still rages on five years later and has taken over 13,000 lives (Talant).
A Poroshenko Victory Means Stagnant Future for Ukraine
A Poroshenko victory would lead Ukraine into more stagnation. Ukraine’s corruption rating has only moderately improved since his election. Poroshenko’s inability to make corruption reforms conditional for International Monetary Fund (IMF) aid indicates that if Ukraine’s future is with Poroshenko, it will endure more of the same mediocrity. Furthermore, the IMF projects that Ukraine’s annual GDP economic growth will be under 3 percent if reforms and investments continue at such an “anemic pace” (Kudelia).
If re-elected, Poroshenko promises that Ukraine will apply for EU membership by 2023. While Ukrainians highly covet this membership, it is unlikely that Poroshenko will deliver on this promise on such a short timeline, as it still needs to make many “structural reforms” and Poroshenko is behind on his corruption reform timeline (Grytsenko).
Low Likelihood of Poroshenko Winning
Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukrainians have only elected one incumbent back to presidency, Leonid Kuchma. Ukrainians will likely follow this pattern and will not re-elect Poroshenko. He is polling behind Tymoshenko and Zelenskiy; on March 19 he had only 17.4 percent voter support compared to 24.9 percent for Zelenskiy and 18.8 percent for Tymoshenko (Interfax-Ukraine). Among all candidates, he leads the anti-rating; almost half of Ukrainians say that they would not vote for him under any circumstance (Interfax-Ukraine).
Throughout his presidency, Poroshenko has enacted a number of unpopular policies, such as enacting language policies that marginalized minority groups and implementing martial law. He was elected in 2014 after showing leadership during the anti-corruption Maidan Revolution, famously standing on a bulldozer to calm a mob that was storming the Presidential Administration building. After he promised corruption reforms in 2015, the IMF granted Ukraine a $17.5 billion aid package conditional on such reforms.
Demonstrating his failure to fight corruption, the IMF froze the package in April 2017 after Poroshenko fell behind implementing required anti-corruption measures (Williams and Zinets).
Further hurting his popularity, Poroshenko’s “name popped up in the Panama Papers,” leveling him with other corrupt officials worldwide (Langley). A billionaire who made his fortune off of confectionaries, Poroshenko failed to sell his confectionary business as he promised to in 2014, instead handing it off to a Swiss “blind trust” in 2017 (Grystenko).
On March 2, Poroshenko was seen walking on “Odesa’s seafront in the company of Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov, who opposed the EuroMaidan Revolution,” and is “under criminal investigation for embezzlement” (Grystenko). Compromising Poroshenko’s anti-Russia, anti-corruption values, walking with Trukhanov was likely an attempt to win votes in Russia’s eastern region, where Poroshenko is massively behind in the polls.
As recent polls show, it is highly unlikely Poroshenko will win Ukraine’s upcoming election. Ukrainians are dissatisfied with his failure to deliver anti-corruption reforms and a pro-Ukraine victory in the Donbas. If Poroshenko does win, Ukraine’s future growth will stagnate and the country will fall behind on the path to a much-desired EU membership. This bleak future is why Ukrainian voters are rejecting Poroshenko and looking to the brighter possibilities and promises offered by Tymoshenko and Zelenskiy.
Grytsenko, Oksana. 2019. “Not So Easy This Time: Poroshenko fights for his political life on March 31.” March 15. Kyiv Post. https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/not-so-easy-this-time-poroshenko-fights-for-his-political-life-on-march-31.html.
Interfax-Ukraine. 2019. “Poll: Zelenskiy, Tymoshenko, Poroshenko lead among presidential candidates.” March 19. Kyiv Post. https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/poll-zelenskiy-tymoshenko-poroshenko-lead-among-presidential-candidates.html.
Kudelia, Sergiy. 2019. “Ukraine’s 2019 Election: the End of Ideology and the Last Comedian.” March 20. PONARS Eurasia. http://www.ponarseurasia.org/point-counter/article/kudelia-ukraine-2019-election?fbclid=IwAR1b7fQ6NgeR1LkkL5WPjWcyC1R77kw6eM3XF9xntGrvcdCafXTkzgndqTM.
Langley, Andrew. 2019. “Legacy of Ukraine Revolution Rides on March Election: QuickTake.” March 8. Washington Post.
Talant, Bermet. 2019. “Poroshenko promises to regain Crimea – after election.” March 18. Kyiv Post. https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/poroshenko-promises-to-regain-crimea-after-election.html.
Turak, Natasha. 2018. “Ukraine passes crucial vote to unlock financial lifeline, but the IMF has yet to approve it.” June 7. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/06/07/ukraine-passes-crucial-vote-to-unlock-imf-financial-lifeline.html.
Williams, Matthias and Natalia Zinets. 2018. “UPDATE 1-IMF approves $3.9 bln loan program for Ukraine – Ukraine president.” December 18. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/18/reuters-america-update-1-imf-approves-3-point-9-bln-loan-program-for-ukraine–ukraine-president.html.