A Nervous Uncertainty on Election Weekend in Ukraine

by Kathryn Jean Lopez

A friend e-mails his observation from after flying into Kiev yesterday:

The big question heading into Sunday is: Will the calm prevail?  The interior ministry believes there are more than 3000 “provocateurs” ready to attempt to disrupt Election Day, led by 1000 Russian and Chechnyan’s who have crossed the border in recent weeks.  Building on the unrest that exists in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, their goal will be to scare voters away from the polls, sabotage openings of polling sites and prevent the counting of ballots.  President Putin has consistently called into question the legitimacy of this election given the instability and violence.  His agents are in place to justify his concern.

There as an election observer, he points out that one of the largest international election observations in history has been put in place and credits the Central Election Commission, the Interior Ministry and the legislature with going to “extraordinary lengths to ensure an open, free and fair election.” Police will be at every polling station and military will be transporting ballots to district counting headquarters.  Crimeans will register and cast votes within Ukraine. 

My friend continues:

The candidates themselves are doing their part, too.  Gone are the usual political attacks and undermining of campaigns, replaced by calls for national unity and a determination to get the economy moving.  Of the 21 candidates running for president, Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire whose fortune was made in chocolate, is the clear front runner and working hard to achieve the 50% needed to avoid a June 15 run-off.

Underneath this all, however, is a deep uncertainty.  Assuming victory, will Poroshenko, who served as a cabinet minister for both ousted President Yanukovych and his predecessor, the pro-western Viktor Yushchenko, recognize he is but a transitional figure or will he attempt to consolidate power for himself?  With tens of thousands of troops amassed at the border, will Putin use his provoked Election Day unrest as justification to move westward into Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts?  And even if all goes well on Election Day, do the politicians understand this is the last chance to get it right?

Which brings us back to the Maidan.  While the short-hand explanation of the uprising and revolution was a desire to join Europe versus Russia, the real cause is much deeper.  Since regaining freedom 23 years ago, the people of Ukraine have suffered under successive regimes dominated by corrupt, ineffective leaders who have crippled the economy, perverted the justice system and pillaged the treasury for their own gain.  Having no faith in the ability of their elected leaders to do what was right, the belief was that joining the EU was the only way left to force their leaders on to the path of reform.

The barricades, the command structures and the leadership of the Maidan remain because there is so little faith in the politicians.   When western democracy advocates work in newly developing democracies, it is noted that they can’t want success more than the people of the country.  In Ukraine, there is no question as to the will of the people to get it right this time.  The question is can the politicians deliver.  If not, the Maidan is ready. 


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