Ukrainian elections 2019 in Western media: Attitudes and predictions

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Let's view the most important publications, where the main topic is precisely the presidential elections, as well as the candidates who run for them, and the prospects that Ukraine will get
22:46, 26 March 2019

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Before the scandal with Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine's Prosecutor General, who accused US ambassador Marie Yovanovitch of corruption, as well as National Anti-Corruption Bureau intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections, we began to search what the English-language media tell about the presidential elections in Ukraine. And when the scandal had subsided, there was no significant change in attitude towards our country.

It seems that the optimism of Western analysts is resistant to any trials: most of them write that Ukraine, in any case, deserves the support of its reforms.

But Lutsenko’s statement, which is not directly related to the elections (although it casts a shadow on top politicians), is hardly commented on by the Western mass media - they only retell an eventual outline. We should also recall what happened on March 20 - a week and a half before the first round of elections.

Related: Can wannabe prez Zelensky end Donbas conflict?

On that day, in a conversation with The Hill journalist Yuriy Lutsenko said that the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a list of people against whom an investigation could not be conducted.

In addition, he announced his intention to start investigation after the MPs message (most likely, this is a Facebook post of Ukrainian MP Borys Rozenblat’s) that the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau Artem Sytnyk interfered in the American elections by disclosing details about the political strategist of Donald Trump (and Viktor Yanukovych) Paul Manafort.

This intervention was intended to defend the interests of the opponent of Trump - Hillary Clinton.

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The second part of the sensation was beneficial for the President of the United States, who gave a link to The Hill publication on his Twitter. This, however, was the end of response from Donald Trump. At least for now.

On March 22, the well-known Politico cited Trump, who said that he hoped for an objective investigation of the actions of his rival, Hillary Clinton, by the American law enforcement agencies.

At the same time, there was no mention of Ukraine, which, however, does not exclude the appearance of such references in the near future.

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Actually, the favorite TV channel of the American president - Fox News - has already responded to the event with a 10-minute story in which The Hill’s publication was discussed and the question was raised why, suspecting Trump of ties with Russia, did the prosecutors miss the attention of Clinton’s link with Ukraine?

It is obvious that we’ll see the consequences of Lutsenko’s statement very soon. Andy Hale, a columnist for the English version of Radio Liberty, is convinced that "the war of words between Lutsenko and the United States is heating up the political situation on the eve of the presidential elections in Ukraine."

Hale, however, makes no assumptions, how the recent excesses will affect the elections themselves and, most importantly, their results.

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And so let us return to other publications, where the main topic was precisely the presidential elections, as well as the candidates who run for them, and the prospects that Ukraine will receive from the election.

"Tymoshenko and Poroshenko will battle again in the runoff"

So, in particular, the Brian Mefford from Atlantic Council writes that, in general, the Ukrainian elections are unpredictable, but five things seem certain.

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“First,” Mefford notes, “no openly pro-Russian candidate can win and this is a major change from the past. In every Ukrainian election from independence until 2012, the pro-Russian electorate played a significant role. This bloc consisted of almost a quarter of voters and pro-Russian candidates won in 1994 and 2010. However, the irony for Vladimir Putin is that by annexing Crimea and occupying part of the Donbas he eliminated the most pro-Russian segment of the Ukrainian electorate."

The second moment, on which Mefford emphasizes, will probably sound somewhat unexpected. All opinion polls look " very wrong ", the journalist writes. He does not believe in the victory of the “new face” (read: Zelensky), and then makes his third conclusion: “Tymoshenko and Poroshenko will battle again in the runoff".

The two squared off in the 2014 presidential election, with Poroshenko winning easily by 39 points. Now the 2019 election is shaping up as a rematch, with polls giving Tymoshenko an average of a seven-point edge. However, Poroshenko’s rating was rising prior to securing independence for Ukraine’s Church, and the powers of incumbency are always strong, so expect a close runoff between the two candidates.

Related: Zelensky is pro-Russian candidate? No way!

The fourth and fifth features of the current presidential election are, according to Mefford, that race participants rely on parliament. The goal of almost every candidate is to get his own political force to the Verkhovna Rada, and "from eight to ten parties would get enough votes to enter parliament."

But " none would hold a dominant position. Therefore, any parliamentary majority would need to include a multi-party coalition."

“Some will complain that these elections will be similar to previous ones with the same old faces returning to power. To some degree, those criticisms are right. However, the paradigm has shifted with Ukraine’s European civilization choice. The public demands higher standards, more transparency, and is no longer content to accept statements from their leaders at face value, " Mefford summarizes.

"Zelensky's victory is Putin's dream"

At the same time, Mefford’s colleague from the British Express, journalist Rachel Russell, does not treat Zelensky’s candidate so casually and doesn’t discount him.

On the contrary - in her material, she asks Who is Volodymyr Zelensky? and answers like this: actor, comedian, businessman, a person without political experience.

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"NBC News reported he does not hold rallies in order to gain supporters, but instead, he sells tickets to comedy gigs to share his policies and shares “behind the scenes campaign videos” on Facebook and Youtube. 

He has described himself as “very liberal” but if he is elected, he will have to tackle Ukraine’s ongoing tensions with Russia. But it seems that the victory of Zelensky, who previously stated that he wants to stop the war in the east of Ukraine, can also mean success for Putin, "said Rachel Russell.

In her article, she quotes Alexander Motyl, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, and a representative of the Atlantic Council, who says literally the following: “A Zelensky victory would be Putin’s dream scenario."

Related: Plans of Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, Zelensky on solving Donbas conflict unrealistic, - Medvedchuk

"Putin is hoping for and may be committed to doing everything possible to bring about a Poroshenko defeat. ”At the same time, adds Russell, Dmitry Razumkov, Zelensky’s adviser, assured everyone that“ the comedian will not bow down ещ the Russians. ”

"Isn't it better to elect a comedian who knows how to deconstruct gags?"

In a large article in the English-speaking Voice of America, Jamie Dettmer also stresses that the West is worried about Volodymyr Zelensky’s lack of political experience.

Although the publication as a whole is not about that, about the factors that led to the emergence of this candidate.

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" Recent surveys show the country’s politicians — from incumbent Poroshenko to Ukraine’s lawmakers, are held in deep disdain. A survey earlier this month suggested 82 percent of Ukrainians mistrust parliament and 71 percent feel the same way about Poroshenko." Dettmer begins his study.

“Five years on from the Maidan uprising that drove pro-Moscow authoritarian president Viktor Yanukovych from office, Ukraine is still struggling to give birth to what people here like to term a “normal state.”

The debate on whether Ukraine should look West and align with the European Union or east toward Moscow is long over. The separation from Russia now seems permanent. But Ukrainians say that they are still far from meeting the high hopes for changes caused by the 2014 Revolution of Dignity, "the journalist writes.

He further mentions the dominance of the oligarchs, who still determine state policy, and the criminal cases under investigation related to the kleptocracy of Yanukovych, and the harassment of journalists.

" Ukraine’s progress has been mixed in reforming a corrupt political system in which oligarchs wield out-sized influence, manipulating politics, public opinion, and bureaucrats to enrich themselves."

“Analysts,” Dettmer continues, “warn there are serious risks of backsliding, and they say there has been little curtailing of large-scale corruption at the highest levels of government.

Several businesspeople VOA interviewed say they are still being strong-armed by tax inspectors demanding bribes. And petty everyday graft remains, infuriating ordinary people forced to shell out bribes "

All this creates a tense social situation where "more Ukrainians live below the poverty line than before Maidan" and "the lack of economic opportunities makes young Ukrainians flee abroad." Therefore, it is not surprising that this year a significant amount of the electorate wants to give votes to Zelensky.

Related: Atlantic Council representative withdrew his statement about Lutsenko and Yovanovitch

"Angry voters say the joke for years has been on them and maybe they cannot do any better than elect a comedian who knows how to deconstruct gags " Dettmer makes a conclusion.

"Poroshenko’s performance indicators are quite good”

The publication of the aforementioned professor of political science at Rutgers University, Alexander Motyl, contrasts markedly with the pessimism of the previous columnist.

The message of this author was published on the Foreign Policy website - and it is also devoted to the elections and analysis of Ukrainians’ everyday life.

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“Ukraine has changed more, and for the better, in the last five years under President Petro Poroshenko than in the preceding 25,” said Motyl. “By any logic, he should be a shoo-in in the upcoming presidential elections on March 31.

Instead, about half of Ukrainians detest him. And a quarter would rather elect an inexperienced comedian to lead the country "

“All in all, then, Poroshenko’s overall record is pretty good. He saved the country from Russia—thereby earning Russian President Vladimir Putin’s undying enmity—and set it firmly on the path of pro-Western integration and reform.

Poroshenko is rightly criticized for having failed to bring any of the country’s past or current elites to justice for their malfeasance under Yanukovych. Although the crooks remain at liberty, Poroshenko has done much to reduce the institutional and structural sources of corruption...

Presumably, Poroshenko decided to combat corruption without attacking the corruptioneers on purpose. That makes sense,” Motyl suggests.

He adds: “critics are wrong to think that corruption is a greater threat to Ukraine’s existence than Russia. Putin’s rockets could incinerate Ukraine in a few seconds. His armies could occupy the country in weeks and kill hundreds of thousands of people in the process.

And, as Russia’s obsession with rearmament and nuclear war suggests, its blockade of Ukraine’s ports on the Sea of Azov, its continued presence in the occupied Donbass, and its stationing of thousands of Russian soldiers and tanks along Ukraine’s frontier cannot be interpreted as signs of benign intent.

So why are so many Ukrainians so convinced that nothing has changed that they would elect Zelensky? A large part of the answer is that the Euromaidan revolution generated unrealistic expectations that Ukraine would catapult into the European Union overnight

The reality is that, although Ukraine has steadily moved toward integration with European institutions, it still has a long way to go before it becomes the Switzerland of Eastern Europe "

"Whoever ends up on Bankova, he or she can expect a big push from the country’s friends in the West "

And nevertheless, “the pace of reforms has slowed down over the past two years,” noted the famous diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Peifer. His thoughts on this topic appeared on the Brookings Institution website - a non-profit public organization headquartered in Washington.

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“Much more needs to be done,” Peifer reminds the Ukrainian authorities, “this is judicial reform, and strengthening the rule of law, and further measures to combat corruption.” However, “new reforms will be difficult to implement in 2019 because political attention has shifted to elections.”

But “whoever ends up at Bankova (the location of Ukraine’s presidential offices), he or she can expect a big push from Ukraine’s civil society—and the country’s friends in the West—to get on with still needed reforms. Tough reforms involving difficult decisions typically are best done at the beginning of presidential and parliamentary terms "

Glancing toward Moscow, Peifer notes that “the Kremlin seems to hope that, following the elections, the Ukrainian president and Rada will prove more amenable. That’s wishful thinking. One unintended result of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and occupation of part of the Donbas is that the areas with the most Russia-friendly Ukrainian voters will not be taking part in the 2019 elections.

Moreover, the Russian leadership does not appreciate how its aggression over the past five years has alienated Ukrainians. Overcoming that anger will take years, if not decades, and it will only begin once there is peace. "

For its part, "the West should patiently pursue its policy of supporting Ukraine. U.S., European and international financial institution officials should be ready to engage the Ukrainian president in the spring and the new Rada and prime minister in the fall on the country’s future reform course. Those discussions could be delicate, particularly if populist ideas win in the elections.

Western donors will have to resist backsliding on what Ukraine has achieved and press for completing the critical mass of reforms that would allow the economy to grow at a substantial and sustained rate. Given their assistance funds and low-interest credits, the donors will have leverage. "

In general, Steven Peifer sums up, “2019 is unlikely to be a breakthrough year for Ukraine. However, if it plays out right, and if Kyiv receives continued support from the West, the stage could—not would, but could—be set for an important change in 2020”.

"Is Ukraine a typical European country?"

Probably, the quintessence of all the doubts and hopes that Ukrainian elections have grown in the West is a replica of the famous Bloomberg agency observer Leonid Bershidsky.

"The campaign for Ukraine’s March 31 presidential election is shaping up to be a big spectacle if nothing else. But the underlying question is serious: Is Ukraine a typical modern European country with the requisite political diversity and balance of power, or is it still a post-Soviet hybrid regime in which incumbency means much more than simply being familiar to voters?"

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"Ukrainian politics are noisy, colorful and performative. The current set of candidates is modern European politics incarnate: Traditional left-right divisions are hard to trace; all the candidates use populist tricks and emotions, rousing nationalist and anti-elite rhetoric.

The race promises to be livelier than anything Russia has seen since the 1990s and at least as much fun as the most dynamic Ukrainian elections," writes Bershidsky.

But is this a real fight, or can Poroshenko use the power of his office to help him seal a victory even though he failed to fulfill the reformist, anti-corruption promise of the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity”? Candidates such as Sadovyi and Hrytsenko appear to be resigned to that prospect and are focused on getting into parliament to limit Poroshenko’s power.

Related: Presidential election 2019: G7 warns Ukraine of possible extremist threats

European-style fractured politics work best in parliament-centric systems. Ukraine’s post-Soviet legacy includes a strong presidency that devalues the country’s powerful democratic impulses, ”the columnist said.

Bershidsky, as we see, is no less interested in parliamentary elections than in presidential elections. At this point, other experts agree with him - in particular, some of those cited above.

What system of power Ukraine will receive and where it will go we will finally judge only after October 2019.

Now we are approaching only the first, intermediate stage of the "reset" of Ukraine. Although it undoubtedly plays an enormous role in the fate of our state.

Related: Europe is a soft target. And it’s under attack

Related: EU jittery over Ukraine's presidential elections





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