Ukraine’s presidential vote: a step out of crisis


MOSCOW (AP) — Ukrainians vote Sunday in an early
presidential election that could be a crucial step toward resolving the
country’s crisis, but separatists in the east are threatening to block
the vote. The election — which comes six months after the outbreak of
protests that led to the president’s ouster and a deepening chasm
between pro-Europe and pro-Russia Ukrainians — aims to unify the
fiercely divided country or at least discourage further polarization.
A look at the vote:
months of protests against his rule and scores of protesters killed by
snipers, President Viktor Yanukovych signed an agreement with opposition
leaders on Feb. 21 calling for early presidential elections by
December. But he fled later in the day, eventually resurfacing in
Russia, and parliament decided to hold the presidential election May 25.
Yanukovych’s ouster, Russia has portrayed the interim government,
including acting President Oleksandr Turchynov, as a junta, and annexed
Crimea in March.
Moscow’s animosity toward the authorities in Kiev
has fed the tensions in eastern Ukraine, where two regions have
recently declared independence. If Ukraine is able to elect a president
in a democratic and transparent process, that will counter Russia’s
argument that the government is illegitimate.
candidates are running and about 35 million people are eligible to
vote. Polls show billionaire candy-maker Petro Poroshenko with a
commanding lead but falling short of the absolute majority needed to win
in the first round. His nearest challenger is Yulia Tymoshenko, the
divisive former prime minister, but her support is only 6 percent. If no
one wins in the first round, a runoff will be held June 15 — polls
indicate Poroshenko would win that contest.
Poroshenko is getting
support for his pragmatism and an apparent willingness to compromise —
unusual qualities in a political landscape dominated by vehemently
inflexible figures. He supports Ukraine developing closer ties with the
28-nation European Union but also says he recognizes the importance of
pursuing good relations with Russia.
of eastern Ukraine is gripped by unrest. Pro-Russia insurgents are
clashing with Ukrainian forces there and have declared independence for
the Donetsk and Luhansk regions — an area that encompasses 6.6 million
people. Rebel leaders say they will do all they can to prevent the vote
from taking place.
Government officials admit that voting won’t be
possible in some eastern areas; even if polling stations are
functioning, residents intimidated by threats and gunmen may not risk
The validity of an election that is nominally national but
can’t be conducted in some parts of the country is a delicate issue.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is sending a
large observer mission and its report should have significant influence,
but the mission does not make outright assessments of an election’s
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that Russia
would recognize the results of the vote and work with Ukraine’s new
leader, but voiced hope that a government offensive against separatists
in the east would end.
Whoever wins
faces daunting challenges, from resolving Ukraine’s dire financial
straits to unifying its divided electorate and pushing new laws through a
fractious parliament.
Six months of heated crisis have galvanized
extremist sentiments in both camps — those who regard Russia as their
protector and the nationalists who despise Russia’s influence. Deadly
attacks and ambushes this week against Ukrainian soldiers have shown
that the eastern separatists are prepared for significant violence.
Pro-Europe protesters, meanwhile, are still camped out in Kiev’s main
square and the nationalist Svoboda party has a substantial presence in
The president will also have to struggle with
Ukraine’s economy, hobbled by widespread corruption and a $3.5 billion
debt to Russia for natural gas imports. Yanukovych’s regime is widely
believed to have siphoned off billions more for officials’ personal
gain. The country got a temporary boost from a $17 loan package this
year from the International Monetary Fund, but it will need to make
painful economic reforms.
Russia and the insurgents have also
demanded more power for Ukraine’s regions. The parliament recently
passed a vague memorandum on the topic, but the new president faces the
challenge of trying to put those proposals into action.

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