On the presidential election
Every serious newspaper in the world announced something yesterday about the winner of Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential election, Petro Poroshenko.
Canadian journalist (and Liberal Party politician) Chrystia Freeland’s piece in the center-left Toronto Star encompassed more of the meaning of the election for Ukrainians than most other reports.
“For the first time since independence, Ukraine elected a president on the first ballot. It was a high hurdle: to win outright, a candidate needed to attract more than 50 per cent of the vote, a challenge in a field of 17 candidates.
“Petro Poroshenko achieved that overwhelming support not because he is a charismatic campaigner or a massively popular politician. He won because he supported the maidan from the start, he is competent and he was the front-runner. His campaign slogan was “to stop the war, let’s elect a president on the first ballot.” Ukrainians overwhelmingly accepted that argument — Poroshenko will be Ukraine’s first president elected with strong backing in all regions of the country.”
Putting the vote into broader context, Freeland continues:
“But there was one partisan aspect to the race that is worth noting, particularly outside the country. From the outset, the Kremlin caricatured the maidan as a far-right fascist movement. This propaganda was so effective that even foreign observers generally sympathetic to Kyiv took to lecturing Ukrainians not to give in to the dark, nationalistic impulses the maidan threatened to unleash.
“Ukrainians, whose revolution was launched with a Facebook post by a Muslim, Afghan refugee and who have just elected a president who didn’t learn Ukrainian until the late 1990s, who speaks Russian at home and who comes from the Russian-speaking south, understood this was never at issue.
“Sunday’s ballot should end this debate everywhere else, too — Vadim Rabinovich, an independent candidate who is chairman of the European Jewish Parliament, won 2 per cent of the vote. That isn’t much, but it is more than either of the two far-right candidates whom the Kremlin portrayed as on the verge of seizing power. They each polled barely 1 per cent. (Amusingly, one Russian television channel actually broadcast purported exit polls on Sunday night alleging that one of these two candidates was in the lead.)”
The latter is, incidentally, true: Russian-made alternative reality reared its head when state-run Russia-1 showed that Dmytro Yarosh was polling ahead of all the others, at 37% – not the 0.7% that was his actual result.
Slate’s Fred Kaplan summarizes the case for Poroshenko well in his Did Peace Just Break Out in Ukraine?
“Poroshenko seems to be the right man for the times: a billionaire chocolate manufacturer and media mogul who has aspirations of an alliance with the European Union but also huge commercial interests in Russia. He’s a dealer; he’s pragmatic. He recognizes that no Russian leader, least of all Vladimir Putin, will let Ukraine spin entirely out of the Kremlin’s orbit and that, therefore, a healthy Ukraine must pay obeisance to Moscow even while leaning westward.”