26 October 2014
My impression from the exit polls now being announced all over Ukrainian media is a mixture of shock and relief. It is still too early to know how matters will pan out, as the majoritarian vote result is still unknown and may result in substantial changes. But as things stand, I find it strange that the electoral bloc of the president received about 2% more than the party of the prime minister, the Popular Front.
Since before the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych in February, it has been evident that Washington entertained a preference for Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who then was only another opposition party leader in parliament. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was recorded by Russian intelligence confiding on the phone to the US ambassador to Ukraine that “Yats” seemed the best choice to lead economic reform, etc. Yet Mr. Poroshenko since his election in May has been by far the most visible and (by most accounts) “popular” figure in the current leadership. People in any country tend to have a liking for wealthy and successful businessmen, and in countries such as Chile, billionaires have won convincingly. Mr. Yatsenyuk has been very straight-faced and solemn about the need to press ahead with reforms to bring Ukraine closer to the European Union, but this sort of talk is alien to much of the electorate. Still, Yatsenyuk has to be acknowledged as someone who has run a very visible campaign and has not wavered from his “bitter pill” economic line. He has been the grim face at a desk in the Cabinet of Ministers building, while Mr. Poroshenko has traveled around meeting the troops and speaking to Western parliaments, etc.
The other shock is the performance of the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko, widely predicted to take second place and as much as 13% of the vote. In the run-up to the election, media outlets owned by Ihor Kolomoysky, Ukraine’s second richest man (after Rinat Akhmetov) and the current governor of the eastern district of Dnipropetrovsk, ran exposes of Lyashko, ridiculing him and raising suspicion that he was a fifth columnist. If the exit poll data coincides with the actual vote, Lyashko will have received about half of what was expected.