Ukraine

Last update: 2 years ago

On 21 April 2019 the presidential runoff was won by comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky. He defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with a landslide, gaining 73 percent of the votes. Poroshenko got 25 percent of the votes. The turnout was just over 62 percent. Zelensky’s role in the popular television series “Servant of the People” has become reality, as he plays a teacher-turned-president that goes on to wipe out corruption and fight against oligarchs. For a majority of the people, this refers to the political establishment personified in this election by Poroshenko, and the government’s failure to end corruption over the years.

Zelenskiy succeeds President Petro Poroshenko, who had been elected to office following the so-called EuroMaidan revolution of 2013/14. Although Poroshenko managed to modernise the military and achieved a separation of the Ukrainian church from the Russian Orthodox church, he is accused by his critics of coming up short on many of the promises he made regarding systemic changes. Zelenskiy, a newcomer with no prior experience in politics, will now have the daunting task of implementing major reforms expected by his voters.

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Map of Ukraine

Short facts

Population:
45,198,200 million (World Bank 2015 est.)
Governmental Type:
Republic
Ruling Coalition:
Five-party including the Petro Poroshenko bloc, the Popular Front, Samopomich (Self-Rule), the Radical Party, and the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland)
Last Elections:
15 November 2015 (local elections)
Next Elections:
Spring 2019 (presidential elections)
Sister Parties:
Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (SDPU)

Volodymyr Zelensky

President

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Image of Volodymyr Groysman

Volodymyr Groysman

Prime Minister

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Political Situation

Political system
Ukraine has a parliamentary presidential system, which means that the country elects on national level a head of state, the president, and a legislature. The president is elected for a five-year term directly by the people. The president needs a majority of the votes in the first round to be elected. Otherwise a second round is held, in which only the two candidates with the highest amount of votes (in the first round) can compete.

The parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has 450 members, elected for a four-year term. Until 2005, half of the members were elected by proportional representation and the other half by single-mandate constituencies. Starting with the 2006 parliamentary election, all 450 members were elected by proportional representation, but after a change in 2011 under Yanukovich’s presidency the parallel system of proportional representation and single-member constituencies was restored. From that moment on, candidates can be elected through party lists or self-nomination.

The constitution prescribes that the governmental parties must have a majority in parliament. Thus, minority coalitions are formally no option for government coalitions. Representative bodies and heads of local government throughout Ukraine are elected simultaneously with the Verkhovna Rada.

Latest political issues
On 21 November 2013, a small protest broke out after President Yanukovych abandoned a trade agreement with the European Union, favouring closer ties with Russia. After the protesters were beaten at night by police, the videos of the incident put online sparked a much larger outrage throughout the country, with hundreds of thousands of people on the streets within days, dubbed as the Maidan protest. The Maidan protests resulted in pro-EU protesters occupying the Maidan square and taking control of government buildings for months. Eventually, clashes between pro-EU protesters and the police resulted in an apogee on 18 February 2014, when over 70 protesters were killed. In the political turmoil that followed, President Yanukovich fled the country to Russia. An interim government was appointed with Olexander Turchynov as interim president. In the weeks that followed, pro-Russian protests broke out in eastern Ukraine and the southern province of Crimea. Pro-Russian and Russian forces took control of government buildings and strategic military complexes in the Crimea on 27 February, increasing tensions between Ukraine and Russia. On 16 March 2014, the Crimea joined Russia trough a referendum in which an overwhelmingly majority voted in favour of Russia. The West claims this to be a violation of territorial integrity and a violation of international law, whereas Russia says it had to protect its Russian citizens in Crimea.

In the months following the annexation of the Crimea by Russia, the conflict reached a climax. Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 was shot down above eastern Ukrainian territory, killing all 298 passengers on board. The event sparked international outrage and triggered the close involvement of the international community. The European Union, the United States and other countries intensified sanctions on pro-Russian separatists and Russia. Meanwhile, the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk declared themselves independent from Ukraine on 11 September 2014. On 6 September 2014, both parties agreed to a ceasefire in the capital of Belarus, Minsk.  

This so-called Minsk I ceasefire was violated continuesly, and got out of control in January 2015. In February, Ukraine, Lugansk, Donetsk and Russia agreed to the Minsk II accords, and a new ceasefire was born. However, this ceasefire was violated intensively in the first week when pro-Russian separatists opened an offensive on the strategic city of Debaltseve, which eventually led to their victory when the Ukrainian army retreated from the area. After this offensive, both parties seem to abide by the Minsk II accords, although fighting remains an every-day activity. 

Sanctions on eastern Ukraine and Russia remain.

Elections

Parliamentary elections

After winning the presidential elections of 25 May 2014, President Poroshenko announced that he intended to hold early parliamentary elections as soon as the political chaos in the East had been resolved. On 25 August Poroshenko dissolved the parliament and announced that early elections would be held on 26 October 2014. In late July Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk already announced that he wanted to resign, after two parties left the coalition government. However, parliament voted against this, forcing him to remain Prime Minister until the early elections. These elections on 26 October were won, by an overwhelming majority, by pro-Western parties. Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front ended as the single largest party. Preliminary single-mandate districts results showed, however, that Poroshenko’s Bloc will likely have the most MPs overall. 

Campaign
Despite all the changes in the country, “attempts to bribe voters in this election were probably as common as under President Viktor Yanukovych”, said a local observer from the Ukrainian OPORA election watchdog. The police had opened several criminal cases regarding voter bribing. In their preliminary findings and conclusions on the parliamentary elections, the OSCE stated that “there were a number of credible allegations of vote buying, many of which are being investigated by the authorities”. But in general, candidates were free to campaign, and the election campaign was competitive and visible. Misuse of administrative resources was not named as an issue of major concern, unlike in previous elections. Overall, the OSCE’s preliminary findings showed that democratic principles were generally respected.

Election results 2014
With all votes counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC) showed six parties passing the 5 percent electoral threshold and thus entering Ukrainian Parliament. Far right-wing party Svoboda seems not to have made it into parliament, with 4.71 percent of the votes.

Party Seats party lists* Seats constituencies** Total %
People's Front  64   18   82   22,14 %
Petro Poroshenko Bloc  63   69   132   21, 82 %
Self Reliance Party  32   1   33   10,97 %
Opposition Bloc  27  2   29   9,43 %
Radical Party of Oley Lyashko  22  0   22   7,44 % 
Batkivishina  17   2   19   5,68 % 
All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda"  -  6  6  4,71 %
Strong Ukraine  -   1   1  3,10 %
Zastup  -   1  1  2,65 %
Right Sector  -  1  1  1,81 %
Volia  -  1  1  -
Independent single constituencies  -  -  -  -

* Proportional lists
** Single-mandate constituencies

Voter turnout was 52.4 percent. Remarkable is that 64 MPs were re-elected to parliament who had voted for the highly controversial laws of 16 January, which then President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions pushed through parliament amid the Maidan movement, severely limiting certain rights, including the freedom to association.

Aftermath - Opposition reaction
Three days after the elections, the far-right wing party Svoboda released a statement claiming ‘mass falsifications’ based on the difference between the exit polls (which gave Svoboda 6.3 percent of the votes) and the actual results. The party believes that it had in fact passed the 5 percent threshold, and that the alleged falsifications are the result of efforts by Russian President Putin and his ‘agents’’ in Ukraine. CEC Chair Mikhail Ohendovski promised the party to check the ballot protocols of the districts where Svoboda believes falsifications took place.

'Elections' in Donetsk and Luhansk
In the East, polling stations did not open in the areas controlled by separatists, designated as the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics”. These two breakaway regions held their own elections on 2 November 2014. They insisted they will never again be part of Ukraine. During the regular parliamentary elections on 26 October only 42 percent of the people in the Donetsk region and 26 percent in Luhansk were able to vote. As a result, 27 out of 450 parliamentary seats (also including the seats representing the annexed Crimea region) will be left vacant.

The EU has not recognized the elections of 2 November in the Donbas and stated that they were illegal. Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament said that: “The EU will not recognize these illegitimate elections, held contrary to Ukrainian legislation. In addition, such elections contradict the Minsk Protocol and are aimed at breaking the peace process in the Donbas region.” EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini called the vote an "obstacle to peace". Also the OSCE said it would have nothing to do with the elections and the organisation did not send any international observers.

President Poroshenko called on Russia to denounce the vote. He described the elections as a "farce, [conducted] under the barrels of tanks and machine guns". The Russian Foreign Ministry, while not recognising the election, said it “respects the will of the people of Southeast Ukraine".

OSCE report
As mentioned above the OSCE preliminary report was quite positive. The report mentioned that “there were many positive points to the process, such as an impartial and efficient Central Election Commission, an amply contested election that offered voters real choice, and a general respect for fundamental freedoms”. However, the OSCE also stated that “there were a number of credible allegations of vote buying, many of which are being investigated by the authorities”. But in general candidates were free to campaign, and the election campaign was competitive and visible.


Presidential elections

On 21 April the presidential runoff was won by comedian and frontrunner Volodymyr Zelensky. He defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with 73 percent of the votes. Poroshenko got 25 percent of the votes. The turnout of the votes was just over 62 percent. On 31 March 2019 the first round of presidential elections was held in Ukraine. Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky then already enjoyed the majority, namely 30.23 percent, of the votes. Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was second with 15.95 percent, followed by Bativshchyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko with 13.38 percent. 

Frontrunner Zelensky, 41 years old, is best known for his role in the political comedy series Servant of the People where he plays a teachers that becomes president of Ukraine through some extraordinary circumstances, and proceeds to fight corruption and shake up the political system. During his anti-establishment campaign he mocked his political rivals with jokes, sketches and other performances. Zelensky promised that, if elected, he will fight against corruption and for reforms. Moreover, he promised to address and implement peace talks for eastern Ukraine. He also wanted to implement a new law on ‘People’s Rule’ in order to establish referendums where Ukrainians could express their expectations for the authorities. More than 35 million people were eligible to vote in the first round. 

Election results

Candidate

Party

First round

Second round

Votes

%

Votes

%

 

Volodymyr Zelensky

Servant of the People

5,714,034

30.24

13,541,528

73.22

 

Petro Poroshenko

Independent

3,014,609

15.95

4,522,320

24.45

 

Yulia Tymoshenko

Fatherland

2,532,452

13.40

 

 

Yuriy Boyko

Independent

2,206,216

11.67

 

Anatoliy Hrytsenko

Civil Position

1,306,450

6.91

 

Ihor Smeshko

Independent

1,141,332

6.04

 

Oleh Lyashko

Radical Party

1,036,003

5.48

 

Oleksandr Vilkul

Opposition Bloc

784,274

4.15

 

Ruslan Koshulynskyi

Svoboda

307,244

1.62

 

Yuri Tymoshenko

Independent

117,693

0.62

Political parties

Social Democratic Parties

Logo of Socialist Party of Ukraine

Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU)

Party Leader: Oleksandr Moroz

http://www.spu.in.ua/

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Other Parties

Logo of Servant of the People (Source: https://sluganarodu.ua/)

Servant of the People

Party Leader: Volodymyr Zelenskiy

https://sluganarodu.ua/

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Logo of European Solidarity (Source: https://eurosolidarity.org/)

European Solidarity

Party Leader: Petro Poroshenko

Number of seats: 143

https://eurosolidarity.org/

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Opposition Bloc

Party Leader: Yuriy Boyko

Number of seats: 29

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Logo of Batkyvschina (All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" (incl. United Opposition)

Batkyvschina (All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" (incl. United Opposition)

Party Leader: Yulia Tymoshenko

Number of seats: 19

http://www.tymoshenko.com.ua

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Logo of Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform

Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR )

Party Leader: Vitali Klitschko

http://klichko.org/home/

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Logo of All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda"

All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda"

Party Leader: Oleh Tyahnybok

Number of seats: 6

http://svoboda.org.ua/

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Our Ukraine - People's Self Defense Bloc

Party Leader: Viktor Yushchenko

http://www.razom.org.ua/

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Logo of Communist Party of Ukraine

Communist Party of Ukraine

Party Leader: Petro M. Symonenko

http://kpu.ua/uk

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Biographies

Volodymyr Zelensky

President

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Image of Petro Poroshenko

Petro Poroshenko

President

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Image of Volodymyr Groysman

Volodymyr Groysman

Prime Minister

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Image of Yulia Tymoshenko

Yulia Tymoshenko

Leader of Batkyvschina (All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland" (incl. United Opposition)

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Image of Vitaly Klitschko

Vitaly Klitschko

Mayor of Kiev

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Image of Oleh Tyahnybok

Oleh Tyahnybok

Leader of The All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda”

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Sources

  • BBC
  • Central Election Commission
  • Central Europe Review
  • Chernobyl.info
  • Committee to protect Journalists
  • Economist
  • Election World.org
  • EU External Relations
  • EU Institute for Security Studies
  • Freedom House – Nations in Transit 2005
  • Glavred info
  • Government Portal
  • Guardian
  • International Herald Tribune
  • Liga
  • Kmu
  • Korrespondent
  • Kyiv Post
  • Mirror Weekly
  • NATO – Ukraine
  • OSCE/ ODIHR Election Reports
  • Rada portal
  • Reuters
  • RFE/RL
  • Rian
  • The Guardian
  • The Telegraph
  • Transitions Online
  • Ukrainian Government Portal
  • UA Monitor
  • Ukraine info
  • Ukrainian Monitor
  • Ukrainian Weekly
  • Ukrayinska Pravda
  • Unian News from Ukraine
  • US Department of State

Special thanks to Oleh Kyriyenko (International Secretary of the SPU, Vitaly Shybko)