Vladimir Zelensky has become the new president of Ukraine. He received 73.22% of votes, a record in Ukraine’s contemporary history. His opponent, Pyotr Poroshenko, got mere 24.45% in a profound defeat even leading experts had been unable to predict.
It is quite likely that the course of the election campaign and everything that preceded it demonstrated the true will of Ukrainian voters. Even if there was any “external influence,” its role in the outcome of the election was quite insignificant. “The result is quite logical,” says Vladimir Zharikhin, deputy director of the Institute of CIS Studies. “It shows two things. First, Zelensky was a candidate of protest, i.e. this vote was not so much for him as against Poroshenko. Second, he became a candidate of hope, i.e. almost all voters rejected the old political elite and demanded new people.”
The map of the second round results surprised everyone, revealing a crushing defeat of Poroshenko, Euromaidan, the party of war and the five years of nationalist policies. Only the Lvov region, which has always been the stronghold of Ukrainian nationalism, remained loyal to Poroshenko’s politics. But even there the voting for him was not totally unanimous.
Ukrainians are tired of representatives of the political establishment and the corrupted oligarch system ruling in the country. They voted against Poroshenko’s dictatorship. People have had enough of the “national leader” with his “one nation, one language, one faith, one president” rhetoric.
Poroshenko’s expensive and mostly meaningless campaign was built around the already classical image of Russia as enemy. The team of the “confectionery tycoon” tried to persuade Ukrainians that “voting for Poroshenko they will vote for future as part of Europe.” But the anti-Russian hysteria does not seem effective anymore. Today, the defeated president’s team are trying to find consolation in the prospects of the parliamentary campaign. Yet they can hardly hope to win it.
In the five years of his presidency, Poroshenko came to believe in his chosenness and impunity, which to a large extent contributed to his failure. He persistently invited the “clown” to debates, not understanding that the charismatic opponent would get the upper hand even despite his lack of political experience. Zelensky seriously undermined Poroshenko’s image during the debates in the Olimpiisky stadium in Kiev, and, apparently, this became one of the reasons for such a crushing defeat. However, Poroshenko announced his intention to remain in politics despite the disastrous outcome, so the story is not over yet.
Ukrainians don’t yet know whether the new president will be able and willing to resolve the problems created by Poroshenko’s regime, but there is a timid hope. Zelensky’s plans are grand. He has announced that he intends to conduct profound reforms in almost all areas. However, if a head of state does not have a parliamentary majority and allies in the government, the Ukrainian Constitution doesn’t give him that much power. The current situation is even more difficult because Zelensky does not have his own faction in Verkhovna Rada, let alone a majority. But Ukrainians have a firm belief in their new president despite this.
Most people living below the poverty line still fail to understand why they need a visa-free regime with the European Union, if they don’t have enough money for a decent life. Many are sick and tired of having to travel abroad to earn money, not seeing their families for months in order to be able to provide for them. People no longer want to be afraid of law-enforcers supporting the dictatorship in the country and keeping the nation in fear. They are tired of nationalist marches, war and violence, of being unable to have their children taught in their native language and of a simple meeting with relatives from Russia turning into a huge problem.
It is difficult to say now which path Zelensky will choose. If the new president succeeds in improving relations with Russia, the country will have a chance of finding a balance between the East and West. This could bring salvation to the nation whose people have been torn between Russia and Europe for several decades already.