Despite Limited Voting in East, Election Boosts Poroshenko

Despite the insurrection in the east, most Ukrainians back parties that favor closer relations with the West.

The Ukrainian flag flying in Kiev, December 28, 2007
The Ukrainian flag flying in Kiev, December 28, 2007 (Andriy Baranskyy)

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko was likely to win a strong mandate for his pro-European policy in a parliamentary election on Sunday but voting could not take place in parts of the east where rebels sympathetic to Russia have declared breakaways republics.

Nationwide opinion polls showed Poroshenko’s and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk’s pro-European parties ahead. While they might not win a majority between them, they should be able to form a coalition with other parties that support a united Ukraine and the reforms sought by the country’s European Union partners.

In the east, the outcome was less certain. “The Party of Regions, once the chief political vehicle of former president Viktor Yanukovich” — who was forced to resign in February after Ukrainians took to the streets to protest his decision to pull out of European trade talks — “used to be the local favorite in Kharkiv and elsewhere in the east,” according to EurasiaNet. “But the party quickly crumbled after Yanukovich fled the country.”

Voting took place in just over half the districts in the Donbas where separatists are determined to hold their own elections next month. Voting could not take place at all in the Crimean Peninsula which Russia annexed from Ukraine in March.

The Washington Post reported that the elections could bring a “cadre of new faces to power, further upending Ukraine’s chaotic political system with soldiers, activists and others who have no experience as elected politicians.”

While support for Poroshenko’s Western-oriented policy is widespread, “he may feel pressure to show a harder line against Russia and the rebels,” according to the American newspaper, “since anti-Russian voices will gain in number and former Yanukovich allies, who were friendlier to Russia, will fade.”

Russia’s aggression in the east has turned even Russophone Ukrainians who were previously skeptical of a pro-Western policy decidedly in favor of deepening ties with the rest of Europe at the expense of the country’s historical and commercial relations with Russia. Russia’s popularity has plummeted since it took the Crimea and began supporting the separatist uprising in the Donbas.

The elections were called in August when Ukraine’s army appeared to have the upper hand against the rebels. Renewed Russian support for the insurrection, including the arrival of tanks and troops, turned the situation into a stalemate. Violations of a ceasefire agreed to last month occur almost daily. This week, Ukraine deployed border guards along a new internal frontier.

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