New leader expected to bring change to Ukraine

Tuesday, 2019-04-23 17:23:03
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Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine. (Reuters)
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NDO – Although the official results of the Ukrainian presidential election must wait ten more days to be announced, incumbent President Petro Poroshenko admitted defeat, while leading candidate comedian Volodymyr Zelensky received words of congratulations and affirmed that he would not “disappoint” those who have placed strong expectations in change for the country after many years of being engulfed in crisis.

Incumbent President Poroshenko admitted defeat and congratulated his opponent immediately after the first exit polls were published on April 21. Accordingly, comic actor Zelensky could possibly win more than 73% of the votes, leaving Poroshenko far behind who won an estimated 25%. Addressing a press conference on the same day, Poroshenko said he would leave office next month, but noted that he would not give up his political career and would support the new leader of the country. The official results of the second round of the Ukrainian presidential election will be announced no later than May 1, and the new president will take office as early as June 3.

The aforementioned results are still waiting to be confirmed, but many Ukrainian people expressed their joy and the international opinion congratulated candidate Zelensky. The Presidents of France and Poland, the UK Foreign Minister, the NATO Secretary-General, and the President of the European Council immediately conveyed their messages of congratulations and affirmed their support and cooperation with the new Ukrainian leader. US President Donald Trump made a phone call to congratulate President-elect Zelensky. Russia also welcomed the results of the presidential election in its neighbouring country, which, it said, reflects the Ukrainian people’s aspirations for change.

The landslide victory of a completely new face, a 41-year-old comedian, may be an unusual result in Ukrainian politics. However, it came as little surprise, because Zelensky had also scored an overwhelming victory in the first round of voting, even though he was not so outstanding in the initial stage of the election campaign. Regardless of his limited political experience, candidate Zelensky, with his fresh youthful style, attracted more voters day by day, who have become tired and even dissatisfied with the current staff of politicians as well as the inefficient policies which not only failed to bring Ukraine out of crisis and back to stability, but also caused social divisions.

Taking place five years after the outbreak of events at Maidan Square in Kiev, marking a major turning point and a strategic shift from East to West, the Ukrainian presidential election is seen as a “test” for the current policies of the Eastern Europe country. In fact, the “2014 Maidan Revolution” overthrowing the pro-Russia government to turn to the West, didn’t bring about the expected results. Ukraine was engulfed in economic crisis and armed conflict, corruption was rampant and the people’s standard of living declined. Despite the reform efforts of the Kiev administration in the direction of “austerity” to meet the extremely strict requirements of the European Union (EU), its “European dream” has gradually faded and the goal of standing under the “NATO security umbrella” remains distant. In addition, Ukraine is stuck in the “competition” between the West and Russia, with a prolonged sanction-retaliation war. The strained relations with neighbouring countries, especially in economic and energy issues, have put the Ukrainian people in increasing difficulties.

In the context of their discontent with the incumbent government’s development policies, Ukrainian voters have chosen to entrust their belief in a “new face”, who is expected to make significant transformations for the country. Candidate Zelensky himself has also made commitments considered suitable for the current context, which is to not give up the path of bringing Ukraine closer to the West, but not at all costs, and especially only to promote Kiev’s admission to NATO in the case of voters’ approval through a referendum. In particular, the top priority of the upcoming Ukrainian leader is to promote negotiations with Russia aiming to end fighting in eastern Ukraine, which erupted after the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula by Russia in 2014.

Numerous challenges are waiting for Ukraine ahead, from fighting in the east and social divisions to corruption and economic decline. But perhaps, the most difficult task for the new-tenure leader and government is to seek and maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy, towards escaping from the state of being stuck between confrontational interests.