Presidential Election Faces Significant Challenges

BMI View: Ukraine's upcoming presidential election remains on track to be held on May 25, despite ongoing secessionist violence in south-eastern regions of the country.

Ukraine's presidential election remains on track to be held on May 25 2014, despite considerable concerns both domestically and externally over the ability of the interim government to successfully hold safe, free and fair elections. The challenges facing the country remain substantial, including a compressed election timeframe, an ongoing economic crisis, and ongoing secessionist violence in some regions of the country.

Security Issues Remain Problematic

Poroshenko Still Out In Front
Ukraine - Opinion Polling for the 2014 Presidential Election

BMI View: Ukraine's upcoming presidential election remains on track to be held on May 25, despite ongoing secessionist violence in south-eastern regions of the country.

Ukraine's presidential election remains on track to be held on May 25 2014, despite considerable concerns both domestically and externally over the ability of the interim government to successfully hold safe, free and fair elections. The challenges facing the country remain substantial, including a compressed election timeframe, an ongoing economic crisis, and ongoing secessionist violence in some regions of the country.

Security Issues Remain Problematic

While the north-western and central regions of Ukraine remain predominantly stable and under the control of Kiev, the ability of the central government to maintain control in south-eastern regions such as Donetsk and Luhansk remains in serious doubt. The allegiance of local police and security forces to the government within these regions is questionable, and low-level separatist violence remains problematic. Independent observers will be present, with the Central Election Commission of Ukraine registering 543 international official observers on 2 May 2014, including observers from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, the Ukrainian World Congress and the United States. However, the government's limited control over these regions is highly problematic for NGOs observing the election: if the government cannot guarantee their safety, NGOs may be unable to send in observers to these areas.

At present, no election preparations are taking place in Crimea, which remains under Russian control. In the eastern regions, election preparations have been substantially disrupted and remain at high risk of ongoing disturbance, which is likely to intensify in the run-up to the election. Meanwhile, the remaining Ukrainian territory, accounting for around 80% of registered voters, remains largely stable and under government control.

Poroshenko Still The Frontrunner

Opinion polling indicates that businessman Petro Poroshenko remains on track to win the presidential elections, with support among those intending to vote reaching 54% in some polls. The rapid rise in support for Poroshenko may be indicative of a growing preference for experienced candidates, and in particular those with economic expertise. He is also riding high on the support base of Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform leader Vitali Klitschko, who abandoned his presidential bid in favour of running for mayor of Kiev and pledged his support to Poroshenko. Poroshenko is regarded as a pragmatic character, although there is a considerable lack of clarity over his relationship with Russia. Ostensibly, Poroshenko is in favour of bringing Ukraine towards European standards of governance, which may be behind Moscow's attempts to apply pressure on Poroshenko through his business interests, placing a ban on importing Ukrainian confectionary in 2013.

Poroshenko Still Out In Front
Ukraine - Opinion Polling for the 2014 Presidential Election

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has reversed her decision not to run for president following her release from prison after the ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych in February. However, the electorate's reception to Tymoshenko has been lukewarm at best, and her campaign has lacked momentum from the start, most likely because she is too strongly associated with previous regimes and the 'old politics' of Ukraine. Recent polling indicates her popularity is somewhat weak, with surveys placing support for Tymoshenko between 5.9% and 17.9%. Notably, support for the former President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions' candidate Mikhail Dobkin is extremely low even within former strongholds in south-eastern Ukraine and currently standing at less than 5% nationally.

Main Implications

Ukraine's presidential election is likely to prove a turning point for better or worse, with the outcome likely dictating whether the country continues to descend into chaos or begins a gradual recovery over the coming quarters. A decisive election result in favour of Poroshenko in a first-round victory, potentially with Moscow's support, could remove much of the momentum behind separatist movements within the country. On the other hand, there are considerable risks that the election is marred by separatist violence, which would make it extremely difficult for the government in Kiev to claim the elections were legitimate. This could ultimately lead towards a worst-case scenario where a disputed election result leaves the government hamstrung at its most crucial juncture, pushing the country towards complete economic collapse.

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Sector: Country Risk
Geography: Ukraine
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