Ukraine's Election and the Value of a Divided Electorate

Mitchell, Lincoln A.

The first round of the Ukrainian election, which was held on the 17th of January, was inconclusive making a runoff, scheduled for February 7th , necessary. At first glance, the contrast between the two candidates in the runoff, Prime Minister Yulia Timoschenko the heroine of the 2004 Orange Revolution, and Viktor Yanukovich, the man whose fraudulent attempt to claim victory led directly to the Orange Revolution, is stark. According to the most common narrative, Timoschenko is viewed as pro-west and likely to bring Ukraine closer into the European orbit while Yanukovich is closer to Russia and likely to strengthen ties with Russia while weakening relations with Europe and the U.S. The reality is that both candidates will have to continue the extremely difficult task of balancing a divided country between Russia and the west while trying to reenergize an economy which has been badly hurt by the global economic downturn. It is very likely that the winning candidate will not have a sufficient mandate, or enough votes in parliament, to quickly change the course of Ukraine. Moreover, the electorate is sufficiently polarized, hence the need for the runoff between these two candidates, that no president will be able to abandon the west in favor of Russia, or do the reverse. Additionally, in recent years, Timoschenko's western orientation has become more equivocal as she too has sought to improve Ukraine's relations with Russia.

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Harriman Institute
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October 13, 2011