Analysis of the 17 January Ukrainian Presidential Elections

Ivan Lozowy,
The Ukraine Insider


Following the first round of Ukraine’s presidential elections the stage is set for a huge battle between the political front-man for the Donetsk “clan” Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The results included one surprise, a surge by Serhiy Tyhipko:

Yanukovych – 35.32%
Tymoshenko – 25.05%
Tyhipko – 13.06%
Yatseniuk – 6.96%
Yushchenko – 5.45%
Symonenko – 3.55%
Lytvyn – 2.35%

Former parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk posted a disappointing fourth place with close to 7 percent of the vote. Yatseniuk has tried putting a brave face on matters, but considering that he received massive media support from one of Ukraine’s richest oligarchs, Dmytro Firtash, his political career has been dealt a serious blow. According to government sources, Yatseniuk’s other backers included the oligarchs Viktor Pinchuk and Ihor Kolomoisky. As has happened before in other contexts, Russian experts hired to handle his campaign strategy failed miserably by trying to depict Yatseniuk, a bespectacled young man at times called “Kinder-surprise” (referring to a toy surprise in a chocolate egg treat) as a determined, tough leader and chose military as the overriding theme of his campaign. Shades of Dukakis riding a tank…

The current parliamentary speaker, Wolodymyr Lytvyn, was even more disappointed, his supporters now calling for a recount. Having bought up votes in order to squeeze into parliament with his eponymous block in 2007, Lytvyn is now left high and dry because he did not pass the crucial 3 percent mark, which is the threshold for making it into parliament.

As for Viktor Yushchenko, placing fifth and getting under five and a half percentage points surprised no one and serves as a fitting end to his detached, desultory and do-nothing presidency. True to form, however, Yushchenko personally seems blissfully unaware of the consequences of these elections much less the reasons for his stupefying downfall. He is off to create a new political force, mustering a dozen tiny political organizations from the national-democratic camp.

Tyhipko’s surprise showing in the first round was the result of an intense media campaign depicting him as a strong leader, a professional. He correspondingly benefited from the protest vote, though by less than expected, according to his own admission, and given the widespread dissatisfaction with the constantly-recurring same cast of characters in Ukraine’s political show.

Tyhipko is now cast as the “king-maker” and both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko are feverishly courting his support for the second round, due to be held February 7.

In his career Tyhipko has served many roles, starting out as Kolomoisky’s business partner, serving as Vice Prime Minister and Chairman of the National Bank under President Leonid Kuchma, flirting with the national-democratic camp and serving as Yanukovych’s presidential campaign chairman in 2004.

Tymoshenko’s campaign was fully aware of Tyhipko’s importance in chipping away at Yanukovych’s support in Ukraine eastern regions. She told her closest supporters a month before elections that Tyhipko would come in third place. But it is no secret that she sees Tyhipko as “too ambitious,” which was borne out by his refusal this week to agree to a prime-ministership under President Tymoshenko.


All the expected post-voting rhetoric aside, Yanukovych did worse than expected and, more importantly, worse than he had to in order to assure him a win in the second round. At first glance, a ten percent lead looks commanding, but the weaknesses are apparent on closer inspection.

Yanukovych’s problem is that the votes he received in the first round are close to the limit of the votes he can count on in a second round. His supporters are steadfast, but he has very little reach outside their circle. Many Ukrainians are appalled at the possibility of Yanukovych’s assuming the presidency, thereby elevating the
Donetsk “clan,” with its violent and bloody history, to the highest offices in the land. The Orange Revolution took place in 2004 largely as a result of the “fear factor” aroused by the specter of Yanukovych, who served two prison terms, coming to power in Ukraine (See The Ukraine Insider, Vol. 9, No. 4 from November 17, 2009). This factor will now mobilize votes against Yanukovych and, correspondingly, for Tymoshenko.

Yanukovych has traditionally relied on significant voting falsifications, as was revealed during elections in 2004 by the investigative journalist Wolodymyr Ariyev ( zona/teksti/service/vibori- perezavantazhennya/).

Most importantly, Tymoshenko has the “court” advantage, i.e. she controls the Supreme Court of Ukraine through its Chairman, Vasyl Onopenko. If it suits Tymoshenko, Onopenko will decide that white is black and vice-versa, akin to the habits of the infamous Kyvalov (Serhiy Kyvalov, Chairman of the Central Election Commission in 2004,
known as “Kydalov,” or “The Cheater”). The first court to review election complaints, the Higher Administrative Court, is engaged in a tug-of-war between two of its members for the seat of the court’s Chairman, which holds the key to control over this court. Thus Yanukovych has staked out tents in all the strategic locations around
Kyiv in preparation for popular demonstrations which will be needed to pressure the courts.

As for Tymoshenko, she may still stumble before February 7. Apparently at her instigation, President Mikhail Saakashvili responded to a call for support, which culminated in the bizarre picture of hundreds of “international observers” from Georgia pouring into Donetsk the day before voting.

Vol. 10, No. 1
January 22, 2010



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

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