The Euromaidan protesters in Kiev who ousted former president Viktor Yanukovich sought an end to the corruption, selective justice and crony capitalism that had plagued the country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
How ironic, then, that the man who will likely be elected president of Ukraine this Sunday is a leading representative of this old way of doing things. Petro Poroshenko is an oligarch who has shifted political allegiances—even serving in the Yanukovich government—and exploited political ties for commercial gain.
But whereas most of Ukraine’s oligarchs preferred to stay out of the political crisis as long as possible, at least publicly, Poroshenko clearly threw his weight behind the Euromaidan movement. The fact that Russia has banned the products of his Roshen candy company—which gives him his nickname, “The Chocolate King”—and recently seized a Roshen factory in Lipetsk seemed to cement his credibility among voters.
If he wins, huge expectations will be vested in him: hopes that he can solve the crisis in eastern breakaway regions, set up a working relationship with both Russia and the West, and implement reforms called for by the Euromaidan movement. But based on his background and his campaign, Poroshenko seems destined to disappoint. Memories spring to mind of former President Viktor Yuschenko, another pro-Western candidate who was also ushered into power by the Orange Revolution in 2005—only to be booted out in elections five years later, having received an abysmal 5.5 percent of the vote.
According to a poll conducted earlier this month by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, about 34 percent of Ukrainians are ready to vote for Poroshenko. More importantly, 54.7 percent of eligible voters who had already decided on a candidate said they would cast ballots for Poroshenko, putting him over the 50 percent threshold he needs to avoid a second-round runoff.
His nearest challenger, Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was released from prison in February after being jailed under Yanukovich, had the support of only 9.6 percent of decided voters. But her Batkivshchyna political party controls Parliament, and acting prime minister Arseniy Yatseniuk is a member and close ally of hers.
Banking tycoon Serhiy Tigipko, who is generally pro-Russian, had the backing of 6.7 percent of decided voters.
The fact that all three leading candidates are wealthy businesspeople—even long-time politician Tymoshenko was first known as the “Gas Princess” for her lucrative business in natural gas imports—lends credence to arguments that while the Euromaidan movement changed the regime in Kiev, it hasn’t posed a threat to the crony capitalism that flourished under Yanukovich and his predecessors. According to Volodymyr Ishchenko, director of the Center for Society Research in Kiev and an editor of the Ukrainian progressive publication Commons: Journal for Social Criticism, Tymoshenko’s support has likely been eroded by the widespread desire to avoid a runoff in three weeks’ time.
“Many people are starting to decide in favor of Poroshenko in order to allow him to win in the first round of elections. They see this mainly as preventing more deaths,” Ishchenko said. “They believe the elections will have some pacifying effect and Ukraine will have a new legitimate president. Even if they are skeptical of Poroshenko they will vote for him as the most probable winner.”