Two of the chief combatants in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought to power a pro-Western government that has left the public increasingly disillusioned, battled in a presidential election on Sunday, but because neither received enough votes to win outright, they will face each other in a runoff.That runoff, scheduled for Feb. 7, is seen as a referendum on the Orange Revolution, which has mired Ukraine in political and economic upheaval for much of the past five years.The results of the voting on Sunday reflected the revived fortunes of the opposition leader, Viktor F. Yanukovich, who was the loser in the Orange Revolution but who has taken advantage of the public’s soured mood and the bickering among Orange officials.Once criticized as a tool of Moscow, Mr. Yanukovich has retained an America political consultant and softened his image. He is to face Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, one of the Orange heroes, in the runoff.The first official returns reported late Sunday, with a fraction of votes counted, showed Mr. Yanukovich with about 38 percent and Ms. Tymoshenko with about 25 percent. The other candidates were far behind.On Sunday night, both Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko reached out to losing candidates for endorsements. A looming question is whether those more ideologically aligned with Ms. Tymoshenko will support her.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Not in Ukraine! Victor Yanukovych took a plurality of votes in Sunday's presidential election after trying unsuccessfully (so close!) to steal the 2004 vote.
It's interesting to see the varied response across the media: the Guardian tells us that Yanukovych is "poised to take Ukraine presidency" while the Atlantic Council headlines that pro-West candidate Tymoschenko "has momentum."
(Let me go ahead and get this out of the way, since I know someone's going to bring it up in the comments: Yulia Tymoshenko used to be hot. Like, really hot -- at least for a head of government. Her looks have suffered a rather precipitous decline, much like those of her partner in the Orange Revolution Victor Yushchenko. He was poisoned, though, so he has an excuse.)
Ok, back to the serious stuff. I am not a Ukraine expert, and I don't want to suggest that I know a whole lot more about this than anyone else. I suppose I do qualify as the blog's resident eastern Europe guy, though, and I bore personal witness to a couple of elections in former communist countries. So let me just say that I think the Guardian's suggestion that this election belongs to Yanukovych is just damn stupid. Tymoshenko has made a lot of enemies in the five years since the Orange Revolution, and she's fallen out with the current president (who registered just over one out of every 20 votes this time around). Neither candidate makes a secret of the fact that they'll seek closer relations with Russia, something that seems almost unavoidable after several years of tense disagreements between Moscow and Kiev over energy prices. But Yanukovych seems certain to seek a strategic re-orientation towards the East, whatever noises he's making now about pursuing an independent course for his country. Tymoshenko claims that "to vote for Yanukovych is to go back to the Stone Age," and it's hard not to agree with her.
Part of the reason I'm reluctant to speculate on how this is going to shake out is that the political landscape in Ukraine has changed so much over the last five years. The 2004 election was much simpler: it was about West versus East, the European Union versus Russia, modernity versus a retrograde return to the too-tight embrace of the near neighbor. Yanukovych was all about the latter course, and Yushchenko represented a break from all that: a turn towards the light. That's why it was so easy for to unite pro-democracy, anti-government liberals behind a coalition of reform candidates.
But beyond strategic alignment, there was a huge ethno-linguistic element to that election: Yanukovych was wildly popular in the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine, while Yushchenko's support came from the Ukrainian-speaking, more independent western and central parts of the country. (I could bore you with a whole lot of history here, tell you about the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Polish history of Lviv/Lwow and Union of Brest and the the distinction between the Eastern Orthodox and Ukrainian Greek Catholic factions in the country, but I'll spare you. Instead I'll just remind you of Samuel Huntington's 1998 book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order -- the cover of new paperback editions shows the Stars and Stripes alongside Islam's crescent and star, in case you're dense -- and the prediction contained therein, that Ukraine's place astride the fault line between Occident and Orient would result in the eventual partition of that country.) Those demographic realities still obtain, but it's not clear that they're still dispositive.
All of which is a long and boring way of saying that I don't know what the hell is going to happen. Maybe this is my American optimism, but I'd expect the majority of the losing candidates to throw their support behind Tymoshenko and give the Orange Revolution one more chance.