Ukraine’s presidential election begins

Sergiy Gerasimchuk, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism"

Subscribe for Newsletter

Download PDF

A new political season has started in Ukraine after the New Year and Christmas lull. The question of power will dominate this season as the official presidential election campaign kicks off in UkraineA new political season has started in Ukraine after the New Year and Christmas lull. The question of power will dominate this season as the official presidential election campaign kicks off in Ukraine. It is fair to assume that domestic policy, economic issues, and even international relations will be subordinate to the logic of the electoral competition.

Domestic policy

The rise of religion and the start of the presidential race

Undoubtedly, the presentation of the Tomos of autocephaly signed by the Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Patriarch Bartholomew to Metropolitan Epiphanius of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Constantinople (Istanbul) was the main event of January. The OCU thus finally gained independence. Among others, the US noted the fact as Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced that his country views the tomos of autocephaly for Ukraine as a “historic achievement as Ukraine seeks to chart its own future”.

Following on this issue, the Parliament passed a law on the reassignment of religious communities on January 17. The law is intended to normalize the procedure of switching from one Church to another for religious communities. According to the current legislation, the Ministry of Culture has published a list of churches subordinate to Russia that have to be renamed from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to Russian Orthodox Church within the next three months.   

Politicians are likely to exploit the theme of Ukraine gaining independence for its Church in the upcoming election campaign, since political developments have been competing with religious matters. In January, a number of political parties nominated their leaders to run for presidency. According to the Central Election Commission, 26 candidates were registered as of January 31.  This is not a final number, but already a record number of presidential candidates in Ukraine’s history.

The promises of the candidates are not too original and are mostly populist:  some pledge to halve the cost of gas for households, while others go further into promising a fourfold cut of gas prices. A standard element of the candidates’ campaign is the promise to bring peace and prosperity to Ukraine, eliminate oligarchs and lower utility tariffs.


Pressing questions

The economic situation in Ukraine still depends on Kyiv’s cooperation with international financial institutions. In its statement following the meeting of Managing Director Christine Lagarde and President Petro Poroshenko, the International Monetary Fund said that it will continue further cooperation with Ukraine and support reforms in the country. At the same time, the IMF insists that the economic reforms should be accelerated.

The coalition of civil society organizations in Ukraine, too, demands a focus on reforms, including the land reform. Together with a group of MPs, they have called on President Poroshenko to veto the moratorium on land privatization. On January 17, Verkhovna Rada MPs failed to adopt a bill to repeal the extension of the ban on the sale of agricultural land for another year. But the President did not use the veto and signed the bill on the extension of the moratorium till 2020. This might put cooperation with international financial institutions at risk.  

Land privatization is an extremely sensitive issue in the context of the election campaign. Yulia Tymoshenko, the main competitor to the current president, claims that the moratorium protects Ukraine’s national interests. A hypothetical veto of the moratorium extension law from Poroshenko could add another argument to Tymoshenko’s election campaign.

Another problematic aspect is privatization in Ukraine. The Government said that the plan of revenues from the privatization of state property in 2018 failed. 2019 is unlikely to deliver any major breakthroughs. According to Maksym Nefiodov, First Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade, investors show limited interest in what Ukraine has to offer for privatization.

These economic issues should be resolved soon. Otherwise, a new president will have to take care of them.

Foreign policy

Ukraine’s captured sailors on international agenda

Ukraine remains in the center of attention on the international arena and keeps getting support from partner states and organizations. On January 10, the EU demanded that Russia should release Ukrainian sailors captured in November 2018 and political prisoners, as announced by Maya Kocijancic, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian MPs, PACE adopted a resolution on the situation in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait titled “The escalation of tensions around the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait and threats to European security”. While the term “prisoners of war” was not used in the document to refer to the captured Ukrainian sailors, PACE members adopted a compromise option requiring that the sailors fall under the jurisdiction of the international humanitarian law, including the Geneva conventions.

In addition, a group of US Congress members submitted a resolution to the Senate calling on President Donald Trump to take measures to deter Russian aggression in the Black Sea, as well as to stop the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Around 40 Senators supported a draft resolution.