The Messages of May 25
Ukraine's presidential election has been hailed as the end of the beginning of Ukraine’s political transition, while the European Parliament election has been lamented as the beginning of the end of European integration. While both Ukraine and the EU face serious threats, only one of the electorates is acting accordingly.
KYIV – Europe recently experienced two watershed elections, with very different outcomes. Whereas Ukraine’s presidential election has been widely hailed as the end of the beginning of Ukraine’s political transition, the European Parliament election has been lamented as the beginning of the end of the idea of an ever-closer union. The polls, both held on May 25, not only provide insight into the mindset of the respective electorates; the behavior of each electorate also offers important lessons for the other.
Ukraine’s election was shaped by an acute awareness of the risks facing the country. Following the “Euromaidan” revolution – which brought about the demise of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government – and a four-month interim administration, this election centered on change. Yet Ukrainians’ chosen president, Petro Poroshenko, is the very embodiment of the establishment, having served as Economics Minister under Yanukovych and Foreign Minister under his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, not to mention his position within the country's traditional economic elite.
This is not as surprising as it might seem. Ukrainians were making a sober decision, voting with their heads, not their hearts. Indeed, polls indicate that Poroshenko’s appeal lay largely in his focus on immediate internal challenges. By contrast, his rivals, most notably Yulia Tymoshenko, emphasized a rapid shift toward NATO and the European Union.