Ukrainians elected a new president Sunday, and his first challenge will be to chart a path out of the months of unrest and tensions with neighboring Russia.
Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon, declared victory with about 56 percent of the vote, according to exit polls. The “Chocolate King,” as he’s known, finished well ahead of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former Ukrainian prime minister, who had about 13 percent.
Under Ukrainian law, presidential candidates who receive more than 50 percent of the vote avoid a runoff. Poroshenko’s election marks the first time in Ukraine’s more than 20-year democratic history that one candidate managed to win such broad support.
Iryna Fedets, a native Ukrainian who is currently at Heritage as an Atlas Corps Fellow and visiting senior policy analyst, called Poroshenko a compromise between “old but known” and “new but unknown.” Poroshenko has expressed pro-European views and joined the wave of Euromaidan demonstrations.
“Now his most important challenge will be to protect the nation’s sovereignty and confront separatism and terrorism carried out by Russia in Ukraine,” Fedets said.
Helle Dale, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation, called the election “a victory for the Ukrainian people” but said the newly elected president faces “massive challenges,” including economic reforms and maintaining independence from Russia.
Prior to his candidacy for president, Poroshenko served two rivals in Ukraine politics. He was foreign minister in the administration of Viktor Yushchenko, then went onto become minister of economic development and trade in Viktor Yanukovych’s cabinet.
After months of protests, people turned out in force to vote in most of Ukraine. But those living in Crimea, which is occupied by Russia, and others in eastern regions of the country, were deprived of their right to vote, according to CNN.
Still, Heritage’s Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, praised the Ukrainian people for taking part in a democratic election.
“The Ukrainian election has been a slap in the face for Vladimir Putin and Moscow’s imperial ambitions,” Gardiner said. “The people of Ukraine have stood up to Russian aggression and intimidation and have sent a clear message that national sovereignty and self-determination are sacrosanct.”