Opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych has clearly won, by a 3.48 percentage margin, Ukraine’s presidential election held recently. In keeping with the growing fashion, his antagonist, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has indicated that she will mount a court challenge to the outcome. International observers have testified that the election was transparent and unbiased, and was an “impressive display” of democracy. The European Union and the United States have endorsed the outcome. This contest has been a far cry from 2004, when electoral fraud and the annulment of Mr. Yanukovych’s ‘victory’ ushered in what came to be known as the ‘Orange Revolution’. Mr. Yanukovych has called on Ms Tymoshenko to resign her job as Prime Minister but if she proves defiant, he will have to decide between going for fresh parliamentary elections and doing business with Ms Tymoshenko for a while.
But what explains this political reversal in this strategically located east European nation? Virtually everyone concedes that the architects of the ‘Orange Revolution’ cynically betrayed the grand promises they made during that heady process. Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko and the Prime Minister have been feuding incessantly. The economy has been thoroughly mismanaged. The russophobic and pro-NATO policies and postures of Mr. Yushchenko have been ill received by the people, 33 per cent of whom have Russian as their mother tongue. A Pravda commentary captures the essence of what happened: “The Ukrainians did not want to join NATO, the Ukrainians did not want to be colonised by the European Union. They want jobs, they want schools, they want hospitals, they want to eat.” Domestically, the influence of oligarchs is a threat to democracy and Ms Tymoshenko herself is alleged to have amassed enormous wealth in the energy sector in the 1990s. Internationally, Kiev’s relations with Moscow have been recklessly mishandled. The President-elect, who has a strong support base in the largely ethnic-Russian East and South, says he will improve Ukrainian-Russian relations and lift restrictions on the use of Russian in schools and the media. Ukraine will not join NATO, and Russia’s Black Sea fleet will continue to be based at the Crimean port of Sevastopol. If Mr. Yanukovych pays attention to the basic problems of the people, works for clean governance, and establishes a new equilibrium in external relations, he can expect to lead his nation to a period of political stability and prosperity.