Country Risk

Ukraine’s presidential election very likely to see split vote leading to second round; conflicting policy announcements likely

21 March 2019

Presidential candidate and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko gestures as she speaks during her press conference in Kiev on 22 February 2019. Source: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images #1126736903

On 31 March 2019, Ukraine will hold the first round of its presidential election, with 39 candidates running for the top office.

  • With up to 15% of the 35.5 million voters effectively disenfranchised, the election is likely to favour candidates with strong nationalist platform and disadvantage candidates with pro-Russian political leaning s. Voters in Crimea, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, and in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions under control of the de-facto Russian protectorates of Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), can only vote if they pre-register for voting in government-controlled areas and physically travel to the voting station on the election day. Ukrainian citizens resident in Russia, estimated at up to 3 million, would not be able to vote at Ukrainian diplomatic missions in the country, as no polling stations were set up for security reasons. Those unwilling or unable to travel to Ukraine will effectively be excluded from voting.
  • As top candidates are polling significantly under 30%, a second round is almost certain, with three candidates best positioned to proceed to the second round on 21 April. Based on current polling, the following candidates hold highest chances to become one of the two candidates in the second round: comedian, TV personality and political newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskyi, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko (see chart). Such a configuration for the second round is in line with IHS Markit's 2018 forecast.
  • Both Zelenskyi and Tymoshenko are likely to benefit from protest voting against the current administration. However, Zelenskyi, a political newcomer, is likely to suffer on voting day from the vagueness of his political platform and because his support base is largely drawn from the younger and Russian-speaking demographics, which typically have a low turnout. Tymoshenko, a veteran of Ukrainian politics since the 1990s, ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2010 and 2014.

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