Article by: Evgen Vorobiov
One year ago, Ukrainians went to polls to elect the country’s new, post-Maidan President. In breach of a long-standing political tradition in the country, Petro Poroshenko won in the first round with convincing 55% of the popular vote, with the runner-up, Yulia Tymoshenko, getting the modest 13% of the electoral pie. In another ground-breaking political change, Mr. Poroshenko gained the absolute or relative majority of the votes in all electoral precincts across the Ukraine-controlled territory of the country, except for the northern tip of Kharkiv region (which was loyal to a Party-of-Regions proxy). That resounding victory left Mr. Poroshenko with a strong mandate to lead the country in times of war and economic crisis, even though his constitutional functions were limited to foreign policy and defence.
Today, some media – UNIAN and 1+1 – made President a gift of sorts by unveiling the results of the poll carried out by TNS On-Line Track. According to the survey, 51% of Ukrainians are either fully or mostly “not satisfied with the President’s work”. It is important to note that those media are owned by the oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyiy, who has had a conflict with the presidential team over the ownership of oil assets recently and whole political allies are in “soft” opposition to the President. However, even if taken with a grain of salt, those polls are likely to reflect public sentiment to the President one year after he was elected.
The reasons for the loss of popular support can be attributed both to grave external circumstances and Poroshneko’s own faults, most notably his mistakes in making high-ranking appointments. Many military casualties incurred in Donbas in autumn 2014 and winter 2015 stemmed largely from Russia’s decision to step up its army presence. Yet resignation of Ministry of Defence officials and the inclusion of army volunteers into the Ministry may have signaled that Poroshenko was ready to assume some responsibility. That belated change of course after running out of options seems to have become a hallmark of his presidency so far.
Those episodes of military escalation were both followed by controversial Minsk agreements, for which President also caught flak domestically. Positioning himself as a diplomatic heavyweight came at a cost: many in Ukraine, especially on the right, thought that the deals he had negotiated with Russians and their proxies were not in the country’s interests. Last but not least, Poroshenko is deemed to have postponed the fight against corruption for too long. His first appointment for the Prosecutor General, Vitaliy Yarema, has been widely criticized for ignoring or even obstructing persecution of the most visible corruption cases. The replacement in that position, Viktor Shokin, has been more agile in announcing new high-profile suspects than in sealing criminal cases in Ukraine’s notoriously-corrupt courts.
That said, 17% of Ukrainian citizens are “satisfied” with his performance in the presidential seat, according to the TNS poll. Granted, that figure shows substantial decrease in comparison to the approval ratings that Poroshenko had received last year (see the graph above). But losing two-thirds of his voters a year ago is only half of the story. As presidental rankings of previous presidents (especially, Viktor Yushchenko) show, things could have been far worse. Despite the severe economic and security situation in the country, Poroshenko has retained a loyal electorate core accounting for about one-fifth of the population, which he will rely on in the next local (or if things go rough, even parliamentary) election.