As predicted by pundits and journalists alike, the upcoming election has already broken a record: the Central Electoral Commission has registered a whopping 44 individuals. The next largest field was back in 2004, when 26 candidates were registered and 24 ended up on the ballots in the end. In the very first election for president, back in 1991, there were only seven running. What has caused this huge number of people to decide to participate in the race is hard to say. Moreover, 44 is only those whose applications passed muster. All told, 90 people applied. Maybe it’s time to raise the registration fee that applicants have to hand over to the budget, UAH 2.5 million or around US $90,000. The last time it was raised was nearly 10 years ago. Then it was equivalent to U $315,000, but the hryvnia has lost nearly 70% of its value since 2014. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine has recommended raising the fee to UAH 10mn.
Only the two individuals who emerge from the first round as winners will see their money again, and those who are likely to do so are not many. The latest opinion polls show that the frontrunners are currently neck and neck, making it hard to determine which two will make it into the second round. At the same time, the group of candidates who are likely to get at least 5% of the vote has also remained pretty stable: the six include the current president, Petro Poroshenko, former premier and gas princess Yulia Tymoshenko, producer and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, MP and former boss of Naftogaz Ukrainy Yuriy Boyko, former Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, and the chief “radical” in the Rada Oleh Liashko. All but Zelenskiy ran in the 2014 election. The Ukrainian Week has decided to compare the platforms of the leaders then and now.
Plenty of water
An election platform is not exactly a freely creative effort on the part of a presidential candidate. The law on the election of the head of state specifies that the documents submitted to the CEC need to be prepared in the state language and it is not to be longer than 12,000 printed characters. That’s somewhat less than the size of the text that the reader is now reading. In addition, the election platform can be one of the reasons for rejecting an application if it calls for the country to abandon its independence, for its constitutional order to be violently overthrown, for its sovereignty and territorial integrity to be violated and its security undermined, for an illegal overthrow of the government, if it propagates war, violence, stirs up interethnic, racial or religious conflict, or if it threatens the civil rights and freedoms or health of the general population.
Finding open and specific promises in platforms is actually not that easy. Although the Constitution says that the president is responsible primarily for foreign policy, and security and defense, none of the six leading candidates has ignored socio-economic issues. With some, these take up the majority of their platforms. Given this, Ukrainian Week tried to compare only those planks that are very specific: name a proposed bill, present percentage indicators or at least offer some clear proposals regarding a specific aspect of a broader problem or issue. Any indicator is measured in terms of “fairness,” “worthiness,” “honesty,” “acceptability,” or “reliability,” they were left outside this analysis. For instance, some candidates promised to ensure voters “accessible” loans. But what is “accessible” will be different for different people. Not that such vague planks are anything surprising or new. Unspecific promises offer candidates the broadest space within which to not fulfill them once they become president. Platforms based on mostly promises of this nature were the first common feature of all candidates in the 2014 election and this year’s is no different.
Five years ago, Poroshenko’s platform was headlined by the slogan, “Living in a new way.” This time, he proposes moving “on our own path to a grand goal.” His 2014 platform is the easiest to evaluate and all its promises can grouped as fulfilled, partly fulfilled or just words.
Those planks of Poroshenko’s platform that were completely fulfilled include signing the DCFTA Agreement with the European Union, instituting two-round mayoral elections, increasing defense spending and renewing the Armed Forces. Tax breaks for SMEs were preserved. Ukraine also managed to maintain its energy independence and to diversify natural gas suppliers, which included another obvious achievement: refusing to buy fuel from Russia and winning the Stockholm Arbitration against Gazprom. The final point was establishing Public Television.
Other promises were only partly fulfilled: Poroshenko promised and achieved a visa-free regime with the EU, which Ukrainians got, but he also promised to start negotiations about joining the EU during his first term, which has not happened. In his 2014 platform, Poroshenko promise to “preserve the current status quo on the language issue.” But there is still no new law on language: the Rada has passed first reading and the president has indicated he supports it. Other than that, he promised that the farm sector would become the "breakthrough sector" for the Ukrainian economy. In 2015, farm exports really did outdo metallurgical exports for the first time in independent Ukrainian history to become the leader. However, so far, there has been no “breakthrough” in Ukraine’s economy in the last five years.
The set of issues around justice are a separate topic. The president committed himself to reforming the law enforcement system. The soviet militsiawas formally replaced by the police, the prosecutorial system was reformed, new investigative bodies were established, and the National Anti-Corruption Agency was set up. The reform of judges continues to this day. However, it’s not easy to assess the real effect of these changes. According to public opinion polls trust in government institutions remains extremely low and the issue of corruption is one of the most burning. Scandals come up time and again over how difficult it is to bring to justice the guilty parties.
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Among the promises that were not fulfilled at all: approving a law on the opposition, setting a new and key role for the Anti-Monopoly Committee (AMC) in the government system, “closing all offshore hidey-holes,” and transferring executive power at the local level from governors to local councils. In the last case, decentralization reform has been launched, but the Constitution has not been amended to reflect it. Last but not least in the list of promises not carried out was the very unrealistic one to “avoid war and preserve peace, and find an acceptable way to cooperate with Russia, primarily economically.”
Five years later, unlike other candidates, Poroshenko is no longer promising peace. In his 2018 program, he talks about “continuing to work on restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” adding a little later “by political and diplomatic means.” The remainder of his unfulfilled promises are nowhere to be seen: nothing about the role of the AMC or a law on the opposition. Nor are there any specific initiatives regarding decentralization, only a mention that it will continue.
In contrast to the other five candidates in the top six, Poroshenko’s platform is very specific about how the Armed Forces: consolidate air defense and modernize the Air Force and Navy. Poroshenko is also the only one who mentions the need to return Kremlin captives and hostages from the occupied territories. He does not mention any new initiatives in the justice area.
The notion that the farm sector can be the driver of the domestic economy comes up again. However, this time, five strategic areas are mentioned: the IT sector, transport, a new industrialization, and tourism in addition to farming. Poroshenko promises “billion-dollar investments” in all these sectors. But the main promises are applying for EU membership, and getting and implementing the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) in 2023.
In 2014, the Batkivshchyna leader brought her application to the CEC with the heading “Time to establish justice.” This time, the title was “A new course.”
Some of what Tymoshenko promised in 2014 has been carried out. This includes increasing defense spending to 5% of GDP, signing the Association Agreement and passing a new law on state procurements. Moreover, a big chunk of her promises remain pertinent. “Releasing Crimea from Russian occupation,” “ratifying the Rome Statute of the ICC,” “establishing full-cycle domestic nuclear fuel production,” “introducing the mechanism of private prosecution,” “withdrawing immunity from MPs, judges and the president of Ukraine and introducing an effective presidential impeachment mechanism.” This list goes on. However, even among the planks in Tymoshenko’s 2019 platform, only the withdrawal of immunity and the return of Crimea remain. She promises to get the peninsula and eastern Donbas de-occupied using “military and diplomatic channels” and calls for the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to be fulfilled.
The Batkivshchyna leader is not the only one who has not kept track of the fate of her own previous promises. This is a common trait among five of the six front-runners, given that Zelenskiy is running for the first time. The platforms of all the candidates have been radically upgraded and the general themes remain largely simply headlines: the Constitution, the economy, social policy, etc.
In her 2019 program, Tymoshenko talks about completely upgrading the Armed Forces to NATO standards, reducing the Rada to 350 MPs from the current 450, and directly changing central and local governments at any time simply through a referendum. She promises elections of justices of the peace and local court judges, the legal right for citizens to legislate via petitions, and all local governments to be run by local councils through executive committees. In the energy sector, Tymoshenko no longer mentions nuclear fuel, but commits herself to the rapid development of renewables and “trading all energy resources on exchanges.”
In the economic and social spheres, Tymoshenko guarantees salary levels as high as in Poland within the next five years, private pension accounts that will be accumulated through payroll deductions, and no more single social contribution. Her most famous top promise is to reduce the household natural gas rate by half “in the first month of the new presidency.” The Batkivshchyna leader’s platform also mentions micro-credits worth up to US $100,000 for business without collateral and only 3% interest. For this purpose, she announced a new bill that would force banks to issue such loans. Tymoshenko also promises a UAH 50,000 maternity benefit for the first child, UAH 100,000 for the second one, and UAH 150,000 for the third. The list of planks goes on but the rest have fewer numbers...
In 2014, the former energy minister’s platform had no title, which only emphasized the haste with which those who were top officials under Yanukovych prepare for the May 25 election. Five years later, Boyko has a “Plan for the peaceful development of Ukraine.” His recent decision to join forces with Viktor Medvedchuk can be felt in the difference between this candidate's two platforms.
As before, Boyko is oriented towards the nominally pro-Russian voter. In 2014, he called for Russian to be recognized as the second state language, but his old platform was considerably more modest and vague in a slew of other areas.
Boyko is the only candidate who openly proposes protecting the interests of Big Business in his platform – as well as the SMEs, about which his rivals talk all the time. Boyko calls for Ukraine to cooperate economically with all countries, for laws to be rational when they guarantee social benefits, and for the energy sector to be modernized. But there are few specifics.
In his 2019 platform, Boyko states in his first paragraph: “Our state should be independent and neutral,” He suggests that Ukraine is moving away from the foundations of its Declaration of Independence. Further, he proposes implementing “all international commitments” Ukraine has taken on to establish peace in Donbas and “direct negotiations with all parties to the conflict.” In the next section, he talks about direct elections of local leadership and “economic independence” for the regions. All this is combined with setting up a local municipal police.
His economic and social planks are close to what he proposed during his previous run. Boyko promises that the economy will grow 5-7% annually, which is slightly less than other candidates who name numbers. But his maternity benefit is higher than Tymoshenko’s: UAH 100,000 for the first child, UAH 200,000 for the second one, and UAH 400,000 for all subsequent ones. He also proposes cancelling the “inhuman” medical reforms and restoring the 10-year public school system.
In the previous election, Hrytsenko’s platform was extremely short. Initially, he stated that he would carry out the Civic Position party’s platform and added a link to the party’s website, where people could read it. Later, he added some general and unspecific promises such as: “I will clean the state of corruption and force officials to uphold the law.” At the end, the candidates personal phone number was posted.
In 2019, Hrytsenko’s platform is very long. He promises a law on impeaching the president and the return of Donbas within five years. Crimea will also “be Ukrainian,” but here there’s no timeframe. He promises to appoint only officers with battle experience to the top positions in the military and to reduce the number of generals.
In addition to this, Hrytsenko is the only one among the top six who raises the issue of private ownership of weapons “Weapons will be legalized and tracked while the state, whom people will be able to trust, will restore its monopoly on using force within the law,” says his platform. He proposes a new electoral system and a ban on political advertising. Hrytsenko also takes over one of Poroshenko’s unfulfilled promises from 2014: “The Anti-Monopoly Committee will become a more powerful entity than the Prosecutor General’s Office, in the interests of the economy.” He also forecasts 10% economic growth and salaries over €700 – “...and pensions will grow commensurately,” he says – and he supports a continuing ban on exporting timber. The candidate promises to introduce a land market, but only after a series of vague conditions are met, such as “strengthening the financial capacities of farmers.” Hrytsenko also promises to reduce utility rates without being specific.
Among his more interesting and original promises is to give those who patronize educational institutions a complete tax holiday and life sentences for judges found taking bribes. Hrytsenko also promises not to run for a second term.
The long version of the Radical Party leader’s 2014 platform was “The Liashko Plan: Liberating Ukraine from the occupant. Order in our own land.” His current platform makes no mention of Crimea at all.
Whereas his platform five years ago was largely dedicated to foreign matters, the current one is almost entirely focused on domestic issues. The lion’s share of planks goes to socio-economic issues. Liashko promises economic growth of 8-10% more than US $100bn in investments, and 2 million new jobs. In order to get there, his team’s reform plan has to be carried out. Utility services will be no more than 15% of household incomes and rural residents will get subsidies of up to UAH 5,000 per head of livestock. Of course, Liashko is against instituting a land market.
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Among others, he wants to cut down the Rada to 250 MPs, reduce ministries to 10, and eliminate the post of premier. Liashko also wants to see judges elected. In the international arena, he demands that the 1994 Budapest Memorandum be honored and that the US and Ukraine sign a bilateral military agreement.
The return of Crimea is not the only promise from 2014 that has disappeared from Liashko’s platform. Then he promised to prohibit the Party of the Regions through the courts and “public trials by jury that would include journalists, experts and civic organization, to control the government at all levels.”
Zelenskiy is the only frontrunner today who did not run for president in 2014. Like Hrytsenko, he promises to remain in office for only one term. His first bill will be “On democracy,” in which he proposes formalizing the question of referenda and other forms of direct democracy in Ukraine. He also promises to remove immunity from the president, MPs and judges. The next bill will regulate the matter of impeaching the head of state and stripping MPs of their mandates. Elected justices of the peace will regulate simple disputes. Criminal cases will be handled through jury trials. In addition to this, Zelenskiy promises to pay service personnel at NATO levels, calls for the 1994 Budapest Memorandum to be honored, and notes that “the abdication of national interests and territory is not subject to negotiation.”
Among Zelenskiy’s more original promises is “a zero declaration” for businesses: “For 5%, all business owners will be able to declare and legalize their income,” says the text of his platform, effectively offering a cheap amnesty deal. He was also the only frontrunner to propose forming a land market without any conditions attached.
On social issues, Zelenskiy proposes the principle that “money follows talented students” in education, basic medical insurance paid by the state for the poor and mandatory annual check-ups. The pension system should be cumulative rather than paygo, according to his platform.
Like the incumbent, Zelenskiy proposes changing the corporate profit tax to a capital gains tax and he thinks that the SBU needs to stop handling financial crimes. When it comes to decentralization, however, Zelenskiy has little to say other than to mention that government agencies should be shifted from Kyiv to the regions.
Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj