Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has faced a great number of challenges since ascending to the Eastern European nation’s highest office this past June, most notably with relation to the ongoing separatist crisis and Russian intervention in the eastern part of the country. This week, however, Mr. Poroshenko received a welcome boost with the sweeping victory of pro-European parties in parliamentary elections—likely the first bit of positive news he has received in quite a while.
In the Ukrainian parliament, the two largest political blocs are both strongly in favor of associating more closely with Europe. Exit polls show the pro-Poroshenko bloc and the People’s Front, led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, both winning just over 20% of the vote.
With this sweeping victory in hand, Poroshenko and his pro-European allies are likely to seek to make further overtures towards Europe, pointing to the election results as a mandate towards the pursuit of that goal. For several reasons, however, this claim is somewhat dubious.
Most notably, many areas under separatist rule did not participate in the election. Rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine called for a boycott of the elections and announced a vote on secession from Ukraine on November 2, a vote which Ukraine’s government has since called illegal.
Likewise, residents of the Crimean Peninsula did not participate in the election. Crimea is de facto controlled by Russia at the moment, although most Western nations continue to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine.
Even with the lack of voter participation in eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko and his pro-European allies have received a large mandate from the voters in the rest of Ukraine. The largest pro-Russian faction, the Opposition Bloc, is believed to have won less than 10% of the vote. The Party of Regions, the pro-Russian party of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, did not even participate in the election; many of its members instead chose to vote for the Opposition Bloc.
Despite the welcome victory for Poroshenko and his parliamentary allies in this election, it is clear that Poroshenko has his work cut out for him. If violence can’t be quelled in the eastern part of the country and the rebels are able to take complete control of the areas in which they operate, it could spell the end for a united Ukraine. Such an outcome would deal a devastating blow to Poroshenko’s presidency, which was partly elected upon ending the violence in the region, and undoubtedly sound the death knell for Poroshenko and his allies in future elections.