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MARGINAL GAIN

As in India, a decisive electoral verdict in Ukraine reflects a powerful voter aspiration. Amidst the uncertainty and bloodshed over the past few months, Ukrainians have rooted for political stability and the possibility of peace by electing Petro Poroshenko as their president with a thumping majority. This also explains the wide lead that Mr Poroshenko has gained over his closest rival, the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko and one of the architects of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Perhaps the memory of her tumultuous era and the allegations of corruption against her, that kept her in prison till recently, served as reminders to the voters about what they should avoid. Although part of Ukraine’s powerful oligarchy, Mr Poroshenko has played his cards well by repeatedly harping on peace and steering away from a strident anti-Russia stand. He made it clear though that he wanted to pull away his country from the “Soviet Union”. With his comparatively clean and uncontroversial image, vast financial reserves and acceptability, Mr Poroshenko is undoubtedly Ukraine’s best bet to forge ahead. Unfortunately, the president-elect does not seem to have made much advance in east Ukraine, which remained aloof to the electoral exercise. Far from being able to entice the voters of this region into commenting on their ideas of integration, as was the plan before the eastern region’s damning referendum in favour of Russia, Ukraine has not been able to even engage with the voters. In Donetsk and Luhansk, the election commission found it practically impossible to carry out the exercise with officials being abducted and routine activities continuously disrupted by separatist militias who turned violently against any effort to impose State control. The lack of engagement of the east is bound to dog Ukraine, particularly since it might give Russia an alibi in the future to deny the validity of the polls.

For now though, Russia seems to be willing to play ball. It has pledged to work with the elected president. Given that only days ago, Russia had denounced the polls as illegal, this is a major gain. Russia’s cooperation, however, will be determined by how much autonomy is granted to the east and how well Mr Poroshenko is able to negotiate the distance Ukraine maintains from the West.