UKRAINIAN businessman and familiar political figure Petro Poroshenko won a credible victory in his country’s special presidential election — the first big step in reuniting a divided country.
He won by more than 50 percent of the vote, and avoids a runoff election. But only days away from his win, Poroshenko faces the question: What have you done for us lately?
Sunday’s victory settles nothing. He must convince separatist factions in Eastern Ukraine that he can provide options through a new Constitution that allow vigorous political and cultural autonomy within a united Ukraine.
A process is under way to create such a template, explains Scott Radnitz, director of the University of Washington’s Ellison Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies.
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The challenge for the central government in Kiev is to offer autonomy in the provinces via local assemblies — legislatures — with the power to set tax and language polices, all operating under the broad authority of governors appointed by Kiev.
Radnitz says the separatists in the east have been disruptive and do speak to the Russian cultural and familial ties that exist with their neighbor. But the dynamic is more complex.
Even those pulled by personal ties have doubts about forsaking future economic opportunities with a Ukrainian central government that looks toward Europe, not Russia.
At the same time, another set of economic realities exist in Kiev for the new president. Before he can engage the opportunities to the West, Poroshenko will have to adopt International Monetary Fund reforms that demand cuts in pensions and government subsidies, and lowering the value of the currency.
The daunting challenges sound mutually exclusive: bring people together and unite a country by imposing economic austerity and promoting regional autonomy.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).