Sunday’s election results in Ukraine confirmed what the polls predicted, as Viktor Yanukovych and Yulia Tymoshenko finished received the most votes and second most votes, respectively.  They will face each other in a runoff on Feb. 7.  The vote was a setback for the idealism of 2004’s Orange Revolution, which brought Western-looking Viktor Yushchenko to power.  Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have shown far more friendliness to the Kremlin than Yushchenko.  If, like me, you believe that whatever makes Vladimir Putin happy is bad for Ukraine and the rest of the world, then these results are unfortunate.

I lack the expertise to say whether Yanukovych or Tymoshenko is more fit to lead Ukraine.  At this point, my hope is that the ongoing corruption and economic difficulty in Ukraine don’t cause Ukrainians to lose faith in democratic reforms.  For all its failings, the advances of the Orange Revolution, particularly greater press freedom, must be preserved.

But despite the many reasons to be disheartened there are a few aspects of Ukrainian politics that I wish we could see in the U.S.

  • The voter turnout on Sunday was over 66 percent.  To put that in perspective, the last time voter turnout was that high in a U.S. presidential election was 1900.  The high turnout in Ukraine came in spite of reports that many of those who participated in the Orange Revolution would be too disillusioned to vote this time.  The high rate of participation in the electoral process reflects what I experienced during both of my visits to Ukraine.  Ukrainians are engaged in and aware of politics, even if they are disgusted by the process.
  • Nine candidates in the election received at least one percent of votes cast, and five of them received at least five percent of the vote.  This is a far cry from the U.S., where the two-party system is so firmly entrenched that there is zero possibility of a third-party candidate being elected.  The best a third-party candidate can hope for is to play spoiler.  As one who’s continually frustrated by the dearth of options, I’d love to see a more crowded field in U.S. elections. I should say that it seems that Ukraine’s many candidates are large personalities who don’t exactly represent distinct platforms.  These are contests of many individuals, rather than varied parties.  It’s possible that while U.S. voters are often asked to choose the lesser of two evils, Ukrainians must choose the least of several evils.
  • But Ukrainians have yet another choice.  The ballot includes an option marked “Against All.”  If voters are dissatisfied with their options, but they feel an obligation to vote, they can express their displeasure without staying home.  “Against All” received just under three percent on Sunday, good enough for sixth place.