On November 14, President Leonid Kuchma was re-elected for another 5-years term as President of Ukraine, beating Communist Party candidate Petro Symonenko, with 56.3 percent of the votes to Symonenko’s 37.8 percent. More than 27 million people, nearly 75 percent of the electorate, turned out to vote. Nearly one million people, or 3.5% of the voters, selected the option of voting for neither candidate.
Despite the economic decline and widespread corruption that were hallmarks of his first term, voters chose to re-elect Kuchma, principally out of fear of a return of communism, and certainly not due to any enthusiastic embrace of his economic policies.
While there were violations of Ukraine’s elections law and OSCE commitments on democratic elections, especially during the second round, these did not have a decisive affect on the outcome, given Kuchma’s substantial margin of victory (over five millions votes). The elections were observed by some 500 international observers, with the largest contingent by far coming from the OSCE, and some 16.000 domestic observers.
While the West welcomed the Ukrainian people’s rejection of communism and any plans to reinvent the Soviet Union or Russian empire, the lack of economic reforms, as well as inappropriate governmental involvement in the election campaign, dampened Western exuberance over Kuchma’s election victory. Following his victory, President Kuchma claimed a mandate and promised to work resolutely for economic reforms. This, however, needs to be weighed against his dismal economic record and the questionable resumes of some of his major campaign supporters. Western governments, including the United States, almost immediately reiterated their commitment to assisting Ukraine’s transition to democracy and a market economy. At the same time, these governments are waiting to see if the reality will match the rhetoric of reform.