Ukraine chooses the ‘Chocolate King’: Petro Poroshenko wins presidential election according to exit poll

Pro-West billionaire businessman Petro Poroshenko claims victory in presidential vote

The billionaire confectioner Petro Poroshenko, known as Ukraine’s “Chocolate King”, claimed victory in the country’s presidential election on Sunday night after exit polls appeared to give him a majority when voting closed.

Mr Poroshenko, the pre-election favourite, gained more than 55 per cent of the vote, according to surveys conducted by three respected Ukrainian agencies. These were said to have a margin of error of two percentage points, putting him well ahead of the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who looked set to finish in second place with just over 12 per cent of the vote. If confirmed by full results which are expected on Monday, there will be no need for a runoff ballot on 15 June.

“All the polls show that the election has been completed in one round and the country has a new president,” Mr Poroshenko, 48, declared. He said the majority of Ukrainians had given him a mandate to continue a course of integration with the rest of Europe but that his first priority was to travel to the east of the country to end “war and chaos” caused by armed pro-Russian separatists. The oligarch said he would not consider negotiating with them until they laid down their weapons.

Read more: Pro-Russian separatists surround house of Ukraine's richest man

While voting in Kiev and other regions of western Ukraine was brisk, separatists had tried to block voting in some eastern areas, including the self-declared People’s Republic of Donetsk. The incomplete nature of voting in the east raised concerns about the poll’s legitimacy.

Earlier in the day, the streets of Donetsk were eerily silent. As people across western Ukraine massed for what was seen as the most important election since the vote for independence in 1991, almost one million Donetsk residents were left without a single operational polling station.

Shops were shut, streets were empty and the largest sign of a crowd was outside an Orthodox church after morning worship ended. At one polling station that did succeed in briefly opening early in the day, at an industrial college in the Voloshovsky district, a police officer on guard duty said no one had come in – neither voters nor separatists.

 

By mid-afternoon, the pro-Russian militants had succeeded in ensuring that all of the city’s nearly 500 voting stations had been shut down. Further afield, a few towns in the wider Donetsk and Luhansk regions were able to hold ballots, but they were in the minority. Electoral officials said about 20 per cent of polling booths were opened in the two chaotic eastern areas and that just 16 per cent of the population of the Donetsk region who were eligible to vote would be able to do so.

The roads around Donetsk were empty. Despite the warm early summer weather, only a few heavy-goods lorries and rusty freight trains crossed the green fields and rivers that surround the city.

On Saturday, an Italian photojournalist, Andrea Rocchelli, and his Russian translator, Andrey Mironov, were killed near the town of Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold an hour’s drive north of Donetsk. Yesterday, there were unconfirmed reports that another man had died in a shootout with Ukrainian security forces after armed militants made off with ballot papers from a polling station at Novoaydar, in the Luhansk region. Another man was reported wounded. But the incident seemed to be the only major violence on ballot day.

Election monitors from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe had mostly left the area, saying that pro-Russian authorities were waging a campaign of “terror” against them.

It was widely hoped that the appointment of a legitimately elected new leader would go some way towards dampening tensions that have seen eastern Ukraine descend into increasingly bloody turmoil.The interim Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, said that a new president would help to shift the country from “a grey zone of lawlessness and dark forces… into a place where it is easier to breathe”.

On Sunday night, President Barack Obama said the election was another step towards unifying the country, and that the US looked forward to working with its new president when the result was confirmed.

His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, has said that he will respect the poll results. In recent days, Russian troops have started moving away from the Ukrainian border, calming fears of an imminent invasion. However, for many voters in the east, where there is still considerable nostalgia for the days of the Soviet Union, there is no particularly representative candidate.

In the sleepy town of Dmitrov, the elegantly shabby headquarters of the local “Palace of Culture” was being used to house polling station No 140,743. Posters of the 18 candidates were pinned to the walls and observers sat next to booths decorated with curtains in Ukraine’s national colours of yellow and blue as voters occasionally came in to cast ballots. “We are against the war. We are against the Maidan,” explained Vladimir Cevokoz, an engineer working as an election monitor. “We want negotiations to find a solution to this situation.”

Asked which candidates might be able to end to the crisis, he cast his eyes down the list on the ballot despondently. “I don’t know. I just don’t know,” he shrugged.

In neighbouring Krasnoarmeisk, election officials said almost all of the town’s 53 polling stations were open but turnout was low; by 2pm, only 10 per cent of registered voters had attended. “Many people don’t see any suitable candidate for them and many people are afraid of attacks,” explained Ruslan Tovschyk, the head of polling station No 141,082, housed in an office in the town’s main square.

On Sunday, soldiers from the Ukrainian Dnieper Battalion and police were guarding the area in a phalanx of patrol cars. A gang of young men was sitting on a bench beside them. “Look how many people have voted. Compare this to the referendum,” said one of them, who gave his name as Grigori, and described the crowds that had turned out to vote for autonomy in the region the fortnight before.

The men refused to say if they backed Kiev or Moscow, or favoured autonomy. Perhaps, given the confusing mix of loyalties across the region, they were no longer certain what to believe. “The government and the oligarchs – it’s all the same thing,” said one, who gave his name as Artyom. “They are all part of the same criminal group.”

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