The 2019 Ukrainian presidential election has concluded and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy will be Ukraine’s next president, having soundly defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Zelenskiy has been carried to power by a tidal wave of electorate disillusionment and frustration. Five years after Euromaidan and the majority of Ukrainians find themselves no better off. Citizens are worn down by economic hardships, continued rampant corruption at every level of government, and the seemingly endless war in the east. The voters chose Zelenskiy not because they believed him to be the best candidate. He presented no positions on policies, and ran an orthodox campaign which kept him out of the public eye for the most part. Little is known about who Zelenskiy really is or what he believes. He was elected mainly because he is a political outsider who’s best known for playing the Ukrainian president in a satirical television show. Fiction has become reality for Zelenskiy, and the nation he’s been elected to serve.
The new president is assuming control a geopolitical hotspot at a critical time. He is facing significant challenges and will be under the microscope from the second he takes power. Zelenskiy has stated his first priority is to secure the safe return of 24 Ukrainian sailors who have been held by Russia since November, 2018 following the capture and detention of 3 Ukrainian ships and their crews by Russian naval officers in the Black Sea. How Zelenskiy handles Russia is of major concern to the international community. US and European diplomats are hoping Zelenskiy does not open direct talks with the Russian-backed separatists in the east. Doing so will give credence to the Russian position that the war in eastern Ukraine is an internal matter. Moscow’s reaction to Zelenskiy has been muted so far, though it is safe to assume Russia will make an attempt to feel out the new Ukrainian president and his positions in the near future.
It is imperative for both the Kremlin and the West to gain a solid feel for the path Zelenskiy’s policies will take in the coming months.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was reelected to her fourth term in office yesterday as federal elections were held across Germany. Her victory appears to be pyrrhic, however. Her Christian Democratic Union and Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) garnered only 33% of the vote and will be allotted 246 seats in the Bundestag. Even though these numbers represent the largest share of the vote it will not be enough to form a majority government. To complicate matters even more, the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party’s share of the vote was 13% and it will hold 94 seats in the Bundestag. This is especially staggering since before yesterday AfD held no seats. Now it is the third largest political party in Germany.
Merkel’s victory speech was muted. She stated that she’d expected and hoped for a ‘better result’ indicating she understands completely how murky the election results are for her and her party. The Bild, a German tabloid, labeled it a ‘nightmare victory’ and financial markets have responded negatively to the election results. The euro is currently down against the dollar and investors could be getting antsy at the prospect of a convoluted political future for Germany. The German Chancellor now has to form a coalition government with smaller parties, or attempt to run a minority government. A minority government is the least likely scenario seeing how German politics are driven by consensus and always have been since the end of World War II.
Merkel’s power will be severely eroded by yesterday’s results. She’ll be left walking a fine line between the quicksand traps of policy uncertainty and an unstable government. If she loses her balance and either one become a reality, early elections will likely be called, signaling the end of the Merkel era.
To the surprise of many political observers, the populist wave that was rolling across Europe in 2016 and early 2017 and appeared to dissipate when Emanuel Macron claimed victory in the French elections earlier this year, came to life yesterday. Anti-immigration sentiment in Germany is high, and many voters are tired of Merkel lecturing them that it is Germany’s ‘duty’ to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian immigrants. Crime has spiked in the Federal Republic over the past twelve months, and across Europe terrorist attacks are on the rise. These actions have convinced many German voters that a change is necessary.
Germany’s ‘Trump Moment’ came yesterday. It arrived not in the form of a Brexit-like tsunami, but instead, like a thief in the night. And it could very well be the beginning of the end for Angela Merkel’s rule.