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News analysis: High expectations for new Ukrainian president

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

KIEV, May 31 (Xinhua) -- Billionaire businessman and lawmaker Petro Poroshenko became the fifth president of Ukraine Thursday amid high expectations for change from voters, who hope for an end to the country's six-month turmoil and a return to growth for the economy.

WINNING FORMULA

Poroshenko's election win is no surprise. He led the poll from the beginning of the vote in the capital city of Kiev and all 24 Ukrainian regions and never faced much of a challenge from his closest rivals -- ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko.

Local analysts attribute Poroshenko's triumph to Ukrainians' desire to avoid a run-off and end the country's worst crisis since its independence.

"People who voted for Poroshenko were seeking a speedy end to the war. He has a very high ranking in Donbass, where people under (threat of) bullets went to the polls," said Sergey Vlaschenko, a political analyst at the Center of Political Forecasting.

Vadym Karasev, Director of the Institute of Global Strategies, said Ukrainians had been waiting for a legitimate president who would be recognized by the international community and could make crucial decisions.

"People are tired of temporal power: interim president, acting ministers, in particular the defense minister. People are in urgent need of a new supreme commander," Karasev said.

Poroshenko's victory speech made it clear he would be a strong president and try to justify the hopes of Ukrainians.

"The first thing we must do is bring peace to all the citizens of Ukraine," Poroshenko said, declaring his first visit after the inauguration would be to two rebel-held regions in the east.

Poroshenko's success can also be attributed to an old formula, which involves choosing the most pragmatic and flexible candidate, who regardless of his personal preferences, will build profitable relationships with all partners.

"Voting for Poroshenko, people primarily pay attention to his international experience, communication skills and the ability to stay the course," independent political analyst Volodymyr Tsybulko said.

Poroshenko's decision to keep the current Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, an old ally of Tymoshenko, was seen by experts as evidence of the new president's ability to compromise.

The 48-year-old Ukrainian leader, who promised during his campaign to move the country closer to economic integration with Europe, also vowed to hold talks with the Russian leadership, signaling he would continue Ukraine's traditional "multi-vector" foreign policy.

Poroshenko, who is not affiliated with any other political party or oligarch clans, financed his election campaign from his own pocket. He is widely seen an independent politician who makes his own decisions.

"The leader of the presidential race has not only the legal but also social right to become the head of the state. For Ukrainians, it is very important to realize this matter, to realize that such a choice will benefit everybody," said Andrey Yermolaev, the head of the Institute for Strategic Studies "New Ukraine".

CALMING EASTERN UNREST

Poroshenko will officially assume office in June. The most pressing issue for him is to re-establish control over Donestk and Lugansk regions, where insurgents have declared separatist republics, demanding independence from the government in Kiev.

Some experts suggested Poroshenko should take a number of decisive steps against armed activists in Donbass to force insurgents to give up their weapons.

"Poroshenko must ensure normal coordination between law enforcement agencies and raise the efficiency of the operation in Donbass," Vladimir Fesenko, director of the Penta Center of Applied Political Studies, said.

Fesenko said the Ukrainian president-elect should thoroughly investigate the situation in eastern regions on the ground and make organizational and staff reshuffles to ensure the successful outcome of the government's "anti-terror" operation at minimal cost.

Meanwhile, some analysts have urged Poroshenko to seek a diplomatic solution to the separatist unrest that has gripped Ukraine in recent weeks and so far has claimed more than 100 lives.

"Solely military means will not solve the problem. We need to develop serious social programs for the region," military anaylist Valentyn Badrak said.

The two economically depressed regions, where people make their living at Soviet-era metallurgical plants and coal mines, urgently need special government programs to improve social security, healthcare and education, experts say.

According to experts, people from Lugansk and Donetsk regions require skilled and strong leaders to take care of them.

"Poroshenko will establish a single coordinated system, through which a dialogue will be conducted with all social groups: from businessmen to state employees and activists," said Maxim Rozumny, a political analyst at the National Institute for Strategic Studies.

If Poroshenko fails to agree with people who have influence in the eastern regions and will not grant more power to local communities, it is likely the Donbass citizens will continue seeking affiliation with Russia, which has strong and consolidated leaders, the analysts say.

The Ukrainian president-elect appeared to have realized the importance of a partnership with Russia in solving the crisis in the east, saying re-engaging with Moscow was a key to calming protesters.

SOLVING ECONOMIC PROBLEMS

The economic turmoil, which reflects the political instability, is another urgent task.

Analysts warned Ukraine's economy, suffering from huge debt and plummeting industrial production, would soon default, resulting in impoverishment for the Ukrainian people.

The self-made businessman, who rose from a poor student to one of the leaders on the Ukrainian Forbes rich list, is widely expected to lift an economy that has been in recession since mid-2012.

"A multimillionaire, who managed to create a legitimate business that is not associated with the use of mineral resources, can not be a bad financier or manager," said Grygory Tripulsky, head of the Kiev-based "YKK De jure" analytical center.

To deal with the possible financial collapse, Poroshenko should implement deep economic and energy sector reforms, enhance the fight against corruption and develop mutually beneficial cooperation with foreign partners, experts said.

Ukraine's financial turmoil was caused not only by political reasons, but also by unsustainable economic management, particularly financially unjustified huge energy subsidies.

The country, which charged consumers less than half the cost of importing the gas, spent about 11.2 billion dollars to subsidize households and industrial enterprises, according to local analysts.

It is expected changes to the costly subsidies will differentiate between rich and poor in a bid to boost government funds, without causing discontent among disadvantaged social groups.

The second economic task for the new president is to take the country's underground private business out of the shadows.

To encourage businessmen to pay taxes, the president would choose streamlining the tax system rather than drastically increasing charges, analysts said.

"Poroshenko put the fight against corruption as his priority, because he knows how bureaucrats pressure businesses," political analyst Olexandr Paliy said.

The president-elect has already pledged to create a simplified taxation system for small and medium businesses, with special incentives for the agricultural sector, which Poroshenko views as crucial to the country's economy.

Establishing good relationship with Ukraine's main economic partners is another major task for the new Ukrainian president.

Poroshenko, who is widely seen as an adaptable diplomat, will have to create a system of mutually beneficial cooperation with western and eastern partners, taking into account the interests of Ukrainian people, analysts say.

Poroshenko has reiterated Ukraine's commitment to continuing down the path to integration with the European Union, saying the landmark economic agreement between the two sides will be signed soon.

At the same time, he vowed to improve economic relations with Russia, Ukraine's biggest trading partner within the next three months.

Analysts here agreed the vast challenges could work in Poroshenko's favor if he can successfully deal with them. But, if he fails, he may disappear from the Ukrainian political arena and return to business after his five-year term ends.

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