Watch above: Sean Mallen reports on the Ukrainians in Toronto planning to take part in this weekend’s presidential election.
Ukrainians head to the polls on Sunday to vote in a presidential election that follows months of protests, violence and political instability, even as parts of the country remains in the grips of separatist conflict.
This vote is seen as the first opportunity for Ukrainians to reshape their country following the Maidan protests, the removal of former President Viktor Yanukovych in February and the referendum that led to Crimea joining the Russian Federation.
Here are five things you need to know about the election.
When will the vote happen?
The polls open at 8 a.m. local time on May 25 and close 12 hours later. If the leading candidate receives less than 50 per cent of the vote, there will be a runoff election on June 15.
Why is the election happening now?
The next presidential election wasn’t due until 2015. But since the ousting of Yanukovych in February the country has been under the leadership of an interim government led by President Oleksandr Turchynov and appointed Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. When the interim government took over it immediately vowed to call early elections.
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Who’s running for president?
Although there are 23 registered candidates–five are no longer running, but are still on the ballot–most eyes are on two people: Yuliya Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko.
Poroshenko is the frontrunner.
He’s a billionaire who made his fortune in the candy business. He’s one of the 10 wealthiest men in Ukraine and his company, Roshen, is one of the 20 biggest confectionery companies in the world. The 48-year-old is known in Ukraine as the “Chocolate King,” but was also seen as an important figure in the anti-government protests, airing coverage of the demonstrations against Yanukovych on his television station, Channel 5.
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Tymoshenko is the country’s former prime minister and was a very pro-Western leader during her time in office.
After losing the presidential race to Yanukovych in 2010, his government imprisoned her for alleged abuse of power in making a gas deal with Russia. She was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released this year after the fall of Yanukovych’s government.
The Associated Press reported Poroshenko may have a wide lead – 34 per cent of eligible voter support, compared to only 6 per cent for Tymoshenko – but not enough to win the absolute majority needed to avoid a runoff.
According to Business Week, Poroshenko has higher support when the same poll only looked at decided voters: 54 per cent of decided voters polled said they support him, compared to 9.6 per cent of decided voters behind Tymoshenko
How will we know the vote is fair?
More than 2,700 international observers will monitor the vote, including a delegation of 500 monitors from Canada. Among the Canadians leading the observation mission are former Ontario Premier Mike Harris and Sen. Raynell Andreychuk.
The Canadian government is spending a reported $11 million on the mission, according to The Canadian Press.
While there are 35.5 million eligible voters, BBC reported 19 per cent of them live in areas rife with political instability. Approximately 3.3 million voters live in Donetsk and a further 1.8 million live Luhansk — two regions that held referendums earlier this month to separate from Ukraine. Both regions have been affected by deadly violence or are have areas under the control of pro-Russia groups.
There are also 1.8 million eligible voters in Crimea, which the Russia annexed in March. But because it’s now under Russian rule, there will be no polls held in the territory.
Ukrainian citizens still travelling in Crimea can travel to Ukraine to cast their vote.
Can Ukrainians living abroad vote in the election?
According to the government there are 400,000 Ukrainians abroad who have said they plan to take part in the election – including thousands living in Canada.
While there are large Ukrainian communities across Canada, there are only two places in the country where Ukrainians can cast their votes: the embassy in Ottawa and the consulate in Toronto.
A spokesperson at the embassy said there are between 1,500 to 1,600 people registered to vote there, and about 3,000 expected to vote in Toronto.
They can vote Sunday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. ET but only if they registered prior to May 19.
With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press