Some 39 candidates are running in next Sunday’s presidential vote. The incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, is running an anti-Russian campaign. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is at 17 per cent in the polls. Comedian Zelensky is benefitting from a frustrated populace tired of corruption and war. He could win in the expected runoff.
Moscow (AsiaNews) – On Sunday Ukrainians go to the polls to elect their new president. Incumbent Petro Poroshenko, the "Majdan" president, was elected in the wake of the 2014 revolution. However, tired of conflicts and controversies, voters appear ready to dump the current crop of leaders for their failure to build a free and democratic country.
Some 39 candidates are running, a world record, but not unusual. Ukraine’s presidential campaigns have in fact always been rather on the wild side. Emerging out of the ruins of the Soviet Union almost 30 years ago, the country has always been split over its relationship with its former Russian masters, and now is looking at the long and varied line-up of candidates, each with his or her own story.
In 1999 the candidate Nataliya Vitrenko was almost blown up by a grenade. In 2004 when Viktor Yushchenko was running for the presidency he was poisoned with dioxin. The last elections in 2014 were held whilst the country was at war, a few days after the Crimean referendum that followed Russia’s annexation of the hitherto Ukrainian peninsula. The regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which are still off limits because of the war, did not take part in the election at the time.
No such surprises or excesses are expected this time. Of course, the means at the disposal of the various candidates are not the same. Some TV magnates are running, but this is nothing new. Neither are scandals and mutual accusations, with the help of Russian and foreign trolls, always lurking in that background but without explicit aims for now.
It seems, perhaps, that for the first time, Ukrainians will be able to actually exercise their democratic right to choose their future.
The outgoing president has tried to ratchet up his campaign with traditional fears using the slogan: "Poroshenko or Putin!". His rivals are described as weak, and therefore ready to give in to the Russians, or braggarts incapable of delivering on their promises.
Another top contender is former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been detained and convicted for her business ties with the Russians and others, but is seen by many as Putin’s preferred choice.
Today, she is neck and neck with Poroshenko, at around 17 per cent, behind popular TV personality Volodymyr Zelensky who is credited with about 27 per cent of the vote.
Whilst appearing as pro-Russian (Zelensky’s shows are always in Russian), he is actually the "anti-system" candidate par excellence, alone against the world, and for this reason has found support among the disgruntled and is feared in the Kremlin because they don’t know how to handle him.
Another entertainer, singer Svjatoslav Vakarchuk, also expresses clear anti-political feelings, and for this reason his candidacy (virtual for now) is harnessing support according to some sociologists. His based could go to Zelensky’s.
No one is likely to win an outright majority (50+1 per cent) as in 2014 with Russia’s invasion was the wild card. However, surveys suggest that Zelensky can beat both Poroshenko or Tymoshenko in a runoff.
Important economists and reformers have joined the entertainer, boosting the credibility of his candidacy. The humorist, in fact, became famous as a result of a satirical television series in which he played the president. Now he is going from playing a president to truing to become one.
The reasons for Zelensky's success are well known: widespread corruption and the war with Russia, which have exasperated everyone, and created a strong negative reaction to the outgoing president and his "caste".
Poroshenko's attempts to take the moral and spiritual high ground with his brazen sponsorship of the new autocephalous Orthodox Church have not swept away charges against him; on the contrary, they have boosted his negatives.
Even if most Ukrainians, especially in the west of the country, are in favour of Church independence, this does not justify state interference in religious affairs. At best, several voters will hold their noses and cast their ballot on the basis of a shared hatred of the Russians, and fear that other candidates may sell out to Putin.
The ever-young Yulia Tymoshenko retains her well-known charisma thanks to her status as "mother of the homeland" and her business acumen refined during a long and unscrupulous career as an oligarch, before she became a political figure. During her campaign, she pledged to lower energy costs for ordinary Ukrainians to less than half of what they are now. But this can happen only with an agreement with Russia.
There are also explicitly pro-Russian candidates, linked to ex-president Yanukovych, but as they started arguing with each other, they lost their appeal.
Still, after all is said and done, a new Ukraine could emerge thanks to young people, with a young comedian like Zelensky and a young Metropolitan like Epiphanius of Kyiv.