Ukrainian presidential election promises fierce race ahead

Wednesday, 2019-04-03 14:16:36
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Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy flashes a victory sign as his wife Olena reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. (Reuters)
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NDO – The first round of the Ukrainian presidential election has wrapped up with none of the dozens of candidates getting more than 50% of the votes. The two front-runners, 41-year-old comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, will have three weeks to prepare for their fierce race in the second round of voting, scheduled for April 21.

The election results announced on March 31 were not beyond the expectations of the observers, as all 39 candidates did not meet the requirements to declare victory right in the first round, Ukraine must conduct a second round of voting in the next nearly three weeks to choose its new leader between the two most favoured candidates, comedian Zelenskiy and current leader Poroshenko. It is worth noting that, although Zelenskiy constantly led in voter opinion surveys ahead of the election, the fact that a famous artist without political experience is taking a commanding lead and leaves the nearest competitor far behind in the race to become the country’s leader still surprises the Ukrainian public itself.

However, the aforementioned fact is not unfounded, because the correlation in voters’ support for the two leading candidates somewhat reflects the aspirations of the Ukrainian people in the current difficult context. Once playing a teacher who stood up to denounce corruption and then became the president in a popular TV series, “Servant of People”, Zelenskiy used that inspiration to design a convincing election programme for a “real-life role”. In the context of Ukraine struggling with numerous difficulties, notably conflict and corruption, it is quite comprehensible as the young artist receives support from voters, especially young people. With many voters, the image of Zelenskiy also represents the new “hope” of the country.

Meanwhile, assuming the presidency of Ukraine only a few months after the crisis related to the annexation of Crimean Peninsula into Russia in 2014, Poroshenko has persevered in pursuing the path towards central Europe. Throughout his election campaign, the incumbent President always directed voters’ attention to the issues concerning relations between Ukraine and the European Union (EU). However, in fact, Ukraine’s road towards the EU in the past four years is getting rougher and rougher day by day, while the destination still remains uncertain. Meanwhile, domestic issues still stand out and may be detrimental to President Poroshenko in the new race.

According to pre-election survey results, voters’ outstanding opinions reflected their disappointment at the government’s few achievements to carry on with the fruits of the “Maidan Revolution” in 2014. Ukraine remains submerged in the conflict in the east, despite many reconciliation efforts made by the international community. The economic downturn has pushed Ukraine into the group of poorest nations in Europe, with the lives of people facing numerous difficulties. The current biggest concerns among the Ukrainian voters are inflation, corruption and an uncertain feeling about the future, especially among young voters. This may be one of the reasons why many voters are disappointed at the government’s policies in managing the country over the past few years, and have decided to give their ballots, with huge expectations, to a “new face” in politics.

That reality may be an advantage, but it is not enough to guarantee a final victory for Zelenskiy, even though most of the surveys carried out shortly after the first round of voting still produce results in favour of the young candidate. Lack of political experience may be a disadvantage for this “artist-politician”. Meanwhile, with his experience in leading the country though the recent difficult period, plus the support from outside partners, candidate Poroshenko still has the opportunity to “overturn the situation” in the upcoming fierce race.

There are still nearly three weeks left for actor Zelenskiy and President Poroshenko to seek more votes, and the opportunity is equally divided for both candidates. But it is certain that the important factors contributing to the victory for any candidate will be commitments on peaceful and independent national policies, with the goal of soon resolving conflicts, restoring economic growth and bringing Ukraine back to a path of stability and development.