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Ukrainians prefer comedian to current president and other insights from pre-election polls

A shot from TV-series Sluga Naroda, Volodymyr Zelenskyi plays a role of the president of Ukraine. Photo: open sources.
Ukrainians prefer comedian to current president and other insights from pre-election polls
Edited by: Alya Shandra

In the last four years many things have changed in Ukraine – it experienced a de-facto war with Russia, reforms (both successful and not really), the birth of civil society. But the political landscape has barely changed. Ukrainians will choose the president from nearly the same set of people as four years ago. These people are failing their expectations, and this gives ground for disappointment.

One detail which strikes the eye on the eve of the 2019 Presidential elections in Ukraine is the low ratings of all the candidates. The Head of the Center for Civil Society Studies Vitaliy Kulik analyzed the results of the latest pre-election surveys conducted by the “Rating” Sociological Group. Euromaidan Press publishes some of them.

  • The survey says that 17.0% have not determined with the choice yet. According to Kulyk, this makes the work of political technologists [“political technologists” is a term used mostly in post Soviet countries to describe political campaign specialists – OM] much harder as they have to identify the group of favorites and to calculate the campaign strategy.
  • It is clear now that Yuliya Tymoshenko (rating 13.2%) and Petro Poroshenko (6.8%) who will make it to the the second tour of the elections. Even though the fight for second place is strained, odds are that it will be taken by Poroshenko.
  • Kulyk assumes that blurring of the niche of the so-called “third power” plays in favor for incumbent President Poroshenko. The concept of third power in Ukraine usually applies to a force which allegedly goes beyond traditional discourse like Russia vs the West and proposes an alternative way for Ukraine. Mostly, the niche is occupied by ex-allies of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovych. Often its slogans promote the idea of a so-called compromise for Ukraine. In fact, these slogans are whispered from Kremlin. It is beneficial for Poroshenko who portrays himself as a bearer of predictable strength and stability. His opponents from the right-liberal camp look like dangerous experimenters against his background. The expert is confident that votes in their favor will be wasted, and voters opting for the third option will not vote at all or will see Poroshenko as the least evil.
  • Tymoshenko is trying to gain the voices of people who haven’t made a choice yet or those who not going to vote at all. This benefits Tymoshenko, as nobody else works with these voters, who despite saying they won’t vote usually come to elections and make irrational choices at the last moment.
  • On this background of the total disappointment in politicians unexpected characters appear on the political scene. For about a year, Ukrainian society is discussing the possibility of two show-business stars participating in the presidential election. One is the rock-singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk [the frontman of Okean Elzy]. The other is a comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He is the main character of the TV-series called “Sluga Naroda” [“A Public Servant”] telling about an ordinary teacher who suddenly became president. The series ironize over the features of Ukrainian politics. Neither Vakarchuk, nor Zelenskyy expressed a desire to run for the presidency. Nevertheless, their statements and personalities do influence Ukrainian politics. So all the surveys measure their possible ratings like if they were campaigning. According to the abovementioned poll, so far Vakarchuk rates at 5% while Zelenskyy even holds second place with 7.8%.

Kulyk explains this popularity:

“Voters perceive ‘Sluga Naroda’ as a figure capable of resisting the system. And he does it in an amusing way. However, our voters forget that an actor’s role in a film and beyond the stage, in real life, are two different things. Zelenskyy is just an actor who plays a role he didn’t write. He is talented in voicing over the replicas of a script. In the political theater of modern Ukraine the author of his play is [oligarch] Ihor Kolomoiskyi,” says the researcher.

Other political experts also relate Zelenskyy to the figure of Kolomoiskyi. The oligarch from Dnipro plays a significant role in the processes taking place in Ukraine. In 2014 he was appointed as governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Then, he was praised for saving the oblast bordering with Donetsk oblast from the expansion of the Russian proxy republics. He also owns one of four main media groups in the country – Zelenskyy’s show 95th Kvartal is broadcast on one of its channels. His calling card used to be one of the main banks in Ukraine – PrivatBank. But in the end of 2016 it was nationalized – one of signs of the worsening relationships between the oligarch and Poroshenko.

Kulyk suggests that because of Kolomoiskyi’s complicated relationships with the government, he needs Zelenskyy to bargain a beneficial negotiation position. And as soon as Kolomoiskyi receives what he wants Zelenskyy will come back to being just a showman without political ambitions.

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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