A shift during electoral race in Ukraine

The presidential election in Ukraine will be held next year, but the unofficial election campaign is already under way. Until recently, the situation was simple – the most serious competitors were the Acting President, Petro Poroshenko and the former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. However, recent polls show significant changes in the electoral rankings.

Yulia Tymoshenko remains the leader of the electoral race. According to the survey conducted in April by the sociological group Rating, the former Prime Minister has the support of 8.8% in the ranking of the most popular politicians.

However, the most interesting changes happened at the second place. Until recently, it was occupied by Poroshenko, who sometimes also moved to the first place. This time the President was only in the sixth place – with the support of 5.5 %. He was outrun by the former Minister of Defence Anatoliy Hrytsenko (6.6%) and the leader of the Opposition Bloc, Yuriy Boyko (6%).

Moreover, the Acting President was overtaken by a leader of a popular rock group Okean Elzy, Svyatoyslav Vakarczuk (6%) and a comedian and cabaret actor Vladimir Zełenskiy (5.8%).

Nevertheless, the pool was based on the answers of all respondents (including those who declare they would not take part in the election).

A complicated presidency
Petro Poroshenko is the leader of the so-called ranking of unpopularity: 45% of Ukrainians would not want to vote for him regardless of the circumstances. In May 2014, Poroshenko won the elections in the first round. He got over 50% of votes. It was a difficult time for his homeland – the Euromaidan and its bloody final took place earlier leading to the change of powers. The President Viktor Yanukovych escaped to Russia. In March, Russia took over Crimea, and soon the war in Donbas broke out.

In this turbulent time Petro Poroshenko seemed to be a guarantor of security. He promised, for example, to end the war quickly. Even if people remembered his past and present business connections, it was pointed out that “he was the nicest of the Ukrainian oligarchs”. His command of English, the declared pro-Western views and patriotism made him look better in comparison to others. The first signs of criticism appeared after the military defeat at Ilovaisk in August 2014. Despite the so-called Minsk Protocol, the war continues.

The situation in the internal front has not been easier either. The expectations for political and economic reforms after Euromaidan were high. It was not bad at the beginning. An Association Agreement with the EU was signed (the resignation from signing it had been the reason for the first protests in Kiev in November 2013).

The process of decentralization began, new police structures were built, and bureaucratic procedures were simplified. The European Union abolished visas for the Ukrainians. However, there were problems with the further implementation of reforms, especially in the field of fighting against corruption. Despite some resistance, an independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine was established with some help and pressure from the western countries. The situation was similar while introducing e-declarations of financial interest for politicians and officials. It was demanded by the western countries which had to put some pressure on Ukrainians.

The corruption remains one of the main problems in Ukraine, which is largely connected with the unfinished reforms. Obviously, the President is not responsible for everything, but according to Ukrainian Constitution, his mandate is large.

The economic situation of ordinary Ukrainians has significantly deteriorated due to the war and the partial implementation of the reforms since 2014. Huge scandals among the politicians were striking. In 2017, Poroshenko deprived of nationality his former ally, Mikheil Saakashvili, who openly opposed the President. Finally, in February 2018, the former President of Georgia and the former Governor of Odessa Oblast was deported from Ukraine.

The fall
Petro Poroshenko promised to leave business during the election campaign in 2014. However, he did not sell his assets, which can be explained by the lack of investors due to the ongoing war. He only passed them under external supervision.

Poroshenko was losing his popularity, but he still remained one of the two main candidates in the next presidential election next to Tymoshenko. The situation has changed at the beginning of this year. Perhaps it was due to the Poroshenko’s laddish holiday in the Maldives. Initially, his administration tried to hide this exclusive trip, later they explained clumsily, and finally Poroshenko was forced to explain the whole confusion.

It should be underlined that no proof of corruption was found in connection with the President’s rest in the Maldives. The trip and the week’s stay on one of the islands cost almost half a million dollars and Poroshenko financed it from his own resources. The holidays left a bad taste in society’s mouth. Was it right and moral, that the President of a poor country, during the war, would allow himself such a delight?

Searching for a new leader
Recent polls show not only the growing popularity of Tymoshenko and the fall of support for the current President. The presence of such candidates as a rock singer and a comedian reflects the society’s need for new people in politics – the new leaders.

– There is a demand, but there is no offer. When people are asked to name new leaders, less than 20% can name anyone. At the same time, they point to very ambiguous candidates, for example Nadiya Savchenko. Sometimes people consider politicians, who have not ruled so far, as the new ones, but they are not. They are not the alternatives, and they basically do not propose anything new – says Volodymyr Fesenko, a political scientist from Kiev.
This niche is tried to be filled in different ways. In March, “The New Leaders” program was launched. One could register as a candidate or a voter. The search for a new leader is to take place in a TV show, and the whole process is controlled by a special supervisory board, which includes many serious and prestigious organizations, such as “Opor” (it monitors the elections in Ukraine), the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, and the Amnesty International Ukraine. However, it quickly turned out that an organization called the “New Ukraine”, founded by the former Head of Administration of President Yanukovych, Serhiy Lovochkin and Daria Czepak, former Yanukovych’s spokesperson, could also be found in the supervisory board. The whole project was criticised. What is more, the program will be shown by a TV station belonging to an oligarch Victor Pinchuk.

Doubts over elections
The results of the program “The New Leaders” are not known. So far, there is a discussion whether television, with the support of oligarchs and disgraced politicians, is a proper place to look for the new politician leaders. A similar debate concerns the mentioned Vakarchuk and Zelenskiy. Can show business people be effective politicians and social activists?

It concerns Vakarchuk especially. Many Ukrainians considers him an authority. He is intelligent, educated and has recently returned from a six-month scholarship at Stanford University. For a while, he was even a parliamentarian, but he resigned. In April, crowds of people came to listen not to his songs, but to him speaking about the authorities and the state. On the other hand, the critics wonder if one can be a President without political and financial support. These are theoretical questions, because neither Vakarchuk nor Zelenski confirmed taking part in the elections.

Politician scientists, like Fesenko, indicate that the current President’s chances should not be undermined. Unlike the others, he has strong party structures backing him, which is why it is still likely that the veterans of Ukrainian politics, Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, will advance to the final clash in the second round of presidential election.

Tymoshenko has recently shown that every opportunity may be used in a political battle. On May 3, on Confectioner’s Day, she published a video: she shares family secrets of preparing popular Ukrainian fried pies called syrniki. Only that the video itself turned out to be a political trolling.

– I want to greet one very well-known politician, who celebrates today, and remind him that it is time to return to his profession – says Tymoshenko at the end of the video.

Although the name of the politician is not mentioned, but it is President Petro Poroshenko who owns the confectionery Roshen.

Photo: Parliamentary elections, 2014.

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