Volodymyr Zelenskiy is hot favourite to triumph in Sunday’s presidential election
Latest polling in Ukraine suggests that the actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has eschewed traditional political campaigning and given little insight into his policy positions, is set to win a crushing victory in Sunday’s presidential election, The Guardian reports.
Zelenskiy is known for his television series Servant of the People in which he plays a history teacher who wins a shock victory in presidential elections. He is now odds-on to pull off the feat in real life, after capitalising on widespread disappointment with the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, who won elections in 2014 after the Maidan revolution kicked out the previous government.
A poll released earlier this week gave Zelenskiy 72% of votes from those who said they were certain to vote, against 25% for Poroshenko. Other polls have also given Zelenskiy an overwhelming lead.
In the first round of voting, Zelenskiy was the clear winner, taking 30% of the votes in a crowded field, with Poroshenko coming in a distant second on 16%.
Until recent weeks, many western diplomats had assumed Poroshenko would be able to overturn his rival’s lead, but as victory for Zelenskiy looks ever more likely, the international community has started to take notice.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, received both Poroshenko and Zelenskiy in Paris last week, while this week Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Ivan Bakanov, travelled to Washington.
In meetings set up by a US lobbying firm, Bakanov assured policymakers and analysts that Zelenskiy would pursue a pro-western course in office, according to a source briefed on the contents of the discussions. However, he also said Zelenskiy would want to make more efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including potential negotiations with Russia-backed separatists, and bringing the UK and US into the so-called Normandy peace format, which involves the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.
Poroshenko has sought to portray Zelenskiy as a stooge of the Kremlin, but his nationalist rhetoric around the Ukrainian church and language appears to have backfired with the electorate. Zelenskiy has faced questions about his ties to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi, and has irritated Ukrainian journalists by not giving interviews.
An open letter to Zelenskiy by 20 Ukrainian media outlets this week said: “Over the past few weeks, you have avoided direct and fully fledged communication with domestic journalists.”
“A million people will see your interview. Now imagine if I gave them every day,” Zelenskiy told RBK Ukraine, in an interview released on Thursday, explaining his desire to speak rarely as part of a strategy to create maximum interest.
Many voters are likely to back Zelenskiy on an “anyone but Poroshenko” basis, angry that after the promises of the Maidan revolution, cronyism and corruption have continued to flourish under Poroshenko, while the Ukrainian economy remains weak.
Poroshenko’s final chance to tip the balance back in his favour will be a debate with Zelenskiy on Friday night, which is shaping up to be the final set-piece in a bizarre and eventful election campaign.
The two campaign teams have been wrangling over the format and style of the debate.
Zelenskiy, who won the first round by avoiding traditional debates and presenting himself as outside politics, presented a series of extraordinary conditions to Poroshenko for any debate, including a stipulation that both candidates should take drug tests, and that the debate should take place at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium.
Poroshenko, feeling he had nothing to lose, called Zelenskiy’s bluff, inviting journalists to watch him give blood, urine and hair samples at a Kyiv clinic last week.
Zelenskiy has invited his fans to acquire free tickets to the debate, while Poroshenko has called for his supporters across the country to mobilise and descend on Kyiv to watch the spectacle, raising the possibility that tens of thousands of supporters of the two politicians could create an atmosphere inside the stadium more akin to a football match than a presidential debate.