Comedian vies for Ukrainian Presidency

Mr. Zelenskiy, a popular Ukrainian comic, mounts a significant lead in exit polls and early counting although he is unlikely to secure an absolute majority. A runoff vote is likely; Mr. Zelenskiy will face stiff opposition from more seasoned candidates, facing an uphill battle. Ukraine is a...

Mr. Zelenskiy, a popular Ukrainian comic, mounts a significant lead in exit polls and early counting although he is unlikely to secure an absolute majority. A runoff vote is likely; Mr. Zelenskiy will face stiff opposition from more seasoned candidates, facing an uphill battle.

Background

Ukraine is a unitary, semi-presidential constitutional republic with over 42 million citizens. A multi-party democracy, Ukraine’s executive power is exercised by the Cabinet of Ministers, with a Prime Minister as its chief executive, while legislative power is contained within the Parliament, Verkhovna Rada. The President is the head of state, representing the nation in international affairs, administering the foreign policy of Ukraine, and conducting negotiations. Ukraine’s constitutions presents the President as the guarantor of state sovereignty by ensuring the nation’s independence, national security and legal succession of the state. Significantly, the president also appoints the PM with the approval of Verkhovna Rada. The President is directly elected through an absolute majority in a two-round vote by Ukrainian citizens for five years, limited to two consecutive terms.

In recent years, Ukraine has come under immense international pressure; it has struggled to balance its desire to integrate with the Euro-Atlantic bloc while balancing its strong ties to Russia. In 2014, Russia militarily intervened in Ukraine, annexing Crimea into its territory, a move that has garnered international condemnation. The Ukraine President’s role in securing state sovereignty is extremely important in this light.

Incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is the state’s fifth President, winning over 54% of the vote in the first and only round of the 2014 elections.

Analysis

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year old comedian with no prior political experience, is expected to remain comfortably ahead of incumbent Mr. Poroshenko in the first round of Ukraine’s Presidential elections. Exit polls and early counting has the comedian, incumbent Mr. Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the first, second and third places respectively, in a crowded candidate field of 39. However, Mr. Zelenskiy is unlikely to receive more than half the votes, making the runoff vote slated for April 21 likely.

Mr. Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional president in a popular Ukrainian TV series, is expected lead in the elections remains to attune with democratic voters around the world spurring anti-establishment candidates to power. However, Mr. Zelenskiy’s task is decidedly difficult given the political background of his immediate competitors. Mr. Zelenskiy must convince Ukraine’s electorate of his policies in a country caught in-between the struggle between the West and Moscow. Mr. Zelenskiy’s virtual political anonymity and his reluctance to explicate proposed policies in detail maybe a hindering factor in Ukraine. This is especially important in issues such as reforms required to keep the nation in an International Monetary Fund bailout program that directly supports Ukraine’s war effort with Russia, its economic recession, as well as its plunging currency.

Mr. Poroshenko and other more traditional campaigners are likely to weaponise Mr. Zelenskiy’s lack of political experience. This is of particular importance against a seasoned international player such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, a serious rival to Ukraine’s geopolitical ambitions and livelihood. Mr. Poroshenko has already said that Mr. Putin would love to have a “soft, pliant, tender, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideological amorphous and political undecided President of Ukraine.” Still, Mr. Poroshenko must beat Mr. Zelenskiy’s advantage of 30.6% of votes to his 17.8%, and Mrs. Tymoshenko competitive 14.2%, although she challenged the accuracy of the polls. Mr. Poroshenko will be boosted by an established campaign network and the support of administrators across the country.

In the run-up to the runoff, Mr. Zelenskiy is likely to continue to run his unconventional campaign best encapsulated by his statement, “No promises, no disappointment.” In line with his relaxed campaign style, Mr. Zelenskiy’s election night location featured a bar with free alcohol and entertainment. However, he is likely to face concern over his platform and questionable links to a controversial Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. All of Mr. Zelenskiy’s TV shows feature on Mr. Kolomoisky’s TV channels. Mr. Kolomoisky is facing numerous investigations in Ukraine over his businesses and is in self-imposed exile in Israel.

Assessment

Our assessment is that despite Mr. Zelenskiy’s sizeable lead, he faces an uphill battle against Mr. Poroshenko’s established base. We believe that Mr. Zelenskiy’s greatest test will be to establish his policy on Russia, especially to an electorate that has previously mobilised in force against a perceived pro-Russian president. We also believe that in order for Mr. Zelenskiy to win, he must establish his credentials relating to police by hiring seasoned advisors, as well as ensure that his ties to Mr. Kolomoisky will not be perceived as negative.

Image Courtesy: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/63/KVARTAL_95_Vadim_Chuprina.jpg, Vadim Chuprina [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

 

Comments