With 26 can­di­dates reg­is­tered, the real race be­gins in earnest

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RUDENKO AND OKSANA GRYTSENKO [email protected] [email protected]

Edi­tor’s Note: Elec­tion Watch is a reg­u­lar up­date on the state of the pres­i­den­tial race in Ukraine. The coun­try will elect its next pres­i­dent on March 31, 2019, with a pos­si­ble runoff on April 21. The Elec­tion Watch project is sup­ported by the Na­tional En­dow­ment for Democ­racy. The donor doesn’t in­flu­ence the con­tent. Go to kyivpost.com for more elec­tion coverage.

The reg­is­tra­tion pe­riod for can­di­dates is com­ing to an end, and the first polls of the year are out. Now the race is heat­ing up.

Can­di­dates in

Dur­ing the last week of reg­is­tra­tion, the num­ber of of­fi­cial can­di­dates dou­bled. There are now 26 pres­i­den­tial con­tenders reg­is­tered with the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion as of Jan. 31, with just three days re­main­ing un­til the Feb. 3 dead­line.

The 13 ad­di­tions of the week were:

• Inna Bo­hoslovska (self-nom­i­nated), a former top mem­ber of dis­graced ex-Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych’s Party of Re­gions who switched sides dur­ing the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion in 2013–2014 and quit ac­tive pol­i­tics, ap­pear­ing in­stead as a com­men­ta­tor on TV;

• Olek­sandr Vilkul ( nom­i­nated by Op­po­si­tion Bloc — Party of Peace and De­vel­op­ment), a law­maker with the pro-Rus­sian Op­po­si­tion Bloc and a former top of­fi­cial of the Yanukovych gov­ern­ment;

• Olek­sandr Danyliuk (self-nom­i­nated), an ac­tivist and briefly an ad­vi­sor to defense min­is­ter Va­leriy Geletey in 2014;

• Dmytro Do­brodomov (nom­i­nated by Peo­ple’s Move­ment Civil­ian Con­trol), a law­maker;

• Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy (nom­i­nated by the Ser­vant of the Peo­ple party), an ac­tor who an­nounced that he will run for pres­i­dent on Dec. 31 and is lead­ing the polls;

• Illya Kiva (nom­i­nated by the So­cial­ist Party of Ukraine), a scandalous former po­lice of­fi­cial and ad­vi­sor to In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov;

• Arkady Kor­natsky (self-nom­i­nated), an in­de­pen­dent law­maker and owner of a farm­ing busi­ness;

• Rus­lan Koshu­lyn­sky ( nom­i­nated by the right-wing Svo­boda party), a sin­gle can­di­date backed by sev­eral na­tion­al­ist par­ties;

• Oleg Lyashko (nom­i­nated by the Rad­i­cal Party), a pop­ulist law­maker who came third in the 2014 elec­tion with 8 per­cent of the votes;

• Olek­sandr Moroz ( nom­i­nated by the So­cial­ist Party of Olek­sandr Moroz), a vet­eran of Ukrainian pol­i­tics and former speaker of the par­lia­ment;

• Yevhen Mu­rayev ( nom­i­nated by the Nashi party), a law­maker, ex-mem­ber of the Op­po­si­tion Bloc and former owner of the NewsOne

TV chan­nel;

• Ihor Smeshko (self-nom­i­nated), ex-head of the Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine in 2003–2005;

• Ser­hiy Taruta (nom­i­nated by the Os­nova po­lit­i­cal party), a law­maker and busi­ness­man. Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko had not yet of­fi­cially sub­mit­ted his can­di­dacy and ap­peared to be sav­ing it for the last days of the reg­is­tra­tion pe­riod. And ex-law­maker Ro­man Bezs­mert­niy and Vidrodzhen­nya (Re­nais­sance) party law­maker Vik­tor Bon­dar have filed their can­di­da­cies, but have not yet been reg­is­tered.

Ad­di­tion­ally, two can­di­dates who have an­nounced their in­ten­tion to run don’t look like they’ll be able to reg­is­ter. The former in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist Dmytro Gnap, nom­i­nated by the Syla Li­udey (Strength of the Peo­ple) party, has been try­ing to fundraise the Hr 2.5 mil­lion ($90,000) reg­is­tra­tion fee but is still short nearly Hr 2 mil­lion.

The sec­ond is Nadiya Savchenko, a law­maker and a former po­lit­i­cal pris­oner of Rus­sia, who has been in pre-trial de­ten­tion since March on sus­pi­cion of plot­ting a mass as­sas­si­na­tion of Ukrainian lead­er­ship. She started a party that nom­i­nated her for the pres­i­dency in ab­sen­tia, but has failed to com­plete the reg­is­tra­tion pro­ce­dure so far. (See story on page 2)

No more sus­pense

This week also saw two of the most an­tic­i­pated events of the cam­paign.

On Jan. 28, rock star Svy­atoslav Vakarchuk fi­nally ended months of spec­u­la­tion and an­nounced that he will not run for pres­i­dent af­ter all, de­spite many an­tic­i­pat­ing his can­di­dacy. How­ever, he hinted — again — that he might run for the Verkhovna Rada in the Oc­to­ber par­lia­men­tary elec­tion.

Be­fore that, Ukrainian me­dia, cit­ing un­named sources, re­ported that Poroshenko was ne­go­ti­at­ing with Vakarchuk to re­ceive his en­dorse­ment. When some me­dia stated that Vakarchuk was ready to en­dorse the pres­i­dent, the rocker re­leased a state­ment deny­ing it.

And, on Jan. 29, Poroshenko fi­nally re­vealed what has been an open secret for months: that he is run­ning for a sec­ond term.

The in­cum­bent pres­i­dent made his an­nounce­ment at a fo­rum with an in­ten­tion­ally vague char­ac­ter: nei­ther a party con­ven­tion, nor an out­right po­lit­i­cal event. This vague­ness al­lowed Poroshenko to in­clude peo­ple who by law are not al­lowed to at­tend po­lit­i­cal con­ven­tions and show sup­port for par­ties — namely, city may­ors and top of­fi­cials. (See story on page 5)

On the same day and at roughly the same time, an­other party con­ven­tion

took place in Kyiv: the Op­po­si­tion Plat­form — Za Zhyttya, a pro-Rus­sian party that nom­i­nated Yuriy Boyko for the pres­i­dency. Speak­ing at the event, the party’s top mem­ber and backer, pro-Rus­sian politi­cian Vik­tor Medved­chuk, an­nounced his party’s plan to pro­vide the Rus­sia-oc­cu­pied parts of eastern Ukraine with broad au­ton­omy and re­vive friend­ship with Rus­sia.

New polls

Mean­while, new polls con­ducted in Jan­uary are show­ing sur­pris­ing re­sults. Co­me­dian Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy has passed the former fron­trun­ner, ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, and in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Poroshenko with 23-per­cent sup­port among Ukraini­ans who plan to vote and have de­cided on a can­di­date.

That fig­ure comes from a joint poll con­ducted on Jan. 16–29 by polling agen­cies So­cis, the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy, and the Razumkov Cen­ter us­ing a sam­ple of 11,000 peo­ple. Pub­lished on Jan. 31, the poll shows Poroshenko tak­ing sec­ond place with 16.4-per­cent sup­port and Ty­moshenko com­ing in third with 15.7 per­cent.

How­ever, a large group of vot­ers re­mains un­de­cided: 23 per­cent of all Ukraini­ans who plan to vote have not yet set­tled on a can­di­date.

A sep­a­rate poll by the Rat­ing so­ci­o­log­i­cal group, which sur­veyed 6,000 peo­ple, con­firmed Ze­len­skiy as the new fron­trun­ner with 19-per­cent sup­port, but showed Ty­moshenko as the run­ner-up with 18.2 per­cent. Poroshenko took third with 15.1 per­cent.

Ze­len­skiy, who an­nounced his pres­i­den­tial run on the New Year’s Eve, man­aged to mo­bi­lize many un­de­cided vot­ers, the so­ci­ol­o­gists say.

“A protest­ing elec­torate that pre­vi­ously didn’t vote has been mo­bi­lized,” said Li­ubomyr My­siv, deputy di­rec­tor of Rat­ing. Both polls show that more than 80 per­cent of Ukraini­ans plan to cast their votes in March — a 10-per­cent in­crease com­pared to the re­sults from 2018 polls.

Ze­len­skiy en­joys the high­est sup­port among peo­ple aged 40 and be­low of both gen­ders. He is most pop­u­lar in south­east­ern Ukraine and in Kyiv. Mean­while, Poroshenko’s core elec­torate is con­cen­trated in Western Ukraine and in Kyiv among all age groups. How­ever, the in­cum­bent is a bit more pop­u­lar among men. Most of Ty­moshenko’s sup­port­ers are in the cen­tral and north­ern parts of Ukraine, and she is more pop­u­lar among mid­dle-aged women, My­siv said.

In Rat­ing’s pro­jec­tions for the all-but-in­evitable run-off elec­tion af­ter the first round of vot­ing, Ze­len­skiy will de­feat both Poroshenko and Ty­moshenko. If Ty­moshenko and Poroshenko make it into the sec­ond round, Ty­moshenko has a higher chance of win­ning.

En­ter the ab­surd

If there’s one thing Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns never lack, it’s ab­surd and funny news. This elec­tion is no ex­cep­tion.

For ex­am­ple, Ihor Shevchenko, a self-nom­i­nated former ecol­ogy min­is­ter, who en­joys mar­ginal sup­port and wasn’t men­tioned in the lat­est pres­i­den­tial polls, has found some ques­tion­able ways of get­ting into the spot­light.

Shevchenko boasted on Face­book about grab­bing five free knit caps from a vend­ing ma­chine at the 2019 World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos. He said a se­cu­rity guard even tried to stop him.

“I took four hats, walked away and re­al­ized I needed to take more,” he wrote.

Shevchenko’s hat ad­ven­ture quickly went vi­ral, yet many failed to find it amus­ing. Hun­dreds of com­men­ta­tors mocked Shevchenko and con­demned his ac­tions. Shevchenko then took the stunt fur­ther and made the blue cap the sym­bol of his cam­paign.

It wasn’t the first time Shevchenko’s cam­paign had taken a provoca­tive turn. Be­ing sin­gle, the can­di­date pre­vi­ously an­nounced that he was seek­ing his fu­ture first lady, to be cho­sen through an open com­pe­ti­tion. It earned him con­dem­na­tion from women’s rights ac­tivists — and, again, plenty of me­dia coverage.

In an­other strange cam­paign mo­ment, former Defense Min­is­ter Ana­toliy Grytsenko and Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko en­tered into a seem­ingly ju­ve­nile stand­off. The con­flict be­gan with an in­ter­view pub­lished on Jan. 29 in which Grytsenko said that Lut­senko was “hid­ing his son from mil­i­tary ser­vice.”

Lut­senko, whose el­der son Olek­sandr served as a vol­un­teer in 2014–2015, took of­fense. He said that Grytsenko has “24 hours to apol­o­gize” and that “this is the kind of thing for which one can get punched in the face.”

But Ukraini­ans didn’t get to watch a brawl be­tween the pros­e­cu­tor, 54, and the former min­is­ter, 61. Grytsenko apol­o­gized to Lut­senko’s son, but said he won’t apol­o­gize to Lut­senko him­self, whom he called a patho­log­i­cal liar.

A mockup im­age shows a cam­paign ad for Dmytro Gnap, a former in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist try­ing to run for pres­i­dent. His cam­paign be­came a demon­stra­tion of the lim­i­ta­tions of an un­der­fi­nanced in­de­pen­dent pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. Gnap said on Jan. 30 that he could af­ford only one bill­board. But as he at­tempted to place it in Kyiv, he said he was turned down by ev­ery ad­ver­tis­ing com­pany he ap­proached — sup­pos­edly be­cause of the slo­gan "liv­ing the new way," an ironic rep­e­ti­tion of Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko's 2014 cam­paign theme. Three days be­fore the end of the can­di­dates' reg­is­tra­tion, he still had not raised the Hr 2.5 mil­lion reg­is­tra­tion fee. (Face­book/Dmytro Gnap)

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and pop­u­lar comedic ac­tor Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy (C) reg­is­teres as a can­di­date with the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion on Jan. 25, 2019, in Kyiv. (Cour­tesy)

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