Ze­len­skiy opens lead in re­cent poll as No. 2 spot shifts to pres­i­dent

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RUDENKO [email protected] Kyiv Post staff writ­ers Oksana Grytsenko and Bermet Talant con­trib­uted to this story.

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.

Six weeks be­fore Ukraini­ans cast their bal­lots in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on March 31, two can­di­dates ap­pear to be pulling ahead of the pack of 44 can­di­dates: Ac­tor Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy and Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko. How­ever, the speed with which the lead­ers have been trad­ing places in polls hints that noth­ing is cer­tain yet.

Who’s lead­ing?

Two new polls came out on Feb. 12 and 14, both pre­sent­ing a sim­i­lar pic­ture.

Ac­tor and co­me­dian Ze­len­skiy, the big­gest dis­rup­tion of the race, has im­proved his rat­ings and achieved the big­gest lead yet in this cam­paign. He first showed up as the fron­trun­ner in early Fe­bru­ary, and a week later so­lid­i­fied his stand­ing: he now has the sup­port of 28 per­cent of Ukraini­ans who have cho­sen their can­di­date, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey re­leased by U.S. poll­ster Green­berg Quin­lan Ros­ner.

Ear­lier polls gave an un­clear view of the likely run­ner-up, vac­il­lat­ing be­tween Poroshenko and ex-Prime Min­is­ter Ty­moshenko. Now it is more cer­tain: Poroshenko is in sec­ond place with 18 per­cent of the vote. Ty­moshenko has 15 per­cent.

An­other poll by the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy (KIIS) showed al­most ex­actly the same num­bers for the lead­ing trio.

In the one-on-one runoff, Ty­moshenko can beat Poroshenko, ac­cord­ing to the KIIS poll. But Ze­len­skiy beats both.

Among the un­der­dogs of the race, lit­tle has changed in the last few weeks. Ana­toliy Grytsenko, an ex-de­fense min­is­ter who was lead­ing the polls in sum­mer 2018, ranks fifth with just 6.1 per­cent sup­port, ac­cord­ing to KIIS.

Some vot­ers have long ex­pected Grytsenko to join forces with Lviv Mayor An­driy Sadovyi, leader of the Samopomich Party. Both are key rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the pro-Western op­po­si­tion and have sim­i­lar agen­das. How­ever, there has been no uni­fi­ca­tion. As a re­sult, Sadovyi ranks at just 2.3 per­cent. He is even be­ing out­run by the much less rec­og­niz­able Ihor Smeshko, an ex-Se­cu­rity Ser­vice of Ukraine chief who has been keep­ing a low pro­file since he quit that post in 2005. Smeshko has

2.4 per­cent.

Mean­while, Sadovyi ac­cused Poroshenko of ex­ploit­ing Lviv’s long­stand­ing garbage prob­lems to se­cure the sup­port of the mayor’s 25-mem­ber fac­tion in par­lia­ment. He pub­lished a doc­u­ment from 2016 that he said showed that peo­ple from the pres­i­dent’s in­ner cir­cle con­tacted him with the promise to re­solve Lviv’s garbage is­sues in re­turn for him sup­port­ing the pro-pres­i­den­tial coali­tion in par­lia­ment.

Why the leap?

Ze­len­skiy has gone from the big­gest dis­rup­tion of the cam­paign to its big­gest sen­sa­tion. His rat­ing grew from about 6 per­cent in De­cem­ber to 16 per­cent in Jan­uary and 28 per­cent in Fe­bru­ary.

So­ci­ol­o­gists ex­plain Ze­len­skiy’s leap by the fact that he has won over the sym­pa­thies of young peo­ple, who were pre­vi­ously un­de­cided. Now the chal­lenge is to make them come and vote.

On Feb. 12, par­tic­i­pants in the Dragon Cap­i­tal In­vest­ment Con­fer­ence in Kyiv dis­cussed Ze­len­skiy’s suc­cess in great de­tail.

Iryna Bekeshk­ina, the di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Demo­cratic Ini­tia­tives think tank, said she used to be skep­ti­cal about Ze­len­skiy’s chances of mak­ing it to the runoff, but has now changed her fore­cast.

She said sev­eral fac­tors are driv­ing his break­through: a protest vote, his tele­vi­sion fame, and pop­ulist ap­peal.

“Young peo­ple don’t want to vote for estab­lished politi­cians. (Rock star) Svy­atoslav Vakarchuk is not run­ning. So many think: Let it be Ze­len­skiy, just not the old ones,” Bekeshk­ina said.

She also praised his cam­paign, say­ing it will “go down in the text­books.”

Ze­len­skiy’s cam­paign is a smart mix of pop­ulism and comedy. The third sea­son of his show “Ser­vant of the Peo­ple,” where he plays an ami­able and hon­est pres­i­dent of Ukraine, is set to air shortly be­fore the elec­tion on March 31. The pro­mos for the show are ef­fec­tively pro­mot­ing Ze­len­skiy’s po­ten­tial pres­i­dency.

This ir­ri­tated the Com­mit­tee of the Vot­ers of Ukraine, a com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tion mon­i­tor­ing elec­tions. The or­ga­ni­za­tion said that Ze­len­skiy has to pay for his show to be aired — as he would pay for reg­u­lar po­lit­i­cal ads. It also ap­pealed to the Na­tional Tele­vi­sion Coun­cil to check whether the show is a po­lit­i­cal promo.

Ze­len­skiy’s comedy group, Kvar­tal 95, was sup­posed to per­form in Vin­nyt­sya on Feb. 14 but the lo­cal con­cert hall can­celed it. The con­cert hall’s man­age­ment cited a law ban­ning pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates from vis­it­ing mil­i­tary sites. The hall be­longs to the De­fense Min­istry.

“I’m sure it’s a co­in­ci­dence that this hap­pened in Vin­nyt­sya,” Ze­len­skiy said in an on­line video an­nounc­ing the can­cel­la­tion, ev­i­dently hint­ing at the city be­ing Poroshenko’s po­lit­i­cal power base.

Gandz­iuk case

Mean­while, the mur­der of Kateryna Gandz­iuk, an out­spo­ken lo­cal of­fi­cial and ac­tivist who died in Novem­ber fol­low­ing an acid at­tack, has pro­vided a grim back­ground to the cam­paign and a lit­mus test for the elec­tion.

Mem­bers of two po­lit­i­cal forces and their as­so­ciates were im­pli­cated in the at­tack — Ty­moshenko’s Batkivshch­yna and the Poroshenko Bloc. The ac­tivists push­ing for jus­tice for Gandz­iuk named sev­eral top of­fi­cials in Gandz­iuk’s na­tive Kher­son Oblast whom they deem re­spon­si­ble for her mur­der and who are mem­bers of Ty­moshenko and Poroshenko’s par­ties.

On Feb. 9, a group of ac­tivists came to an out­door Ty­moshenko cam­paign event in Kyiv to de­mand that the can­di­date com­ment on her party mem­ber’s al­leged in­volve­ment in the mur­der.

But the po­lice de­tained some of the ac­tivists, say­ing that they were car­ry­ing knives and tear gas il­le­gally, and later de­tained them again — this time more vi­o­lently — as they protested the seizure of per­sonal be­long­ings at the po­lice sta­tion.

Such a harsh re­ac­tion from law en­force­ment led some po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors to con­clude that In­te­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov se­cretly sup­ported Ty­moshenko for the pres­i­dency. Avakov be­longs to the Peo­ple’s Front, Poroshenko’s coali­tion part­ner and a self-de­clared fren­emy of the Poroshenko Bloc. The Peo­ple’s Front didn’t nom­i­nate a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. While some party mem­bers, like Par­lia­ment Speaker An­driy Paru­biy, back Poroshenko for the pres­i­dency, Avakov, who is one of the most pow­er­ful fig­ures as the na­tion's top cop, never de­clared his sup­port for any of the can­di­dates.

Avakov re­sponded to these ru­mors on Feb. 10 with a Face­book tirade where he de­nounced ac­tivists who carry arms at po­lit­i­cal ral­lies and crit­i­cized the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in gen­eral for its dirty tricks. But he hasn’t said whether he sym­pa­thizes with Ty­moshenko or any­one else.

“This isn’t an elec­tion cam­paign, this is hor­ri­ble f*ck­ery,” Avakov said. “As a re­sult, we will get f*cked-up lead­er­ship.”


Plac­ards de­pict Ukrainian en­ter­tainer and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy and oli­garch Ihor Kolo­moysk look­ing out from his back. They read “Ser­vant of oli­garch, doll of oli­garch” and were dis­trib­uted in Lviv be­fore his per­for­mance there on Feb. 8, 2019.

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