Polls don’t look good for Poroshenko; ex­tra bal­lots cause con­cern; de­bates will be duds?

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OLGA RUDENKO [email protected]­POST.COM

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.

A week be­fore the elec­tion, the or­der of the top trio ap­pears to be so­lid­i­fy­ing.

Ac­tor and po­lit­i­cal satirist Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy has led the race since late Jan­uary.

In mid-March, Ze­len­skiy was sup­ported by 24.9 per­cent of de­cided vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est poll by the Rat­ing Group, a Kyiv-based poll­ster, re­leased on March 19.

He is fol­lowed by ex-Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko with 18.8 per­cent sup­port. For the leader of the Batkivshch­yna party, it is her third at­tempt to win the pres­i­dency.

In­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko ranked third in the poll: 17.4 per­cent sup­ported his re-elec­tion.

Out of sev­eral polls re­leased in March, all but one place Poroshenko third. One flat­ter­ing poll that had Poroshenko in sec­ond place was re­leased by So­cis, a poll­ster co-owned by the son of Poroshenko’s cam­paign strate­gist and law­maker Ihor Hryniv. It was Hryniv who mas­ter­minded Poroshenko’s 2014 cam­paign that got him a whop­ping 54 per­cent in the first round of the elec­tion — enough for him to win the pres­i­dency out­right in one round.

But while Poroshenko's chances of mak­ing the runoff seem bleak, he may still ben­e­fit from low turnout among young vot­ers, many of whom sup­port Ze­len­skiy.

Also, the turnout will be af­fected by the fact that many Ukraini­ans don't live in the place where they are reg­is­tered to vote. If they want to vote, they need to change their vot­ing lo­ca­tion with the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties be­fore March 26 — a hur­dle that not ev­ery­one will clear. As of mid-March, only some 90,000 peo­ple had gone through the pro­ce­dure, in­clud­ing those re­lo­cated from the war-torn Don­bas and Rus­sia-oc­cu­pied Crimea. The ex­act num­ber of Ukraini­ans who don't re­side where they are reg­is­tered is un­known.

Most of the 1 mil­lion Ukraini­ans who are reck­oned to live and work in Poland are likely to skip the elec­tion, too. Vot­ing for them re­quires prior reg­is­tra­tion with the lo­cal con­sulate, and many live in places where there isn't one. In the 2014 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, only about 5,000 Ukraini­ans voted in Poland.

This may be bad news for Poroshenko, as most of the Ukraini­ans work­ing in Poland come from west­ern Ukraine, where Poroshenko en­joys es­pe­cially strong sup­port thanks to his con­ser­va­tive pro­gram and strong anti-Rus­sian stance.

Mean­while, some 15 per­cent of the vot­ers re­main un­de­cided, ac­cord­ing to a poll by the Rat­ing Group.

Runoff

There is lit­tle doubt there will be a runoff sec­ond round in this elec­tion, as none of the can­di­dates are polling any­where close to the 50 per­cent that is the thresh­old for the firstround vic­tory.

And fore­casts for the runoff have been con­sis­tent for the past three months. Out of the lead­ing trio, Poroshenko has the worst chances of win­ning in a runoff: he is likely to lose both to Ze­len­skiy and Ty­moshenko, ac­cord­ing to the Rat­ing Group’s polling data. Ty­moshenko would pre­vail over Poroshenko but lose to Ze­len­skiy. Ze­len­skiy would beat ei­ther of them.

Poroshenko’s prob­lem is his high anti-rat­ing. About half of the vot­ers de­clare they will not vote for him un­der any cir­cum­stance, ac­cord­ing to the Rat­ing Group. Some 30 per­cent said the same about Ty­moshenko. Ze­len­skiy, who is a po­lit­i­cal novice, holds an anti-rat­ing of just 13 per­cent.

But para­dox­i­cally, the same poll also showed that the largest share of vot­ers, 20 per­cent, still be­lieve Poroshenko will win. Ze­len­skiy and Ty­moshenko fol­low with 19 and 18 per­cent, re­spec­tively.

Ex­tra bal­lots

Alarm­ing news came ear­lier in the week from the Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion. Ac­cord­ing to pub­lic records, the com­mis­sion had or­dered a change to the num­ber of bal­lots it was al­lo­cat­ing to each round of the elec­tion.

It orig­i­nally or­dered 30.2 mil­lion bal­lots to be printed for both the first round and the runoff, which is only slightly more than the num­ber of reg­is­tered vot­ers. How­ever, later the com­mis­sion re­al­lo­cated 263,000 bal­lots from the runoff to the first round.

The Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion rep­re­sen­ta­tives could not ex­plain why it needed more bal­lots for the first round of the elec­tion than for the sec­ond.

It stirred fears that the bal­lots were re­quired to rig the elec­tion in fa­vor of Poroshenko. Judg­ing from the polls, the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent isn’t guar­an­teed a spot in the runoff.

The Cen­tral Elec­tion Com­mis­sion de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions.

De­bates

While in the United States and other West­ern democ­ra­cies pub­lic de­bates are a must-have com­po­nent of any elec­tion, in Ukraine they re­main rare events.

And while the state-owned TV chan­nel UA Per­shiy hosts of­fi­cial elec­tion de­bates, they aren’t pop­u­lar with the top can­di­dates.

The sta­tion’s pro­ducer Te­tiana Ky­selchuk told De­tec­tor Me­dia that UA Per­shiy had in­vited 18 out of 39 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to join the de­bates, pick­ing the ones with the most sup­port. How­ever, only 13 of the 18 can­di­dates agreed to show up.

The top can­di­dates have yet to say if they will take part or not, ac­cord­ing to Ky­selchuk. And even those who agreed to come could drop out — as hap­pened with Ser­hiy Kaplin, the leader of the So­cial­ist Demo­cratic Party. He failed to show up for the first de­bate of the elec­tion on March 18, where he was to speak along­side ex-law­maker Inna Bo­goslovskay­a and Olek­sandr Moroz, the for­mer speaker of par­lia­ment and for­mer leader of the now mar­ginal So­cial­ist Party.

Money

No mat­ter who wins the elec­tion, some­one is win­ning al­ready: all ad­ver­tis­ing plat­forms, in­clud­ing TV and Face­book.

Ac­cord­ing to Ch­esno, a cam­paign mon­i­tor­ing politi­cians and elec­tions, the can­di­dates have to­gether spent over Hr 1 bil­lion ($37 mil­lion) on TV ad­ver­tis­ing dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign.

They have also spent on out­door ad­ver­tis­ing and other me­dia.

For ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to Ch­esno, busi­ness­man and pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Ser­hiy Taruta, who on March 16 en­dorsed Ty­moshenko with­out of­fi­cially drop­ping out of the race in her fa­vor, had by then spent Hr 150 mil­lion ($5.5 mil­lion) on ad­ver­tis­ing across dif­fer­ent plat­forms.

Face­book is prof­it­ing from the elec­tion as well. The plat­form now dis­plays how much was paid for any spe­cific ad shown on a Face­book page. Watch­dogs dived into the data and found dozens of posts that ad­ver­tised top can­di­dates, each boosted for hun­dreds and some­times thou­sands of dol­lars.

UKROP party can­di­date Olek­sandr Shevchenko was one of the big­gest spenders: He paid Face­book be­tween $10,000 and $50,000 to boost just one post — a photo of him and his wife on the oc­ca­sion of the In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day.

Days un­til elec­tion:

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