Ex­perts: Poroshenko needs a near-mir­a­cle to win race

Kyiv Post - - National - BY OKSANA GRYTSENKO [email protected]­POST.COM

Af­ter it be­came clear that po­lit­i­cal satirist Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy would de­feat Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko in the March 31 first round of vot­ing, the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent ad­dressed vot­ers of the ri­val he will face on April 21 to say he “has heard” their mes­sage.

Poroshenko re­minded that April 1, the next day af­ter the vote, is a Fool’s Day, re­fer­ring to Ze­len­skiy’s pro­fes­sion, and all laughs should be over af­ter that.

“My friends, it’s no joke,” he said. But the “no joke” sit­u­a­tion is, in fact, the one in which Poroshenko is in now. He faces a steep up­hill bat­tle in his quest to win an­other five-year term and de­feat Ze­len­skiy in the sec­ond round on April 21.

Ac­cord­ing to the elec­tion re­sults, more than 5.7 mil­lion peo­ple voted for Ze­len­skiy and only 3 mil­lion for Poroshenko.

All polls pre­dict that Ze­len­skiy will de­feat Poroshenko in the sec­ond round. Ac­cord­ing to the forecast by Rat­ing group con­ducted in late March, Ze­len­skiy will win by 20 points — 39 per­cent of votes against 19 per­cent for Poroshenko, with a huge num­ber yet un­de­cided.

With such a gap, Poroshenko will have to do nearly the im­pos­si­ble to de­feat Ze­len­skiy in the sec­ond round, ex­perts say.

“I just can­not see it, un­less Ze­len­skiy self-de­structs,” Ti­mothy Ash, a Lon­don-based po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, wrote in an op-ed.

Volodymyr Fe­senko, head of the Penta po­lit­i­cal think tank, said Poroshenko still might win though “it’s very hard, the gap is very big.”

There is one prece­dent in Ukraine’s po­lit­i­cal his­tory in 1994, when Leonid Kuchma lost to Leonid Kravchuk in the first round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tion but beat him in the sec­ond round. The gap be­tween them in the first round was 7 per­cent­age points, half that be­tween Ze­len­skiy and Poroshenko.

Tele­vised de­bate

On elec­tion night on March 31, Poroshenko called on Ze­len­skiy to par­tic­i­pate in a tele­vised de­bate.

Ze­len­sky ac­cepted, in­sist­ing in a video ad­dress on April 3 that they should take place at Ukraine’s largest sta­dium Olimpiyski­y, and Poroshenko should pub­licly ad­mit that “he would de­bate not a pup­pet, a clown, a bump­kin, but a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, Volodymyr Ze­len­skiy.”

Poroshenko took the chal­lenge in an­other video ad­dress late at night. “Sta­dium it is,” he said.

Ukrainian pub­lic broad­caster UA Per­shiy made a state­ment that it can hold the de­bates at the sta­dium on April 19, on the last Fri­day be­fore the run-off, as the law re­quires.

Fe­senko said the de­bate may play in fa­vor of Poroshenko, who is an ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cian and good speaker. Poroshenko will try to cre­ate a con­trast be­tween him­self and a “weak and in­com­pe­tent” Ze­len­skiy.

It, how­ever, will not nec­es­sar­ily work. In the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of 2004, a bet­ter ed­u­cated Vik­tor Yushchenko failed to win the de­bate against Vik­tor Yanukovych, who had much weaker speak­ing skills but was well-pre­pared.

In the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of 2014, Poroshenko re­fused to de­bate with for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, who is an ac­com­plished pub­lic speaker. Both Poroshenko and Ze­len­skiy ig­nored a de­bate with Ty­moshenko on March 29.

Low elec­toral turnout

Though the polls were pre­dict­ing Ze­len­skiy’s vic­tory, many had doubts that his largely young elec­torate will even­tu­ally come to the polling sta­tions. But the elec­toral turnout of 63 per­cent proved they were wrong.

Fe­senko be­lieves that the higher turnout will be in the sec­ond round, the bet­ter chances Ze­len­skiy will have. “If it is at least 55 per­cent then Ze­len­skiy wins,” he said. “If it is less than 50 per­cent than Poroshenko gets a chance.”

A poll by Rat­ing group con­ducted in late March showed that 19 per­cent of vot­ers of Ty­moshenko, 18 per­cent of vot­ers of ex-SBU chief Ihor Smeshko, 16 per­cent of vot­ers of ex-en­ergy min­is­ter Yuriy Boyko and 15 per­cent of vot­ers of ex-de­fense min­is­ter Ana­toliy Hryt­senko were ready to sup­port Ze­len­skiy as their sec­ond choice. For Poroshenko, a sig­nif­i­cant flow of vot­ers was pos­si­ble only from Grytsenko (13 per­cent) and from na­tion­al­ist can­di­date Rus­lan Koshu­lyn­sky (14 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to the same poll.

In this sit­u­a­tion Poroshenko’s team will likely try to per­suade peo­ple who voted for other can­di­dates, fist of all the vot­ers of Ty­moshenko and Grytsenko, who be­came the third and the fifth in the first round, to ig­nore the run-off, Fe­senko said.

Poroshenko’s con­sul­tants could also try to dis­tract the young elec­torate from go­ing to the polling sta­tions on April 21. “They will try to or­ga­nize some free con­certs, shows, de­liver the free tick­ets, any­thing to dis­tract them from the vote,” he said.


On April 2, a group of friends of a mur­dered ac­tivist Kateryna Gandz­iuk claimed Poroshenko’s low re­sult in the first round was caused by ig­no­rance to the de­mands of civil so­ci­ety.

“You can go on lis­ten­ing to your al­lies who brought you to 16 per­cent in com­par­i­son to 54.7 per­cent in 2014 and you will see your crash in the sec­ond round. Or you can get your head out of the sand at last and do what you should have done long ago,” they wrote on a Face­book page “Who or­dered the killing of Ka­tia Gandz­iuk?”

The ac­tivists de­manded Poroshenko to fire his party mem­bers An­driy Hordeev and Yevhen Ryshchuk from the posts of gov­er­nor and deputy gov­er­nor of Kher­son Oblast and al­low pros­e­cu­tion of them. Ac­tivists sus­pect both of­fi­cials of or­der­ing Gandz­iuk’s mur­der, which they deny. They also de­manded Poroshenko stop co­op­er­at­ing with the tainted Odesa’s mayor Gen­nadiy Trukhanov and Kharkiv’s mayor Hen­nadiy Kernes and pres­sure for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of dozens of at­tacks on ac­tivists.

On April 1, the ex­perts of An­tiCor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter, an anti-cor­rup­tion watch­dog, urged Poroshenko to fire Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko, head of anti-cor­rup­tion pros­e­cu­tion Nazar Kholod­nyt­sky and deputy head of SBU state se­cu­rity ser­vice Pavlo Dem­chyna, all of whom are sus­pected of cor­rup­tion and sab­o­tage of in­ves­ti­ga­tions into graft. They de­manded to sup­port strip­ping of im­punity of law­mak­ers and change in­ef­fi­cient ju­di­cial gover­nance bod­ies.

“We see no move­ments from Poroshenko to ful­fill these tasks so far,” the ex­perts of Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter said in the re­port, adding that his com­peti­tor Ze­len­skiy has al­ready signed prom­ises to ful­fill most of these de­mands if he gets elected.

Poroshenko re­sponded to the anti-cor­rup­tion de­mands with of­fer­ing on April 2 that the govern­ment con­duct tests on a lie de­tec­tor for of­fi­cials of Ukroboron­prom, state-run de­fense com­pany. In late Fe­bru­ary — early March jour­nal­ists of the Nashi Groshi investigat­ive pro­gram re­vealed mas­sive em­bez­zle­ment in the de­fense sec­tor, in­volv­ing Ukroboron­prom, which was con­ducted by Poroshenko’s ally Oleh Hlad­kovskiy and his son Ihor Hlad­kovskiy.

On April 3, Poroshenko also or­dered the govern­ment to con­duct a rather sym­bol­i­cal de­crease of the util­ity gas prices of 17 kopeks per cu­bic me­ter. For a fam­ily of three peo­ple, it would be a sav­ing of less than Hr 2 ($0.07) per month, ac­cord­ing to Kyiv Post's cal­cu­la­tions.

Smear cam­paign

Poroshenko could also try to de­stroy Ze­len­skiy’s rep­u­ta­tion in the few weeks re­main­ing be­tween the two rounds. In his speech on elec­tion night, Poroshenko has al­ready openly called his com­peti­tor a “pup­pet of (oli­garch Ihor) Kolo­moisky.”

Ze­len­skiy, whose TV show is be­ing screened at Kolo­moisky’s 1+1 TV chan­nel, de­nies links to Kolo­moisky other than busi­ness ones.

Ads claim­ing Ze­len­skiy is to­tally de­pen­dent on Kolo­moisky were widely used on so­cial me­dia be­fore the first round. Since early April, the strat­egy ap­par­ently changed. The new ads tar­get al­leged in­com­pe­tence of Ze­len­skiy, show­ing a man who re­sem­bles him, as a chief com­man­der un­able to take a de­ci­sion, a doctor, in­ca­pable to con­duct surgery or a pi­lot who doesn’t know how di­rect an air­plane.

Balazs Jara­bik, a non­res­i­dent scholar at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Peace, be­lieves Poroshenko’s strate­gists will con­tinue us­ing Kolo­moisky’s card against Ze­len­skiy as well as con­tinue por­tray­ing him as a can­di­date al­legedly linked to Rus­sia.

Fe­senko said that there will be more rev­e­la­tions about busi­ness and even fam­ily of Ze­len­skiy. “They may go even up to talk­ing of Ze­len­skiy’s na­tion­al­ity through stress­ing on these is­sues are nor­mally not be­ing ac­cepted well here,” Fe­senko said. Ze­len­skiy years ago ad­mit­ted be­ing Jewish.

In late March, his­to­rian Olek­sandr Palii, a ve­he­ment sup­porter of Poroshenko, wrote on Face­book that “Pres­i­dent of Ukraine should be Ukrainian and Chris­tian,” a post that sparked many out­raged com­ments.

On April 2, for­mer Ge­or­gian Pres­i­dent Mikheil Saakashvil­i and re­formist law­maker Sergii Leshchenko, both big crit­ics of Poroshenko, claimed that prom­i­nent Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal tech­nol­o­gist Moshe Klughaft ar­rived in Kyiv to con­trib­ute in Poroshenko’s re­elec­tion. Poroshenko’s press peo­ple de­nied this.

“It will be a lot of very in­ter­est­ing things in the com­ing weeks,” Jara­bik said. ■

A man comes out of a vot­ing booth in Kyiv on March 31, 2019, the day Ukraine held the first round of its pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

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