In Ukraine, No Unanimity Among Experts as Election Looms
26 March, 2019

With just five days to go until the election there seems to be no consensus among experts as to who will be the next president of Ukraine. Despite comedian-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelenskiy emerging as a surprise opinion poll headliner, not all view him as the winner in this election.

"I don’t have any problem with Zelenskiy per se, but I think many people confuse his TV character for his real-life persona," says Yevhen Fedchenko, director at the Mohyla School of Journalism and co-founder of the Stop Fake organization that detects and exposes misinformation in the news environment.

READ MORE: Showbiz to Presidential Candidate: Who is Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy?

In Fedchenko's opinion for many Ukrainians the line between television and reality is blurred and, as a result, not everybody can distinguish Vasyl Goloborodko, a very grounded Ukrainian president from the "Servant of the People" TV series (portrayed by Zelenskiy), from real-life presidential candidate Zelenskiy.

Ukraine's "top 5" among the presidential candidates, according to most polls, from left to right: opposition candidate Yuriy Boyko, incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, comedian and businessman Volodymyr Zelenskiy, former defense minister and democratic camp representative Anatoliy Hrytsenko and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Political expert and activist Dirk Lustig thinks that Zelenskiy is a protest vote; a consequence of the mistrust between the Ukrainian people and the political elite.

"The people were waiting for this outsider to jump in the race," Lustig said adding that, he was hoping for this outsider to be rock singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, but it’s Zelenskiy. 

READ MORE: Presidential Election in Ukraine: One Week Countdown

Lustig levels concerns with this situation claiming that people should not vote to protest. They should vote with the nation’s best interests at heart.

British journalist and longtime Ukraine observer Bohdan Nahaylo articulates that Zelenskiy represents a refreshing element to Ukrainian politics, despite “being a joker in the past.”

“The question is whether he is sufficiently patriotic, does he sufficiently identify with Ukraine,” Nahaylo added. So far, according to Nahaylo, he has been reassuring over these past weeks and has been appearing on a daily basis answering tough questions.

READ MORE: Dozens of Suspicious Tymoshenko Party Donations Traced to Fugitive MP Onyshchenko – Investigation

Latest opinion polls (conducted by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology) show that 32.1% of those Ukrainians who are decided with their choice and are planning to vote will elect Zelenskiy. 17.1% say they will vote for incumbent Petro Poroshenko and 12.5% for former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Unlike Nahaylo who said that polls are a good representation of election moods in the country, Fedchenko thinks that they need to be treated with caution.

From left to right: Kyiv-based writer Paul Niland, British journalist Bohdan Nahaylo, hromadske journalist Nataliya Gumenyuk, political expert Dirk Lustig and Stop Fake co-founder Yevhen Fedchenko.

“Polls depend upon what you are asking, there are a lot of different polls from respectable institutions” which of course “gives you some idea of what's going on, who is the leading player, but it's very difficult to make projections into the future because all other Ukrainian elections gave us examples where polls were not reflecting.”

READ MORE: Pre-Election Gambit: Will Poroshenko Sacrifice a Friend for Presidency?

Despite lack of certainty in the outcome of this presidential election, one thing is clear in Ukraine, says Kyiv-based writer Paul Niland. That's that "democracy is well and alive here in Ukraine."

If this is in fact true, this years election will be a success. Many dispute this claim; accusations of buying votes and bribery are prevalent. Ukraine has struggled severely with corruption and misinformation - a driving factor of the 2014 Euromaidan revolution; an issue which must still be addressed thoroughly and collectively. This is apparent to be among the biggest challenges that the new (or old) President will face.

/Interviews by Nataliya Gumenyuk, text by Max Rogers