Zelensky On Course For Commanding Win In Ukraine's General Election

KYIV, Ukraine -- The Ukrainian electorate seems set to embrace the untested party of their new president in Sunday’s general election — dealing a seismic shock to the country's political elite in the process.

Sunday's election set to deliver a serious reset to Ukrainian politics.

According to the latest figures, Voldymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People, titled after the former showman’s comedy series, is projected to gain between 40-50 per cent of the vote.

That may or may not be enough to form a one-party majority.

But by week's end, the 41-year-old will almost certainly enjoy a commanding position over the main towers of Ukrainian political power.

In the process, the Supreme Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, will be transformed, with as many as three-quarters of the intake green to high politics.

Sunday’s vote is not without major intrigue.

How Zelensky and others perform will determine not only the composition of his coalition, but also that of his cabinet and premier.

Ukraine has a complicated mixed first-past-the-post and PR system, with 226 seats needed for an outright majority.

Unlike many other post-Soviet countries, the parliament is a serious player, with powers to appoint ministers and even to impeach the president.

Ahead of possible negotiations, Zelensky has already ruled out a deal with the leading pro-Russian party Opposition Platform For Life whose leaders were this week hosted in Moscow by Vladimir Putin.

But it is far from clear that his preferred coalition partner choice — Holos, a new party fronted by singer Sviatoslav Vakarchuk — will break the 5% parliamentary barrier.

That may force the rookie president into a pact with the party of Ukraine’s craftiest politician, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The election comes at a historical moment for Ukraine, with a poll revealing for the first time that a majority are hopeful their country is headed in the right direction.

Volodymyr Paniotto, Ukraine’s most experienced poll-watcher, says voters remain largely amenable to their new president.

Candidates polling for his party in first-past-the-post districts receive on average a 10-15 per cent boost, he told The Independent.

Sometimes, but not always, this is enough to overtake incumbents, who have historically spent to woo voters with playgrounds, sausages and buckwheat.

Whatever happens, Zelensky can certainly look back on a successful campaign.

Most of the time, his team played things safe.

They produced a centrist programme, mixing uncontroversial policies — though little mention was ever made of it.

They avoided any questioning on provocative issues like high communal charges.

They shunned traditional media in favour of posts on Facebook and Instagram.

The most talked-about interview of election week was in fact done by a MP3 file, with the president answering a dozen pre-recorded questions as he drove around Kiev in a Tesla.

One and a half million watched the video.

Zelensky also found an effective, if more old-school election tool in admonishing bureaucrats in public.

In the last ten days, he has ridiculed customs officials on the western border, forced a tax chief in Odessa to sign a resignation letter in front of him, and ordered another official out of the room, calling him a “gangster” for effect.

Voters have lapped up the strongman image, says Paniotto, and it has allowed him to reverse a dip in the polls.

But Zelensky’s use of populist mechanisms should come with a warning, says the political philosopher Mikhail Minakov.

After all, it was first popularised by a certain Alexander Lukashenko, the president leader next door, who wasted no time turning Belarus into an authoritarian regime.

“What worries me is that there won’t be strong enough opposition to Zelensky,” Minakov tells The Independent.

"This new intake may be fresh, but they will be less competent too."

Another takeaway from the polling is that voters have moved further away from the previous president.

Since April, Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party has seen its projected result go from double digits to barely breaking the parliamentary barrier of 5 per cent.

It can be assumed that Poroshenko will not be invited into the coalition given the sharp words directed at Zelensky during the presidential campaign.

Olga Onukh, an associate professor at Manchester University, says Poroshenko oversaw a misguided retreat into safe, nationalistic leaning heartlands in western Ukraine.

“All the data tells us that you can’t win elections without winning votes in central or eastern Ukraine,” she said.

“Poroshenko didn’t begin to address their bread-and-butter needs. He didn’t address the fact that people have got poorer over the last five years. He didn’t tell them he felt their pain.”

Ukraine was not the only nation whose elite has become disconnected from the people, the academic adds.

Similar processes were “observable across the world.”

But in Ukraine the dangers of a negative outcome were obvious.

“This is a landscape-shifting election for Ukraine,” she said.

“But the worry is that given the disconnect and the impossible expectations, people will turn to less attractive options if things don’t work out.”

Source: Independent