Ukrainians are choosing their president for the next five years, but the day before the election, it was hard to say whether it would be young people or the older generation who would decide the future of the country.
“I am sure these will be the elections of the young people,” Sergey, a 70-year-old former engineer, told The Globe Post outside the Saint Volodymyr Cathedral in central Kiev.
More clear, however, are the issues that might influence candidate selection: the national survey published in January by the International Republican Institute’s Center for Insights in Survey Research showed there was a high level of voter interest in the upcoming election – 32 percent – and suggested that the ongoing war in the Donbas (eastern Ukraine), corruption and the economy were the main issues influencing voters’ decisions.
This year, Ukrainians can choose from 39 registered candidates, including a popular comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, 41, current President Petro Poroshenko, 53, who is also known as “chocolate king” due to his confectionery business, and former prime minister, or the “gas princess,” Yulia Tymoshenko, 58.
One fun fact that caught attention outside Ukraine is that Zelensky, who has maintained a strong lead in Ukraine’s presidential race, played a teacher in a hit TV series who later became a president.
Anger at corruption in Ukraine is so high that many are thinking, screw it, let’s go for Zelensky, the comedian with no policy platform. One voter says: “He may be a clown, but he’s not an idiot.” https://t.co/iy4XF8EUSv
— max seddon (@maxseddon) March 29, 2019
The final survey ahead of the election’s first round conducted by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology showed that Zelensky is leading with 20.9 percent of votes, while incumbent President Poroshenko is second with 13.7 percent and opposition leader Tymoshenko is third with 9.7 percent. However, If no candidate wins 50 percent of the votes cast, the top two contenders will face each other in a run-off on April 21.
Among people surveyed earlier in March, 21.5 percent saw Zelensky winning in the second round, 18.3 percent expected Poroshenko to be re-elected and 10.1 percent saw Tymoshenko as the winner.
Even though Zelensky has no political experience, Valentina from Lviv told The Globe Post that she believes in him “because he did not steal anything from us.”
Sharing her thoughts about the next Ukrainian president, Valentina said Ukrainian citizens need a candidate who will change laws so that living conditions improve. At the moment, the country’ average salary is around $300.
“The new president has to be competent not only in politics but also in economy,” she said.
What Valentina likes about anti-elite candidate Zelensky, who launched a populist campaign with Donald Trump-like flair only 6 months ago, is that “he’s a serious person and the most important thing is that he seems honest.”
In a Facebook video, Zelensky explained he did not write a manifesto like old-time politicians because they all sound the same and the promises are never kept. Instead, he asked citizens what five problems they believe were the biggest for the country and then proposed to crowdsource the solutions.
After being criticized for not being serious, Zelensky does an homage to Tymoshenko's photo with Ukraine's favorite gas station hot dog to show he is as "serious as everyone else" pic.twitter.com/Et40NpoUSz
— Ian Bateson (@ianbateson) March 27, 2019
While current President Poroshenko has covered the capital city of Kiev with his posters reading “A lot of candidates, One President,” Zelensky’s political billboards show him smiling, saying “And this is me.”
“You see that every five years there are new candidates, but what we need is a person who is competent and understands politics, someone who knows how to govern this country and how to organise everything,” explained a middle-age woman who was walking down Taras Shevchenko boulevard in Kiev.
She preferred not to tell her name, noting that “it is not so important.” She added, however, that she was born in Russia and chose to live in Ukraine earning the citizenship.
“I do not know whether Zelensky is the right president for Ukraine,” she said, adding that “the war in eastern Ukraine is a very crucial point in this country, it should stop as soon as possible, and I don’t think Zelensky will be able to do so.”
While Poroshenko has pledged to apply for E.U. membership and receive a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2023, Zelenskiy said his solution to the war in the Donbas is letting voters have the final word on a compromise with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Masha, a 20-year-old university student from Crimea, was also not sure if Zelenskiy would get the absolute majority that would enable him to win the election, but “the president has to change,” she said.