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  • Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic, actor, and candidate in the upcoming presidential election  in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian comic, actor, and candidate in the upcoming presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine March 6, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 March 2019

On March 31, Ukrainians will go the polls to elect their president for the next five years. The comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, with no prior political experience, is the strongest candidate.

In two weeks, Ukrainians will choose their new president from over 40 candidates. Realistically, the choices have narrowed down to three leading options: Petro Poroshenko, Yulia Tymoshenko, and Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

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Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent president, is facing the controversial symbol of the "Orange Revolution," former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Regardless, it is not this duel between establishment oligarchs that is captivating Ukrainians, but the breakthrough of an actor, Volodymir Zelenskiy, who is currently leading in the polls.

Indeed, a recent poll led by a Kiev-based research firm showed Zelenskiy with 20.7 percent of votes, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko second with 13.2 percent and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko third with 11 percent, reported the news agency Reuters. Prominent opinion poll institutes expect Zelenskiy to win against both Poroshenko and Tymoshenko.

The popular comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy portrays a history-teacher-turned-president in his hit television show, “Servant of the People,” and built his campaign around the idea of people power and contrasts himself with the political establishment. His opponents accuse him of being linked to one of the most powerful Ukrainian oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, who recently endorsed him publicly. In local media, Zelenskiy has already been dubbed “the Ukrainian Donald Trump.” 

During the campaign, Zelenskiy has seized two of the most unifying themes: the fight against corruption and Tymoshenko's promise to lower gas prices. Poroshenko's campaign focused more on the threat of Russia and accused his opponents of being "pro-Russian."

The incumbent President Poroshenko has recently had impeachment proceedings commence against him based on accusations of money laundering and cover-ups with defense contractors.

In a poll last year,  40,000 Ukrainians ranked bribery and corruption as the second-most pressing problem in Ukraine. The number one issue troubling Ukraine is the territorial conflict with Russia, according to that poll, reported by the newspaper Haaretz.

Finally, uncertainty in this presidential campaign has never been greater and the election could take place in a very tense climate, with fear of electoral fraud or disturbance at polling stations being just a couple of factors.

According to polls, 70% of Ukrainians intend to vote.


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