(Bloomberg) — Ukrainians are choosing a leader from among almost 40 candidates in Sundays presidential election, though the contest is ending up as a three-horse race.
Five years after a violent revolution demanding political re-alignment with Europe and an end to post-communist corruption, voters arent happy. Anti-establishment fervor has made Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old TV comic with no political experience, the front-runner. Thats left the incumbent, billionaire confectionery magnate Petro Poroshenko, scrapping with ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for the second spot in a runoff in three weeks.
Who leads Ukraine is of global significance since the country of 42 million people, locked between Russia and the European Union, became a geopolitical battleground. The West has pumped in billions of dollars in aid since protesters ousted Kremlin-backed Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
While a return to Russias sphere of influence is only a distant possibility, failure to lock up crooked officials is alienating donors and voters alike. So is the persistent military conflict that Russia fomented in eastern Ukraine after President Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea.
Ukrainian voters are showing wider disenchantment from established political elites and punishing them by choosing an outsider, said Lilit Gevorgyan, an economist at IHS Markit. Lingering nepotism and corruption, and the slow pace of reforms, dont match the sacrifices ordinary Ukrainians feel theyve made in the past five years.
Financial pain is a major theme. While the economy is growing again after a deep recession, the rebound has been lackluster, kept afloat by loans from the International Monetary Fund. People are worse off following a currency devaluation and hikes to utility tariffs. Many have emigrated.
My attitude toward elections has changed, I feel bigger responsibility now, said Anna Pokidina, 32, a banker as she was casting her ballot downtown Kiev. The war and a threat to lose my home make sober.
Turnout was 45.2 percent as of 3 p.m., according to the Central Election Commission.
Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional president on television, has found success by attacking his rivals over the nations endemic corruption. But hes been vague on actual policies and isnt immune to murky accusations himself: hes repeatedly denied political links to the billionaire whose TV channel airs his shows.
While Zelenskiy leads opinion polls and is the favorite to beat either of his two challengers in a head-to-head contest, a substantial chunk of the electorate remains undecided. Whats more, voter surveys in Ukraine have a history of being unreliable, and theres talk that some of Zelenskiys predominantly young supporters wont actually make it to the polling stations.
That offers hope to Poroshenko, 53, who — despite the negativity over graft — can trumpet achievements that include securing visa-free travel to the EU for Ukrainians and helping create an Orthodox church independent of Russia. There have been some reform successes too, namely a banking clean-up and an overhaul of public procurement.
Tymoshenko, 58, is making her third stab at the presidency. Dismissed by some as a populist, she retains a base of hardcore support and has come back to the brink of the runoff having lost comprehensively to Poroshenko last time round.
But like the current president, her stumbling block is that she hails from the past.
Zelenskiy is the choice of those whore against all the old politicians, said Iryna Bekeshkina, head of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation in Kiev. It doesnt really matter what he promises.
To contact the reporters on this story: Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at ;Yulia Surkova in Kiev at
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Andrea Dudik at , ;Balazs Penz at , Andrew Langley
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