Poroshenko Beats Tymoshenko, Faces Uphill Battle Against Zelenskiy on Apr 21

01 Апреля 2019

Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko defeated his main rival, leftist opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday (Mar 31), according to 5 different exit polls as well as actual election returns that have counted just over half of the nationwide vote as of this morning (Apr 1). Poroshenko will thus advance to a runoff against the first-place finisher, Eastern Ukrainian actor and entertainment mogul Volodymir Zelenskiy. Results from the Central Election Commission, with 53% of the ballots counted, are as follows: Zelenskiy - 30.2%; Poroshenko - 16.7%; Tymoshenko - 13.1%; Yuriy Boyko (pro-Russian For Life party) - 11.5%; Anatoliy Grytsenko (pro-Western Civil Position party) - 7.1%; Igor Smeshko (pro-Western former director of the Ukrainian Security Service) - 5.9%; Oleg Lyashko (populist Radical party) - 5.1%; Alexander Vilkul (pro-Russian Opposition Bloc) - 4.2%. All other candidates received less than 2%. The CEC reported the nationwide participation turnout figure at 64%.

Although Sunday’s result looks very good for Zelenskiy, it is important to note that the popular actor now finds himself in a position which has never been in before; after spending his entire career using his television show to attack Ukrainian politicians, he has become a leading politician in his own right who will be the prime target of attacks himself. Zelenskiy’s ability, or lack thereof, to hold his nerve amid such attacks over the coming 20 days will determine whether or not he becomes Ukraine’s next president. Early reports indicate that there will be a one-on-one Poroshenko-Zelenskiy debate before the runoff, which should make for riveting television. Although Zelenskiy was strongest among Russian-speaking voters in southeastern Ukraine, he also polled fairly well in Central Ukraine, finishing ahead of Poroshenko in all 9 of the region’s provinces according to the latest available results. The beaten Tymoshenko made an effort on Sunday evening to align herself with Zelenskiy, offering her support to him against Poroshenko in exchange for a deal that would presumably allow her to become Prime Minister later this year; however, we believe that Zelenskiy would be unwise to accept such an arrangement, since Tymoshenko is widely despised by many of Zelenskiy’s voters. For his part, Poroshenko will need to drastically improve his performance in Central Ukraine three weeks from now in order to have any hope of winning re-election, as dominating the Western provinces will simply not be enough to get him over the finish line. In our view, it is definitely positive for Ukraine that the first round of the election came off without major conflicts, and that voters now have a clear choice between two candidates who are presenting contrasting visions for the country’s future. Even if Poroshenko is unable to make up the gap against Zelenskiy, the mere fact that he will be on the ballot in the runoff represents a significant defeat for the Putin regime in its efforts to undermine the Ukrainian electoral process.

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