The Irish Times view on Ukraine’s election: a comic’s turn

This year has thrown up the possibility of another dramatic change in political landscape

Sofia Tolmacheva at her house close to the war zone in Pisky, eastern Ukraine. ‘I don’t believe in any of these politicians anymore.’ Photograph: Roger Waleson/Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Sofia Tolmacheva at her house close to the war zone in Pisky, eastern Ukraine. ‘I don’t believe in any of these politicians anymore.’ Photograph: Roger Waleson/Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

 

Anyone feeling drained by the upheaval of Brexit should spare a thought for the people of Ukraine. Since 2003 they have lived through two revolutions, dizzying swings in geopolitical direction between East and West, the annexation of Crimea by the Kremlin and an undeclared war with Russia that has claimed 13,000 lives.

Most Ukrainians surely long for a spell of stability, but this year has thrown up the possibility of another dramatic change in their political landscape. It has come in the form of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who decided to run for president despite having no relevant experience beyond playing a hapless head of state in a popular television show. Surveys made him the strong favourite to win the first round of voting and a likely run off on April 21st, ahead of incumbent Petro Poroshenko and two-time former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. That millions would even consider choosing a political novice to lead the country is yet another indictment of the ruling elite.

Poroshenko has overseen important changes to the energy and health sectors, tax and pension systems and public procurement, while strengthening the military and retaining vital western diplomatic and financial support for Ukraine. Yet he has failed to meet the key demands of the 2013-14 Maidan revolution: end oligarchic rule, corruption and cronyism; replace compromised officials, prosecutors and judges; and build institutions to instil and uphold the rule of law.

Younger Ukrainians in particular doubt that the billionaire Poroshenko or former gas industry executive Tymoshenko will root out vested interests, prompting many to pin their hopes on an entertainer whose campaign provided a social media masterclass but little policy detail, and who also has business links with a shadowy oligarch.

Even if Zelenskiy misses out, he may use his momentum to form a party to compete in October’s parliamentary elections. Whoever wins this year’s polls, they would do well to remember that in Ukraine – unlike in neighbouring Russia – the top political tables turn quickly and often.

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