Trust is a scarce commodity in Ukrainian politics. Is the president capable of becoming a real head of state on the television screen, as a result of the March elections, justifying trust?
«The Servant of the People», the most popular television series in Ukraine, is dedicated to the fate of a history teacher who unexpectedly became the president of his country. The main character – Vasily Goloborodko – moving away from the shock of victory, enters an implacable fight against corruption and other abuses of those in power, promising to give all of himself to the service of the people.
He is sincere, decisive, funny and modest (he gets to work by bicycle). Goloborodko won the hearts of Ukrainians – the audience of each series reached almost 4.7 million people. The third season will be released on screens in March 2019 – in time for the real presidential elections in Ukraine.
The frontier separating fiction from reality first began to blur in March-2018, when the success of the series prompted the creation of a political party of the same name. Vladimir Zelensky – a dynamic comedian, producer and performer of the role of Goloborodko – in January 2019, announced his candidacy for the presidency.
Today, he leads the polls – despite the fact that the current president Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are in the role of his rivals. Judging by the latest data, Zelensky has already 26.9%, Poroshenko – 17.7%, and Tymoshenko – 15.8% support.
Did the Ukrainians really put an equal sign between Zelensky and Goloborodko? Hardly. However, apparently, they believe in his ability to BECOME Goloborodko. Ukrainian voters desperately need a leader who can be trusted. But gaining trust is difficult.
Despite numerous achievements (signing an association agreement with the EU, a visa-free regime with the Schengen zone and preserving the integrity of the state in the conditions of the war-torn east), Poroshenko is often blamed for the fact that the president only aggravated the problem of corruption in Ukraine and preserved the country’s oligarchic system.
The overwhelming majority of Ukrainians – 60.8% – treat it negatively. The recent successes of the president (assisting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in gaining independence and securing ambitions for membership in NATO and the EU in the Ukrainian Constitution) brought him only marginal growth in the rating.
Ukrainian middle class deeply disappointed. Some of his representatives died on the Maidan during the “revolution of dignity” that took place there five years ago. The pain of loss is still fresh. Ukrainians understand that they deserve more for the high price paid by them.
Does Tymoshenko correspond to the ideals of dignity for which they fought? Her negative rating is 50%, and in the recent hit parade of the main populists and liars of Ukrainian politics, she took the first place by a large margin. According to some polls, Tymoshenko is still in the lead, but her support level is melting.
Ukrainians in general are deeply suspicious of the authorities. This is evident not only by the results of sociological research, but also by the results of personal contact with many residents of Kiev. This distrust is understandable, given the decades of Soviet power experienced by these people, deep-rooted corruption and the presence of an oligarchy.
Suspicious Ukrainians have long been dreaming about the abolition of laws that provide politicians with immunity, depriving citizens of the elementary opportunity to remove public servants from office and throw them behind bars. Moreover, they consider the abolition of immunity one of the most important reforms for their country.
Zelensky, it seems, understood this even in the process of creating a credible image of Goloborodko. And if he manages to convince voters that Zelensky is also credible, his chances of winning the presidential election will be very high.
His negative rating does not exceed 20%. Recognizing the profound unpopularity of immunity of politicians from criminal prosecution, he made a proposal to abolish immunity among his priorities. Aware of the degree of caution about the attitude of many Ukrainians to the idea of a strong government, he promises to pursue a policy of direct democracy – through regular referendums.
Among the arguments against Zelensky’s candidacy are words about the absence of a real political program. But many voters may remind: Goloborodko didn’t have such a program, but he – thanks to his intelligence and decency – very soon understood how to act
But many voters may remind: Goloborodko did not have such a program, but he – thanks to his intelligence and decency – soon realized how to act. At least, citizens have the opportunity to believe that Goloborodko will sincerely act in the interests of the people. So Zelensky – in the spirit of serving the people and demonstrating his readiness to accept his leading role – invited everyone to join his team (despite the lack of experience in politics).
Last week, some political analysts in Kiev have hinted: Zelensky will soon lose his leading position in opinion polls, since a keen interest in his campaign will begin to weaken. However, the negative perception of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko is so intense that it is extremely difficult to predict the growth options of their ratings. Most likely Zelensky will continue to gain votes – at least because he is not like them.
Opponents of Zelensky periodically indicate that there are many young people in the ranks of his supporters – they, it is easy to mobilize them on social networks, but on election day, they often do not reach the polling stations. But after all, it was young Ukrainians who started the revolution on Independence, and, having gained some experience, they are now eager to take their future in their own hands.
Immediately after the revolution, the country was embraced by the boom of “start-ups”, but many young people went to serve in the army – they were driven by their awareness of their relevance and pride in belonging to the Ukrainian people. And although many young people leave Ukraine, the rest are quite capable of making another attempt to change the situation in the country – this time by voting.
Some experts assure that a country in a state of war needs an experienced leader, and such arguments as the voting day approaches are really capable of reducing the number of supporters of Zelensky. But the results of a recent sociological study show that 70% of Ukrainians are in favor of a compromise (in one form or another) with Russia on the issue of Donbass, and under President Poroshenko, a compromise looks something unlikely.
Zelensky, on the contrary, declares his readiness to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin as the head of state, promising to hold a referendum to which the results of the negotiations will be made. How this can be done is unclear, but, from the point of view of many voters, such an attempt is still worth taking.
Frankly, there is no complete clarity on the question of how Zelensky’s presidency can be in practice. The whole situation looks somewhat surreal. His very victory in the elections could be a great experiment (for some – insane and irresponsible, and for others – tempting and extremely seductive). By voting for Zelensky, Ukrainians would have the opportunity to actually verify the accuracy of the radical hypothesis about the ability of the people to choose a credible president.
Naturally, things can go wrong, and even turn into a disaster. But Ukrainians who have survived decades of epidemics of corruption, which deprive many of them of access to adequate health care and basic services, may well find that the game is worth the candle. After all, if the British decided to experiment with the exit from the EU, and the Americans decided to elect Donald Trump, then why would the Ukrainians not check out the bold new theory in practice.