Ukrainian kings are afraid of the jester

Mikhail Simonov, exclusively for Vestnik Kavkaza
Ukrainian kings are afraid of the jester

The CEC of Ukraine announced the date of second round of presidential elections - April 21. Current president, Petro Poroshenko, accepted the call of the first round's winner Vladimir Zelensky - debates will take place - despite Ukrainian legislation prohibiting it - at the Olympic Stadium, which can host up to 70,000 people, and not at the television station of Public Television with the right to broadcast on all Ukrainian TV channels. According to the law, TV debates must be held on the last Friday before voting day from 19.00 to 22.00.

The first round didn't have any surprises - according to numerous polls and forecasts, including those forecasts experts told Vestnik Kavkaza, showman Vladimir Zelensky took first place, getting almost 30% of the votes, followed by Poroshenko, who was behind by almost 10%.

What really came as a surprise was passivity of the “Batkivshchyna” leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. By the end of the first round of elections she was third, behind current president by few percent, but Yulia Vladimirovna simply called on supporters to protect their votes. What exactly does that mean remains unclear. It seems that she tried to save her face more than she really hoped to somehow change results of the first round and get into the second one. On the other hand, clever Tymoshenko could also use current presidential elections as an opportunity to remind the whole world that she's active politician, one of the leading politicians of Ukraine.

She is well aware of the burden of problems she could get, including Crimea, Donbass and collapsing economy. Is it worth it to become a president in such conditions and with a vague prospect of their resolution? In addition, issues of integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, aggravated by ambiguous attitude of Ukrainian population to them, are very far from being resolved. There are also brewing acute problems in the western regions of the country, in the border area.

In this situation, with such difficult tasks, rating can only drop down. Why is rating even important? She can just forget about big politics and retire to political peace, sometimes voicing various critical comments to those who listen to her. So Tymoshenko could have decided to just be in the forefront, demonstrate political vitality in the first round, but wait for better times. The third result - and she was not too far from the second place and above the fourth by a large margin - is an excellent tactical result. Of course, all of this applies only if Tymoshenko really chose this particular scenario.

Predicting that Zelensky and Poroshenko were going reach the second round, it was impossible not to wonder how incumbent president plans to deal with opponent who has noticeably higher popularity? Most analysts mentioned TV debates, which would expose Zelensky’s catastrophic shortcomings - he's tongue-tied, has slow reaction, has almost no idea about politics and economics. As proof, they reminded that during the election campaign showman avoided live television, and those few meetings he held with representatives of business circles ended extremely badly for him. That's why it was assumed that Poroshenko’s team would promptly push a law on obligatory TV debates through the Verkhovna Rada, and then Zelensky’s political ascent would end. However, leader of the first round beat everyone, and he suddenly offered current president to hold debates in the largest arena of the country.

What could have possibly changed in this short period of time? Did Zelensky complete courses in political philosophy, economics, and miraculously obtained political experience? That can't be true. It's more likely that showman and his team decided not to lose initiative and create an illusion for his electorate that they control situation and dictate the rules of the game. This kind of confidence in electoral processes is effective and usually brings a certain amount of additional votes. It will also make Poroshenko less effective in TV debates, because stadium conditions are unusual for him. He would have been more comfortable in TV studio, whereas Zelensky feels like fish in water at stadiums.

Zelensky tries to get the support of loyal audience, which can be achieved in such a huge stadium. Approving cheers, a couple of critical shouts from the group of “fans”, booing of his opponent - these things can turn the tide of any competition, putting one participant off balance, and, on the other hand, instilling confidence. You can just ask athletes about the role of stadium atmosphere. By agreeing to these debates, Petro Poroshenko might have made a mistake. Perhaps he should have answered his opponent’s call by saying that presidential election is not a show, a football match or a circus, and therefore these debates must be held in a more suitable setting. However, he can't back down now. Rivals will meet at the stadium.