The Celebrity Effect: Ukraine’s 2019 Presidential Election
By Carter Cooley
Incumbent Petro Poroshenko is still lagging behind challengers in a recent public opinion poll regarding the fast-approaching Ukrainian presidential election. Two-time former prime minister and leader of the prominent pro-EU “Fatherland” party, candidate Yulia Tymoshenko maintains the position of frontrunner, with a recent BDM poll predicting she will capture 21.3% of the vote. Meanwhile, popular candidate Volodymyr Zelensky is polled in second place by about 4%. Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party was created less than a year ago by the Ukrainian TV production company “Kvartal 95,” the same company which in 2015 began airing a television show by the name of “Servant of the People.” In this show, aforementioned presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky portrays a high-school teacher turned unlikely President of Ukraine. That’s because Volodymyr Zelensky is actually a comedian by trade, though he has branched out into acting, screenwriting, directing, and most recently, politics. Zelensky is running on an anti-establishment and anti-corruption campaign, reiterating many of the camera-ready promises his fictional counterpart told the Ukrainian people during his rise to power on network TV. Criticisms of Zelensky stem mostly from his lack of experience, lack of solid policy platform, and business connections to Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi, who is accused of embezzling millions of dollars from the Ukraine national bank.
Zelensky’s rise to political prominence has sparked a debate about the role celebrity figures should play within politics and how the anti-establishment, populistic campaign Zelensky has run parallels the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump. With just over a month until Ukraine’s presidential election, it will be interesting to see if Zelensky has in fact been all talk, or if he will be the one to have the last laugh. If no candidate secures an absolute majority in the March 31st vote, a second vote will take place on April 21st.