'There’s a 90% chance he’ll be a disaster, but I’m going to vote for him anyway,” said Alyona Sych, a 36-year-old nurse, strolling through Kyiv in the spring sunshine and explaining why she plans to vote for an untested actor and comedian in Ukraine’s presidential election. “I know 100% that the current guy is a disaster, so of course I’ll go for the 10% chance we could really change things.”
For three seasons of the popular Ukrainian television show Servant of the People, Volodymyr Zelenskiy has played a frustrated everyman teacher, implausibly propelled to the country’s presidency. Now he’s standing for the job for real, and most polls give him a commanding lead over the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko. By Sunday evening, Zelenskiy could have secured a fourth season as president, but his first one in real life.
The fresh-faced, 41-year-old is the latest iteration of a global phenomenon of outsiders challenging the mainstream. However, unlike populist insurgents in other countries, Zelenskiy has come out on top without really making any promises or policy suggestions. He has eschewed standard campaigning in favour of quirky Instagram videos and standup comedy gigs, and he doesn’t even have many dedicated supporters. Most, like Sych, say they are voting for him as a gamble that he cannot be any worse than the status quo.
At Friday’s unorthodox debate between Zelenskiy and Poroshenko, held inside Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium at Zelenskiy’s insistence, the shallowness of real support for him was visible: while Poroshenko filled out his section, Zelenskiy was cheered on by a meagre contingent of fans. It was another sign that if he wins, it will be a triumph not of dedicated Zelenskiy backers, but of an anti-Poroshenko, anti-establishment vote, fixing on to Zelenskiy as the default alternative.
“I’m not your opponent, I’m a verdict on you. I am the result of your mistakes,” Zelenskiy told Poroshenko on the stage, reinforcing the point.
Poroshenko has said that while Zelenskiy’s showmanship might make for good entertainment, it would be suicidal for a country at war. He came to power in 2014, burdened with the enormous expectations that followed the Maidan revolution to clean up a country dominated by oligarchy and corruption.'
Read more: Ukraine election set to deliver damning verdict on traditional politics
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