Ukrainians Pin Hopes on Comedian and Rock Star to Fix Future

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(Bloomberg) -- Ukrainians are so fed up with their political leaders that they’d rather back novices including a comedian or a rock singer at elections next year. Neither has even confirmed he’ll run yet.

Polls paint a bleak picture for President Petro Poroshenko, who took charge in 2014 vowing an end to the rampant corruption of his Kremlin-backed predecessor. Progress since a second pro-European revolution in a decade has been too scant to keep him popular and opposition mainstay Yulia Tymoshenko is on track to prevail in first-round voting in March.

But despite her lead, Tymoshenko has only 16 percent support, way short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. A second round would see her defeated by either Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- a 40-year-old comic who’s played a spoof president in a television show, or Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, 42, the vocalist for the band Okean Elzy that played regularly during Ukraine’s street protests. Both would also see off Poroshenko in a head-to-head battle.

“There’s a need for new faces who’re well known to everyone and who can be honest and fight corruption,” said Anton Grushetskyi, deputy director of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. Zelenskiy and Vakarchuk’s potential is “quite high.”

All may not be lost for Poroshenko: he can cling to the almost 30 percent of undecided voters who he can target in the coming months. The president is urging parliament to adopt legislation on creating a court to hear cases against crooked officials, a key demand of international creditors and activists. The bill may be debated next week.

But Poroshenko was always facing an uphill task. Leonid Kuchma is the only president to have won a second term since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. The former Soviet republic has a history of frequently kicking out governments and holding snap ballots. That’s encouraging for the latest challengers.

“I wonder if there’s any other country where governments lose elections so regularly,” Iryna Bekeshkina, head of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, said by phone. “Most of all, Ukrainians appreciate good image and would support candidates who they believe are honest and fair. Their professionalism and political experience don’t matter.”

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