Country Risk

Incumbent president increasingly likely to lose Ukraine’s second-round election, triggering policy gridlock and delaying key reforms

17 April 2019

On 21 April 2019, Ukraine will hold the second round of its presidential election.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (C) greets voters at a campaign rally inside Olympiskiy Stadium on 14 April 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Editorial #:1142637836)Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (C) greets voters at a campaign rally inside Olympiskiy Stadium on 14 April 2019 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Editorial #:1142637836)

  • The latest opinion polls suggest that incumbent president Petro Poroshenko is increasingly likely to lose to Volodymyr Zelenskyi, a political newcomer, comedian and TV personality. According to reputable pollster Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), 48.4% of respondents in a poll held over 9–14 April 2019 would vote for Zelenskyi, while only 17.0% backed Poroshenko. The poll suggested that Zelenskyi is leading in all macro-regions of Ukraine, including the West; he commands overwhelming support in the South and the East (see chart). Much of the support for Zelenskyi is driven by popular dissatisfaction over the slow implementation of reforms and the inadequacy of the anti-corruption efforts conducted by Poroshenko's administration since he was elected in May 2014. If Poroshenko loses in the second round of voting on 21 April, he would step down on 3 June 2019, the inauguration date.
  • If elected president, Zelenskyi is likely to have limited power at least until the October 2019 parliamentary election, with his policy-making dependent on the goodwill of the current ruling coalition. The current cabinet led by Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman, based on the coalition between the Poroshenko Bloc (Ukrainian: Blok Petra Poroshenka, BPP) and the People’s Front of former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, is likely to survive until the next parliamentary election, currently scheduled for 27 October. Under the mixed presidential-parliamentary system in Ukraine, the president is in charge of foreign and security policies, and the rule of law. He would be able to appoint new heads of the Security Service and a Prosecutor General, but the appointments of new foreign and defence ministers would require parliamentary approval, where Zelenskyi would currently have limited support. Gubernatorial appointments would require cabinet approval. All economic matters, including energy, are controlled by the cabinet, which is likely to attempt to continue with its current policies.

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