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New Ukraine Poll Gives Zelenskiy Huge Lead Over Poroshenko Ahead Of Runoff

Petro Poroshenko (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Petro Poroshenko (left) and Volodymyr Zelenskiy

The first independent poll taken since the first round of Ukraine's presidential election suggests that political newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskiy enjoys a commanding lead ahead of next week's runoff against incumbent Petro Poroshenko.

The Sociological Group "Rating" said its polling early this month pointed to 51 percent popular support for sitcom star Zelenskiy, who exploded onto the political scene late last year, versus 21 percent for Poroshenko.

The race was even more lopsided for Zelenskiy among respondents who intend to vote in the second round of the election on April 21 -- 61 percent to 24 percent.

A skirmish among the candidates' supporters outside Zelenskiy's campaign headquarters on April 9 highlighted rising emotions since the two men emerged from the record field of 39 candidates in the March 31 first-round election.

Poroshenko, a 53-year-old confectionery billionaire and former cabinet minister, has battled unpopularity throughout much of his five-year term over perceived failures to tackle runaway corruption and nepotism or implement reforms.

But appeals to his wartime experience and his push for a successful break for the Orthodox Church of Ukraine from its Russian counterpart propelled Poroshenko to a second-place finish on March 31.

Zelenskiy's 30.24 percent to Poroshenko's 15.95 percent put him in the driver's seat, however.

Zelenskiy's storybook candidacy so far began with a starring role in a TV comedy about a schoolteacher whose viral anticorruption rant thrusts him into the presidency.

His message has drawn in young voters in particular but also resonated among Ukrainians attracted by bans on official posts for those convicted of corruption and a candidate willing to outsource ideas for cabinet appointments.

Zelenskiy was leading Poroshenko "in all age groups" and "among the residents of the east, south, and center" of the country, with a tossup in the western region, "Rating" said of its most recent poll.

Preelection polls suggested that Ukrainians' highest priorities are a peaceful end to five years of war against Russia-backed separatists in the east, national unity and reconciliation, and the fight against corruption.

It is unclear whether voters will get to see the candidates square off face-to-face before round two, as both sides have publicly consented to a stadium debate but so far failed to agree on a date.

Zelenskiy's critics have accused him of skirting details of how he would tackle Ukraine's political, financial, and social ills.

Poroshenko has painted his opponent as an inexperienced political hand and a potential "puppet" of Russia and the foreign-based Ukrainian oligarch whose TV station airs Zelenskiy's programs, Ihor Kolomoyskiy.

But Ukrainians appear hungry for new faces and ideas, with 83 percent calling for "radical" change in the latest "Rating" poll.

Poroshenko's negative ratings have consistently been higher than Zelenskiy's, too.

Worryingly for a post-Soviet country still trying to burnish its democratic credentials, more of the "Rating" poll's respondents (39 percent) expected "significant falsifications" in the runoff than "insignificant" ones (37 percent).

But the OSCE's international election observers generally gave passing grades to the March 31 vote. They called the process "competitive" and said "voters had a broad choice and turned out in high numbers" despite "some procedural problems." They also noted Ukrainian authorities' inability to organize voting "in [Russia-annexed] Crimea and certain parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are controlled by illegal armed groups."

The third-place finisher in the first round, former Prime Minister and three-time presidential also-ran Yulia Tymoshenko, accepted that tally but complained that Poroshenko reached the second round "in an unfair way."

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