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Ukraine Presidential Election Debate Hits New Snag

Updated

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (right) and his election challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy (combination file photo)

KYIV -- Talks over a potential presidential election debate between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy appear to have hit another snag over the starting time for the event.

Late on April 16, Oleh Medvedev, the spokesman for Poroshenko, said the president would not participate in a debate on April 19 at Kyiv's Olimpiyskiy Stadium after Zelenskiy allegedly rejected a time frame of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the event.

Zelenskiy’s team did not immediately confirm the latest discussions.

Hours earlier, Medvedev had announced that advisers to both candidates had signed a contract with the sports facility to hold a debate there on April 19, but he cautioned that the two candidates' teams were still discussing the rules for the event.

"So far, we have different visions," he said.

Medvedev said Zelenskiy’s team had demanded that the debate begin at 7 p.m.

That, he said, would make it impossible for the candidates to appear for a second debate ordered by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to begin later the same day at the Public Television studios.

Medvedev said that, according to campaign law, a debate should be held at the Public Television studios and broadcast live between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., making it impossible for him to attend a debate starting at 7 p.m. at the stadium.

Poroshenko "will go primarily to the Public Television [debate] because that is required by the law, and the rest is optional," the spokesman said.

The two candidates and their teams have been arguing over a potential debate between the men ahead of the April 21 runoff election, leading to a series of mixed signals and theatrical actions by both.

Zelenskiy has insisted that the debate be held on April 19 at the stadium.

Poroshenko had originally insisted it be held on a different date and at a different site, but he later said he would meet Zelenskiy at the stadium on April 14.

Poroshenko went to the sports facility on that date and spoke to reporters and supporters, but Zelenskiy did not show up.

"It was not me who proposed the site of the event -- it was a certain man," Poroshenko told the audience, standing next to an empty lectern bearing Zelenskiy's name.

Meanwhile, a group of some 20 Ukrainian news outlets on March 16 issued an open letter urging Zelenskiy to answer their questions ahead of the runoff election and to stop "ignoring" the media.

"During your election campaign, you made dozens of videos that became news," it said.

"You gave a number of interviews to selected media before the first round of elections, but over the past few weeks, you personally have avoided direct and full-fledged communication with domestic journalists."

Zelenskiy, a political newcomer and comedian who plays a president in a TV series, won the March 31 first round of the national elections by a wide margin over Poroshenko, but he did not receive enough support to avoid the runoff.

Most polls indicate Zelenskiy enjoys a commanding lead over Poroshenko ahead of the second round.

The president's favorability ratings have tumbled in recent years as the economy has struggled and as the government continues to battle pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine and the country's Crimea region remains under Russian control.

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