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Can Petro Poroshenko win Ukraine's presidential race?

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11.02.2019

In Ukraine, incumbents tend to be underdogs in presidential races. Never in the 21st century has an acting Ukrainian president, or his appointee, been a frontrunner in a presidential election and, in fact, in the case of former President Viktor Yanukovych, the incumbent never even made it to the polls, having been toppled by a popular revolution.

But President Petro Poroshenko seems dead set on breaking this pattern and winning a re-election. Just seven months ago, he was lagging far behind former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and a few more candidates in the polls, but by the end of 2018 he was already breathing down her neck. January polls pushed both him and Tymoshenko back, elevating TV comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy to the status of the frontrunner. But, given his ability to shape the political agenda, Poroshenko still has a chance, if the stars align the right way.

Accused by Ukraine's progressives of corruption and hampering reforms, Poroshenko can hardly be described as someone who bears the torch of the 2014 Maidan revolution. However, the same is true about each of his main rivals: Tymoshenko's entire career is mired in corruption scandals; Zelenskiy is rumoured to be backed by oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who has been accused of syphoning billions of dollars from a Ukrainian bank; former Defence Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko is a proponent of enlightened authoritarianism, and; Yury Boyko formally represents the Russia-friendly anti-Maidan opposition.

With this line-up of candidates, the March vote invites parallels with Boris Yeltsin's desperate effort to retain office at the backdrop of the disastrous Chechen war in 1996. He eventually succeeded, but only at the cost of undermining democratic procedure.

In Ukraine, like in the rest of the former USSR, incumbents can manipulate the political agenda to boost their ratings and improve the chances of getting re-elected. In the post-Soviet era, no one has excelled more in such political manipulation than Russia's Vladimir Putin. In 2014, after suffering an historical slump in popularity due to........

© Al Jazeera