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Ukrainians head to polling stations to elect next president

Ukrainians head to polling stations to elect next president
Voting for Ukraine’s next president is underway, five years after mass protests resulted in a radical change in the country’s course. There are a record 39 names on the ballot in this year’s race.

Unlike the previous election in 2014, which billionaire former minister Petro Poroshenko won by a landslide following the Maidan protests, this vote sees several major candidates almost neck in neck ahead of the polls, which means the election might not end in the first round.

Should that be the case, the two candidates with the most votes received on Sunday will have a face-off three weeks later, on April 21. Opinion polls earlier this week put comedian Volodymyr Zelensky as the front-runner. He is a newcomer in politics, campaigning on an anti-corruption platform and the image of a character (Ukrainian president) he played in a popular satirical TV show 'Servant of the People.' Critics say he is just a figurehead for tycoon Igor Kolomoisky, an allegation that both strongly deny.

The two people running behind Zelensky in the polls and head-to-head with each other are the incumbent president and another veteran of Ukrainian politics, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Poroshenko’s campaign is focused on the promise that one day Ukraine will join the EU and NATO, an aspiration that was enshrined in the Ukrainian constitution during his first term. He also presents himself as a staunch nationalist as he suggested restricting the use of Russian language in Ukraine to promote Ukrainian and expressed his support to the newly-formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which the Russian Orthodox Church sees as a schismatic force.

Tymoshenko served as prime minister twice and spent three years in prison under Poroshenko’s predecessor – which she insists was political persecution. Her main message is the promise of better living standards and a lower cost of living.

Apart from the three major rivals, the list, which consists of almost 40 candidates, also includes a couple of ex-ministers, the former head of the Ukrainian security service (SBU), several MPs, businessmen, public figures and journalists as well as Yulia Timoshenko’s namesake – Yury Vladimirovich Timoshenko vs Yuliya Vladimirovna – who bears no relationship to the former prime minister, though.

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The vote comes as Ukraine still suffers from industrial recession, rising unemployment and falling living standards. Kiev’s budget deficit has reached 13.7 billion hryvnia ($ 500 million), according to the latest report by the State Treasury Service. The prolonged conflict in Eastern Ukraine, which has been a source of concern for the international community for about five years, also seems to be still far from a resolution.

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