Stadium debate ahead of Ukraine presidential runoff
Published: 10:41 PM, 19 April 2019
A comedian tipped to take over Ukraine's presidency and his incumbent rival go head-to-head in an extraordinary stadium debate Friday, as campaigning reaches its grand finale before a weekend vote.
Polls show Volodymyr Zelensky, a 41-year-old standup comic with no political experience, handily defeating President Petro Poroshenko in a second-round of voting on Sunday.
The television star's bid started as a long shot but he leapfrogged establishment candidates amid frustration over corruption, economic trouble and a conflict with Moscow-backed insurgents in the country's east.
Some 60,000 spectators are expected to attend the first and only policy head-to-head of the campaign, set to take place in Kiev's Olympic Stadium amid beefed-up security.
Rather than appear on the same stage, the set-up of the stadium on Friday afternoon suggested the men would occupy separate platforms at either end of the venue's soccer pitch.
Police battled major traffic jams as supporters were being bussed in from the regions.
The debate will bring to a close a race that at times descended into farce as the candidates exchanged insults and underwent drug tests at Zelensky's insistence.
On Friday, 53-year-old Poroshenko fired a new salvo against his opponent, questioning his ability to serve as commander-in-chief and calling him a draft dodger.
"The weaker the president of Ukraine, the stronger the president of Russia," Poroshenko told several thousand supporters at a rally ahead of the debate.
Poroshenko says he is the only candidate who can take on Russia's Vladimir Putin and is expected to strike out at the inexperience of the untested Zelensky during the head-to-head.
He may also slam his rival's close ties to controversial oligarch Igor Kolomoysky.
Zelensky will likely attack what he says are his rival's half-hearted attempts at rooting out corruption and cementing the rule of law five years after a popular uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime.
- 'Not a coward' -
Zelensky, whose previous political experience has been limited to playing a president on TV, said he was ready to face off with the Ukrainian leader.
"I am not a coward," he said in a rare television appearance late Thursday during which he also unveiled his team.
A survey by the Rating pollster released Thursday showed Zelensky winning 73 percent of the vote against 27 percent for Poroshenko.
Supporters credit Poroshenko -- who took power after a popular uprising in 2014 -- with implementing economic reforms, rebuilding the army, securing an Orthodox Church independent of Russia and winning visa-free travel to Europe.
However, he won just over half of Zelensky's vote share in the first round of the election last month.
The stakes are high for the country of 45 million people seen as a buffer between the European Union and Russia.
Ukraine is mired in a smouldering war with Moscow-backed separatists in the industrial east, a conflict that has claimed 13,000 lives.
A parliamentary election is also due to be held in October.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said his team would record the debate so that Putin could watch when he is free.
"We will watch it for sure," he said.
In a new attempt to squeeze Kiev, Moscow announced Thursday it would be limiting Russian exports of coal, oil and petrochemicals that Ukraine relies on.
- Main risks -
The West is closely watching the race amid concern that a new government might undo years of reforms.
The main risks associated with a Zelensky presidency are "policy incoherence stemming from inexperience" and "undue influence from oligarchs or Russians," a former Western diplomat told AFP.
In a startling development on Thursday, a Kiev court ruled that the Poroshenko government's 2016 decision to nationalise the country's biggest lender as part of a reform drive was illegal.
PrivatBank was owned at the time by Kolomoysky who controls the channel that broadcasts several of Zelensky's shows.
Poroshenko warned that Ukraine risked defaulting on its debt if the bank were handed back to the tycoon after his government spent nearly $6 billion on recapitalising the lender.
The EU, the United States and the IMF said in coordinated statements they were closely monitoring the situation.
- 349 Ansar members infected with COVID-19
- Producer Mozammel Haque Sarker dies
- Keep your mouth shut: Police Chief advises Trump
- Biman cancels flights for passenger crisis
- Stolen Tk60 lakh of National Bank recovered
- ‘Ultimate repercussion’ if US hurt China’s interests
- BNP office fluxed of banner-festoon; neither activity, no activist
- Smith not to play in Aus ‘due to IPL’ if necessary
- Child among 4 another contracted COVID-19 in Nandail
- Light rain likely at many places
- Schoolgirl committed suicide for unable to see Star Jalsha serial
- Raw turmeric to boost immunity
- New Ebola outbreak in Congo amid coronavirus
- WHO will continue to cooperate with the United States
- Hearing on writ challenging bus fare hike today
- Today’s Sports on TV
- Raj Kapoor’s death anniversay today
- Lip shape helps to understand your partner behavior!
- 16 more contracted coronavirus in Feni
- Mother died to stop daughters’ quarrel in Barishal
- Coronavirus situation getting worse in Mumbai
- Child’s floating body recovered in Kushtia
- First ever virtual ECNEC meeting today
- Spain records zero deaths in last 24 hours
- George Floyd died of asphyxia
- 4 more tested COVID-19 positive at Domar
- Sylhet reports 49 fresh coronavirus cases
- COVID-19 cases in Chattogram exceed 3,000
- 2 individuals fined Tk 28 lakh for cutting hill in Chattogram
- Moscow eases lockdown despite infections continue to rise
- All News »
- Noble made his wife Salsabil a model in music video
- Noble got married for 3rd time seven months ago!
- 4 cops charged for killing a black man in US
- 23 die, highest infection recorded in last 24 hrs
- Over 2000 infected in 24 hours, 15 dead
- Three killed as microbus falls into Munshiganj ditch
- 22 die, 1541 infected in last 24 hours
- Record deaths, infections in 24 hours
- Karate coach Humayun Kabir Jewel dies
- Electronic mask developed to prevent coronavirus!
- Fire at United Hospital: 5 COVID-19 patients die
- 1166 new infected in 24 hrs, 21 die
- Offices resume from May 31
- Brazil’s COVID-19 deaths surge past Spain
- SSC-equivalent results published, pass 82.87 pc
- Anandabazar editor Anirban Chattopadhyay resigns
- Former national footballer Salauddin passes away
- India backs hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus treatment
- A thrilling operation by Police: 6 youths rescued from Sundarbans
- Xi Jinping asks Chinese military to prepare for battle
- Over 2000 infected in 24hrs, 22 dead
- 26 Bangladeshis shot dead in Libya
- Happy birthday ‘Legendary Actor’ Humayun Faridi
- Mahathir expelled from party
- 1764 infected in 24 hours, 28 dead
- Hong Kong `no longer autonomous`: Pompeo
- SSC result today: How to pre-register
- Music director Wajid Khan dies
- Slain 26 Bangladeshis to be buried in Libya
- Coronavirus case in country crosses 40,000