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Ukraine poised to step into the unknown with election runoff

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Ukraine poised to step into the unknown with election runoff
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Natalia Liubchenkova/Euronews
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Ukrainians go to the polls once again on Sunday 21 April, to decide who will become the new president.

The favourite in the presidential race is a famous television personality with no previous experience in politics.

If the Ukrainian people opt for him, they will be voting to take a step into the political unknown. Here's what we do know.

Who are the candidates?

A whopping 44 candidates initially registered for the first round of voting, but this number has now been whittled down to two for a final runoff vote on Sunday 21 April.

The incumbent president Petro Poroshenko 53, faces a comedian with no previous political experience, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41.

Zelenskiy, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, could be on course to win by a landslide, with a recent opinion poll suggesting he would win 72% of the vote, with Poroshenko on 25%.

REUTERS
The current president Poroshenko is behind in the pollsREUTERS

Why is Zelenskiy so far ahead in the opinion polls?

Mathieu Boulegue, a research fellow at the Chatham House thinktank, told Euronews Zelenskiy's popularity in the presidential race is “the perfect personification of the fed up vote”.

“People want new faces, and they're ready to vote for someone unknown" he said.

“He listened more than he talked. He listened to concerns. Poroshenko has promised a lot, but will not be able to deliver on these promises”.

Many in Ukraine are fed up with established politicians, and Zelenskiy's rise has coincided with a spate of anti-establishment election successes across Europe.

Read more: Hungry for change, Ukrainians set to elect comedian as next president

Boulegue said if he had to compare Zelenskiy to another politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger springs to mind.

“He was also able to capitalise on his popularity as an entertainer to establish himself in politics," he said, referring to Schwarzenegger's time as governor of California.

"He surrounded himself with a good team of reformers and experts who knew what to do politically, locally.”

What are Zelenskiy's policies?

Zelenskiy has pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course, and to end the conflict in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, where more than 13,000 people have died in fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

He has also assured investors that he would push reforms and tackle corruption.

However, Boulegue says "we know little of his proposed reforms" and how they would be carried out.

He remains something of an unknown quantity as a politician, and also faces scrutiny over his ties to a powerful oligarch, so how free of influence he will be in reality remains to be seen.

How important is this election for the future of Ukraine?

"The head of state matters, but in terms of what it can achieve politically, it is just one element of the system and is not the most important," says Boulegue.

"What will matter more for the future of the country is the upcoming parliamentary elections in October, and local elections in early 2020," he adds.

The president has constrained power, and the country is moving "irrevocably towards the West", he says.

The important thing about this election, Boulegue adds, is since the country's independence from Soviet rule, "this is the first time in Ukraine there has been a genuinely fair, transparent and competitive election".

"It is genuinely a game changer.”

Read more: Poroshenko empty chairs opponent in one-sided debate

Ukrainians Euronews has spoken with had differing views of Zelenskiy.

Yaroslav Vedmid', an entrepreneur, bemoaned the fact that he believed Zelenskiy is the favourite in the race due to the huge "power of television", and that people's minds have been swayed by an "absolutely fictional character".

However former Ukrainian consul to Istanbul, Bohdan Yeremenko however is supporting Zelenskiy, who he says is currently free from political corruption as he is new to politics.

Watch their reactions in the video at the top of this article.