YURI DYACHYSHYN | AFP | Getty Images
A picture taken on February 8, 2019 shows people walking by placards depicting Ukrainian entertainer and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky and oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, looking out from his back, and reading ‘Servant of oligarch, doll of oligarch’ is seen glued prior to Zelensky performance in western Ukrainian city of Lviv on February 8, 2019.
“The source of his popularity is that he does not belong to the establishment, and has been conducting an unorthodox election campaign,” according to Tadeusz Iwanski, research fellow at Warsaw-based think-tank, the Center for Eastern Studies.
“Zelenskiy communicates with voters by using social media and holding concerts in Ukraine’s regional centres, while the TV series and cabaret shows in which he stars are among the most popular in Ukraine,” Iwanski said in a note last week.
While Zelensky’s popularity has sharply risen in recent weeks, fueled largely by public dissatisfaction at the traditional political elite, analysts are keen to point out that his support base might be unstable. They also note that his policies and program for government are unclear.
Otilia Dhand, senior vice president at Teneo Intelligence, said for Zelensky to pass into the crucial second round of voting he will have to offer a more detailed manifesto.
“Given that Zelensky does not have a well-defined program, policy implications of his potential victory are difficult to gauge for now. It is likely that ahead of the second round, Zelensky would put forward a more detailed policy plan. Meanwhile, the main concern is his lack of political experience and questions over his ability to steer the unwieldy Ukrainian political system to deliver reforms, including those required under the current IMF arrangement,” Dhand said in a note last week.
A government led by an inexperienced politicians could be a big problem for Ukraine, a country largely reliant on foreign donors and an aid program from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In December, the IMF approved a new 14-month near $4 billion loan that replaced a four-year $17.5 billion aid package agreed in 2015.
That aid came after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then supported a pro-Russian uprising in the east of the country, prompting the economy to decline as investors feared further instability.
The IMF’s latest loan comes with four main conditions; that the government continues an ongoing fiscal consolidation to keep public debt on a downward path; reduces inflation while maintaining a flexible exchange rate regime; strengthens the financial sector; and advances structural reforms to improve tax administration, privatization and governance.