Ukraine's Poroshenko vows to beat comedian rival as campaign closes
KIEV, Ukraine – Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko insisted he could beat comedian and poll-leader Volodymyr Zelensky despite what he said were Russian attempts at interference, as his reelection campaign entered its final day Friday, March 29.
Poroshenko has sought to position himself as the only candidate who can stand up to Moscow as he seeks to beat back support for Zelensky, whose political experience is limited to playing the president in a TV series.
"I am absolutely confident that despite all of Russia's attempts... the Kremlin will not block the European or Euro-Atlantic integration of my country," Poroshenko told Agence France-Presse and other Western media after his final campaign rally late Thursday, March 28, in the Western city of Lviv.
Friday is the last day of campaigning before a first-round vote on Sunday, March 31, in which polls show Poroshenko and ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko scrambling for second place to face Zelensky in a run-off.
Poroshenko, however, said he "definitely" felt sure of victory
"We understand how important this election is for democracy in Ukraine, for the future of Ukraine and for the stability of Europe," Poroshenko said.
The 53-year-old leader came to power in 2014 – after a popular uprising ousted his pro-Russian predecessor – on promises to tackle graft, improve living standards and align Ukraine with the West.
But after 5 years, corruption is still widespread and Ukraine remains among the poorest nations in Europe.
Frustrations with the political class has led to the surprise rise of Zelensky, who has a roughly ten-point lead over his nearest rivals in final polls published this week.
Nonetheless Poroshenko told thousands of supporters in Lviv that "the worst, friends, is definitely over."
"We have just started to make up the losses after the crisis caused by Russian aggression and war," he said.
Ties between Kiev and its Soviet-era master Moscow have been in tatters since the 2014 revolution forced out the Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych and Russia retaliated by annexing Crimea.
Moscow also supported a separatist uprising in the east of Ukraine – an ongoing conflict which has so far claimed some 13,000 lives.
Zelensky has shunned traditional rallies even in the final stretch of the campaign, but has continued to perform stand-up and sketch shows to packed houses.
The 41-year-old star of political comedy "Servant of the People" has drawn criticism for the vagueness of his manifesto, the main points of which were chosen following a public vote on social media.
But supporters say only a brand-new face can clean up Ukraine's murky politics.
If elected, Zelensky has said he will move forward with the implementation of the Minsk peace process that is supposed to put an end to the war with pro-Russian separatists.
Tymoshenko, who came to international prominence as a face of the 2004 Orange Revolution and has stood for the presidency twice before, will hold her last rally in Kiev on Friday afternoon.
Since the 2004 uprising, Tymoshenko has spent 3 years as prime minister and 3 years in prison, on charges the West says were politically motivated, and she remains a divisive figure.
Kiev and the EU have held joint cyber security drills ahead of the vote to protect Ukraine from what officials say is a hacking threat from Russia.
Ukrainian security services say they have registered a growing number of attacks and phishing attempts to gain access to computers of the country's ministries and other state structures in recent months.
Russia denies any attempt to interfere in the vote. – Rappler.com