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Bass, soprano and falsetto: the final aria

"Do you know what an oriflamme is? Just do not confuse it with a cosmetic brand," a close associate of the president looks expectantly. "In Medieval Europe, they usually fought for trophies, took prisoners or captured cities. That is, for some profit. But there were fights for life - when neither prisoners nor trophies were of any interest. When it was initially clear that there would be only one person left alive. Then, even before the start of the battle, a special flag was raised - it was called an oriflamme. So now we have the "oriflamme" situation - only one person will remain," he concludes, referring to the presidential campaign.

Photo: Max Levin

The recent ratings by a number of sociological firms caused quite a stir in the political environment. In particular, the authoritative Kyiv International Institute of Sociology expects Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 16.4%, Socis, 15.9%, and the Razumkov Centre, 17.5%, (among all respondents).

Petro Poroshenko is second with 10.8%, 10.5% and 13.1% respectively. The third is Yuliya Tymoshenko with 9.6%, 10.3% and 11.5%.

A little more than a month before election day, it is impossible to accurately predict which candidate is going to make it to the runoff despite any ratings. Judging by the figures, Zelenskyy is in the lead but there are too many "but's" in this story. As sociologists note, the "gap" between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko is smaller than any margin of error, which means that these two are quite likely to meet in the final.

LB.ua is looking at the details.

Comedian’s blitzkrieg or "Zelenskyy like champagne"

"Where do these colossal figures come from? How did he manage to increase them so swiftly?" ministers, deputies, oligarchs and other resource-intense people ask each other.

While asking, they mean: should they already change sights with regard to a new reality or wait a little longer?

Reason No 1, the main one. "Voting for" Zelenskyy is the same as voting "against all". Add to this a bigger part of "undecided" voters.

"A lot depends on the survey methodology," explains a representative of one of the mentioned sociological groups. "How is the questionnaire compiled?" Which medium is used - traditional paper or a tablet? In our practice, we came across a situation when using a tablet would confidently add Zelenskyy about 3%. What is the reason: youth, advanced technology? Go and explain. But we stopped using tablets."

Another factor is location: who conducts the survey and where? After all, big sociological services (which also work between the elections, including on commercial orders) have their own "locations" they have worked in for years and each has certain specific features, which guarantee a small but tilted result. That applies to Socis, with which Ihor Hryniv used to be formally associated.

Photo: Volodymyr Zelenskyy's press service

And one more professional "secret". "Many surveys are currently built in such a way that interviewers are not happy with the answer is "I don't know", "I haven’t made up my mind yet"(who I am going to support and whether I plan to go to polls at all, etc). They want respondents to name someone. Therefore, when respondents are asked persistently for a third time, "Still, who would you support?", they name the most absurd name but at least the one that is familiar to them (among other candidates)," the source explains.

According to him, taken together all these factors form the current picture.

"Zelenskyy's rating is no news. It was like that the entire year. It was the same as the option 'against all' but without the name. And now there is a name," his other colleague says.

Reason No 2

But what is the source of these protest sentiments?

Hatred is the main trend of the Ukrainian political agenda in recent years. It is amplified in the information space on TV, on non-representative (from the electoral point of view) Facebook, markets and squares. Flat rejection of all those who have at least something to do with the Pechersk hills ("they are all the same"); creation of fake "idols for an hour", from Savchenko to Semenchenko and so on.

Demand for newness and astonishment. Regardless of quality.

The answer to the rhetorical question "why" cannot be unambiguous because there are the war, the economic situation and unfulfilled promises of the authorities. But the authorities are also to blame. Indeed, it would be strange to expect otherwise if the five years of presidency are spent, in many respects, on the systemic persecution of opponents that overshadows other tasks. First, Yatsenyuk, then Sadovyy, followed traditionally by Tymoshenko and other citizens of a smaller calibre. And finally, Groysman, who, however, turned out to be quite peaceful and accommodating. And not only because of Prodan’s case.

"A confidently growing rating of the guarantor is the best incentive for uniting everyone around him. If it goes like this, soon there will be a queue of those who 'carried the log together with Lenin' [=was loyal all the way]," one of the top ranks of the presidential administration says sarcastically, preferring not to mention that the key figures of Poroshenko's HQ fell apart long ago.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Reason No 3

Zelenskyy is a good match for what a notional "southeast" wants. After the fall of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions, there have been several options in this segment of the electoral market (Oleksandr Vilkul's Opposition Bloc and Boyko-Rabinovich's Opposition Bloc; Yevhen Murayev's project, the Revival Party headed by Viktor Bondar and others). None of them holds a monopoly. In the meantime, the structure and geography of the conditional "white-and-blue" electorate has changed significantly after the occupation of Crimea and Donbas, and a wave of internal displacement. But requests of this part of the audience have not changed. "He is one of us, from Kryvyy Rih! He speaks Russian and criticises the current government," these people say.

They do not care about going deeper at least to check out Zelenskyy's strategy for recovering Donbass (which he does not have).

As Gorshenin Institute experts predicted, the "new star" has indeed risen in the east. Although it is not the one they expected.

Reason No 4

And a little more sociology. "Zelensky, as we know, is not systemic," one of the senior experts emphasizes, in a conversation with LB.ua. "He does not have a 'core', he does not rely on anything, so it is impossible to say what his 'ceiling' is, it is impossible to 'sense' him. It is clear that his conditional 10% 'weigh' less than the conditional 5% of Yuliya or Petro, but it is impossible to determine the exact proportion," he concludes.

From the point of view of old elites, on the one hand, it is a threat because his figures can "shoot" as you please.

On the other hand, it is a chance. One cannot rule out that Zelenskyy will fail miserably in the first round, not even reaching the third place.

Photo: labipt.com

"We had our own focus groups. The result was reassuring: six out of 10 of his voters never went to the polls! And it is not because these people were under 18 years old. The age category of this focus group is 18-35 years old. His voters will simply not go to the polls," one of the BPP leaders says.

Yuliya Tymoshenko’s HQ agrees: "Zelenskys is like champagne. When it is poured into a glass, it seems like a lot at first. But very soon the bubbles are gone and there is little of it. It is a primitive comparison but very apt."

Given that, according to people who are in contact with him, Zelenskyy practically sees himself as the president already, the blow can be very painful.

In this case, it is appropriate to recall a recent closed meeting between Zelenskyy and Aspen graduates, which started and ended with a scandal. The one at the beginning was prompted by his specific compliments to the "lovely ladies" present. Obviously, he did not take into account the fact that the traditional spectators of his comic show "95th Kvartal" and women-leaders have significantly diverging views on gender-feminism-equality and all such things. To say the least. In the end, after a series of not too complimentary questions, he urged their authors to show more reserve and respect for a person who is about to become the head of state.

Well, the "icing on the cake" is the birthday party of Ihor Kolomoyskyy, which was held in Israel and was attended by around 130 people from other parts of the world. And this was the first day of the celebration alone. There was Serhiy Lyovochkin among the Tel Aviv guests. He has not talked to Kolomoyskyy much since 2013 but always kept his ear to the ground. Ihor Valeriyovych denies that there were toasts to his close friend, "future Prime Minister Ihor Palytsya", but it does not change the general picture much.

Ihor Kolomoyskyy
Photo: Screenshot
Ihor Kolomoyskyy

Runoff intrigue

Can it really happen that Zelenskyy - contrary to the current figures and expectations of many – will fail to make it to the runoff?

It is quite possible.

Even those working in Poroshenko’s HQ say that it is too early to "discard" Tymoshenko: "Her core electorate is from the countryside. Sociology does not reach there, that is why Yuliya always got a little more than predicted. This will be the case this time as well."

"I am sure that I will face Poroshenko in the runoff," Yuliya Timoshenko said in an exclusive interview with the KishkiNa YouTube project which we recorded the other day and will be released soon.

Her entourage offered muted reaction to recent polls. "It is even good for us," they are convincing us. "They never give us enough, we have already got used to this, but now the team is especially mobilized. Understanding the risks, people literally go all out."

"We will definitely make it to the runoff! With whom? Well, that is the question," one of the leaders Petro Poroshenko's campaign insists.

Some of his close associates believe that the faceoff with Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a better and technologically easier option.

"Who will really vote for the commander-in-chief comedian during the war?" they ask. "Besides, we have Hryniv. He will probably figure out how to neutralize him, a basic plan has already been developed."

Besides, there are a number of practical issues. The monitoring and protection of voting results are the most important ones.

As it is known, whereas for the first round, local election commissions are formed of representatives of all candidates (by blind draw), for the runoff they consist of the favourites' representatives. "Even if you count commission members alone, by the second round, Zelenskyy will need 200,000 specially trained people. Where will he take them? And he will also need observers," an HQ staff member says.

Photo: Max Levin

"One more thing. If Poroshenko wins but with a small margin, will Zelenskyy’s supporters express their resentment? Will there be any courts, possible protests or uprisings? "he continues. "The answer is obvious. But if it is Tymoshenko who wins."

But if it is Tymoshenko, the main challenges will be:

A) to protect election results (both for her and for Poroshenko)

B) to prove one's legitimate victory (for Poroshenko).

It is not only about its legal legitimacy but also about its public perception. Indeed, in 2004, strictly speaking, everything was also according to the law...

"Tymoshenko’s HQ accuses us of vote-buying. Avakov is playing on their side. Things have already got serious, something needs to be done," one of the head of state's officials says.

"Yes, today we already have 60,000 campaigners all across Ukraine. We plan to have 100,000. We conduct trainings for them. All of them have electronic cards, we track everyone online, cover their transport, communication and food costs. This is a normal world practice when, roughly speaking, there is recruitment of supporters. Every campaigner has a 'case', their homework. I can say that no-one has ever created such a scheme in Ukraine before," adds the second speaker, not without pride.

Of course, according to the official version, "campaigning is not the same as bribery". Those who think different should cross themselves.

Probably that is why a preventive blow was delivered on 17 February: in a number of Yuliya Timoshenko’s regional headquarters were searched by the Security Service of Ukraine and, what is interesting, by the State Bureau of Investigation. Allegedly, they were searched on suspicion of the very same bribing of voters. And that would not bother anyone but it is pretty hard to believe in the impartiality of these actions.

Photo: ba.org.ua

This is where the real "oriflamme" begins.

Perhaps, at the end of this bloc, it has to be mentioned that the election turnout is a very important factor for the victory of a candidate.

Both Poroshenko's and Tymoshenko's headquarters expect it to be quite high, 70% and higher. "We have never lived without elections for so long. The maximum interval was two, or two and a half years. Now five years have passed, people will certainly want to speak out."

What about after the presidential election?

Life does not end after the presidential election. And after results are calculated, possible court sessions are held and a true winner is established, preparations for parliamentary elections will begin. What will it be like?

The main intrigue is the law. It can be changed by July, the date when parliament approves the start of the race.

Active civil society insists on the adoption of so-called "open lists". Politicians do not mind this idea too, but those from first-past-the-post constituencies. They are important to the campaigns of Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, there are many of them in the People's Front party. They have votes that they simply will not give. Not to mention that a draft Electoral Code (which has been sinking in 4,000 amendments for over a year) is unlikely to be submitted to parliament as resource-intense players will block it at the stage of its consideration by Ruslan Knyazevych's committee.

"We have already had experience with open lists during local elections. It was an experiment and everyone then agreed that it was unsuccessful. That is why it is off the table," one of such players says.

"Of course, it is impossible to predict [the outcome of] parliamentary elections without knowing presidential elections results. It is clear that MPs will adjust sights with regard to the president, it always happens like this. And the guarantor will have six months (until the beginning of December 2019 when a new parliament is sworn in) to fulfil his or her "desires" and reshuffle. First and foremost, this concerns law-enforcement bodies and the head of the NBU (the National Bank of Ukraine). As for the prime minister, they may remain the same or the technical one may be put for this period," his colleague echoes.

And what if Volodymyr Zelenskyy heads the country? Here experts agree on one thing: "Ukraine will finally become a truly parliamentary-presidential republic. The way it should be. Everyone in parliament will unite against him, and life will not be easy for him. The status of the Queen of England is his maximum. And perhaps, even this will not last very long."

Photo: golos.ua

Here is an interesting detail: everyone in Poroshenko's entourage admits a possibility of their patron’s loss. "There is no tragedy. Poroshenko has already made history with visa-free regulations and the Tomos. Nobody can take this away from him," emphasizes one of important figures in Poroshenko's entourage.

However, if he loses the presidential election, it will be extremely difficult for him to explain this to voters at the parliamentary elections. And here comes the idea of two columns: "Two columns will allow us to divide the efforts and get more votes. Moreover, as far as the party is concerned, its priority is to join the EPP (European People's Party). However, there is a procedural detail - the application must be submitted by the party leader directly," Poroshenko's associate says.

The Solidarity party has a problem with its official head. As we know, pursuant to the law on government service, Vitaliy Klitschko resigned from his post two years ago. And he does not seem to be very eager to get involved in the party affairs.

According to the third, no less influential associate of the president, "there is already an agreement": "After the presidential election is over, we are running in the elections together with Groysman and Klitschko. The key word here is 'together'. For now, we also have Turchynov, a part of the People’s Front faction, including Parubiy's group. Yatsenyuk has not decided yet, but ideologically he is closer to us."

However, in conditions of turbulence and uncertainty, such arrangements, of course, are not static. One thing is clear for sure: the key threat posed by Poroshenko’s second term is the complete usurpation of power, tightening of the screws and 'defatting' of opponents. After all, there will be no obstacles then.

"I will not have to be in opposition any more, that is for sure. However, I cannot say the same about Poroshenko... He will be held responsible for his actions," Yuliya Tymoshenko stated firmly in her interview with KishkiNa.

Photo: Tetyana Bondarenko

Supporters of the "oriflamme" theory forget one thing: there is always scorched earth after bloody battles. Always. Even if it is simply an electoral battle. Is not the price high?

 

Sonya KoshkinaSonya Koshkina, LB.ua editor in chief
Anna SteshenkoAnna Steshenko, journalist
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