Ukraine election: Cornered Poroshenko ‘debates himself’ as frontrunner Zelensky skips event

Ukraine election: Cornered Poroshenko ‘debates himself’ as frontrunner Zelensky skips event

With time running out before next week’s presidential election in Ukraine, President Petro Poroshenko held a campaign rally on Sunday that he dubbed a “debate” against his elusive rival, who is squarely beating him in polls, RT reports.

In seven days, Ukrainians are to decide at the ballot box whether they want to grant Poroshenko a second term – or replace him with comedian-turned-politician Volodymir Zelensky. A fresh opinion poll published this week gives little hope for the current head of state to keep his job. The study conducted by the Rating agency, said 61 percent of Ukrainians, who intend to show up to the polling stations next Sunday, will vote for Zelensky and only 24 percent for his opponent.

In an apparent last-ditch attempt to turn the tide in his favor, Poroshenko spent this week in (mostly futile) attempts to lure Zelensky into a direct debate. A more experienced speaker, the president would presumably look better in an open verbal battle, especially if supported by a friendly audience.

The two participants of the electoral run-off are obliged by the law to hold at least one round of debate televised by Ukraine’s public broadcaster. Since last week Poroshenko has been pushing for the earliest date possible, but Zelensky’s campaign pulled the rug from under the incumbent with a public challenge for a duel at the Olimpiysky stadium – to which Poroshenko agreed.

What the two teams failed to settle was when to do the show. Poroshenko insisted on this Sunday – April 14 at 14:14 to be precise – and indeed gathered a rally of supporters just outside the stadium. Notably, the venue itself was busy hosting another event at the time, according to its management.

With Zelensky expectedly missing at the second podium, the Ukrainian president spent about an hour “waiting” for him on stage and biding his time by repeating campaign points and responding to questions from a group of apparently handpicked pundits.

About two hours later the crowd led by Poroshenko went inside the now-vacated Olimpiysky stadium. Aerial footage of the incursion showed supporters of the president managing to fill a small portion of the 70,000 seats at the venue.