Zelensky challenges Poroshenko to a duel

The Ukrainian presidential candidate Zelensky wants a televised debate with incumbent Poroshenko in Kiev's Olympic Stadium. The winner of the first round challenged his rival in a video announcement. Poroshenko agreed - also in a video address. Is the election campaign turning into a spectacle? And if so who's upstaging whom?

Open/close all quotes
Ukrayinska Pravda (UA) /

Comedian steals the show

It's not the candidate with the best programme that wins but the one who puts on the better show, writes Konstantin Muntyan in Ukrayinska Pravda:

“The series 'Servant of the People' which tells the story of a teacher who became president was aired on Polish television. Estonian and the Kazach television have also acquired the series. The Washington Post, Deutsche Welle and a barrage of other media reported on the series. ... So the comedian's victory against the incumbent president in the first round with twice as many votes shows, even in the unlikely event that he fails in the second round, that a new format has been invented: electainment. A combination of elections and entertainment, a new trend, an election process in entertainment format.”

News.bg (BG) /

The puppeteers are already waiting in the wings

Zelensky is politically inexperienced and could easily become the puppet of his patron, oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi, news.bg warns:

“Zelensky apparently doesn't know what he wants. What he does know, however, is how to get it. That makes him a typical anti-system candidate who, like Bulgaria's President Roumen Radev, owes his electoral success to protest voters. He became president quite unexpectedly thanks to the machinations of the Socialist Party and Gerb. He became the pawn of his own advisors. ... One can assume that things will be the same with Zelensky and that power will be concentrated in the hands of a grey eminence (Kolomoyskyi).”

Delfi (LT) /

Jokes versus arguments

The comedian won't have it easy, Delfi predicts:

“The original idea of holding the debate in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev came from Zelensky, but it could work against him. Poroshenko has more information about the situation in the city and he is an experienced politician. It won't be easy to fend off serious arguments with jokes. ... One must assume that Poroshenko will cast Zelensky as a puppet of oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi, but Zelensky has already refuted the allegation. And he can't be accused of corruption: he couldn't steal anything from the state because he's never been in power. He's more an actor and an entertainer than a politician, but he himself stresses that it was the actor Ronald Reagan who won the Cold War.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Score 1-1 as the game begins

The Echo of Moscow is impressed with Zelensky's daring approach and Poroshenko's courage:

“Zelensky was counting on Poroshenko chickening out. On his being scared that 70,000 of the entertainer's supporters would turn up and mock him with booing and catcalls. But Poroshenko agreed and accepted the challenge, which radically changes the situation. First of all neither side has shown fear, so the score is now 1-1. Secondly it looks like this will be a real debate, not just a show. ... And the most important thing is that Zelensky won't have a bud in his ear with his team telling him what to say, but will have to speak for himself. Which means he could either win the debate and be celebrated by the crowd or drown in mockery. A dangerous game.”

Fokus (UA) /

Stadium the perfect stage for Zelensky

The entertainer and political newcomer Zelensky stands a better chance of winning a debate in Kiev's Olympic Stadium than in a TV studio, political scientist Svetlana Zunichina predicts in Fokus:

“In a classic TV debate Zelensky would probably stand no chance of winning. So it was a clever gambit for him to challenge his rival to a debate in the Olympic Stadium. Because a stadium is a place that is conducive to whipping up emotions rather than having to convince people with arguments or impress with your competence. ... For an actor it's ideal. A conventional politician, by contrast, may lose his way at such a venue, his powers of expression may prove inadequate.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Debate could be a flop

Organisational trivia could end up preventing the debate from ever happening, Gazeta Wyborcza observes:

“The comedian Zelensky is demanding that the debate take place in the Olympic Stadium in Kiev, where the European Football Championship took place in 2012. ... The public television broadcaster could probably arrange for it to be held there, but the high rent would be a problem. Naturally the candidates have the right to meet and discuss wherever they like in front of the cameras, and to finance it out of their campaign funds. But the duel in the stadium would then count as election campaigning and not as an official tv debate. ... Therefore so far it's not clear whether there will be a debate that serves the interest of the voters.”