Friday, April 19, 2019

Ukraine presidential rivals trade barbs in stadium debate

April 19, 2019 (BBC News Europe) Ukraine's rival presidential candidates have held a long-awaited head-to-head televised debate at Kiev's giant Olympic stadium. Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky and incumbent president Petro Poroshenko shook hands before launching scathing attacks on one another. Mr Zelensky is the clear favourite for Sunday's second-round vote, polls say. But Mr Poroshenko argues that he is a political novice unfit for such a demanding job. Mr Zelensky has relied on a slick social media campaign to tap into the frustration of many younger Ukrainians with establishment politicians, cronyism and corruption.
The debate in the capital's 70,000-seat stadium - where Mr Poroshenko's supporters appeared to outnumber Mr Zelensky's - was the first and only direct clash between the two rivals in the campaign. The stadium had been divided into two halves for the debate, with a stage for each candidate to speak from at each end of the pitch - but Mr Poroshenko and Mr Zelensky ended up speaking on the same stage.
"I am not a politician," said Mr Zelensky, who spoke first. "I am just a simple person who has come to break down this system." Addressing Mr Poroshenko, he said: "I am the result of your mistakes and promises." Mr Poroshenko responded by accusing his rival of avoiding active-duty military service and said he would not be able to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Zelensky is a dollar millionaire, thanks to his popular comedy series and other acting roles, while Mr Poroshenko is a billionaire who got rich through confectionery and TV businesses.
Mr Zelensky's links to billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky - a leading opponent of Mr Poroshenko - have led some to question the comedian's credibility as a true "outsider" candidate.
Mr Poroshenko took power in a 2014 election following an uprising that overthrew the previous pro-Russian government. His supporters credit him with bolstering the army, making Ukraine's orthodox church independent of Russia and securing visa-free travel to Europe. However concerns over corruption remain.