Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on October 14 plans to conduct a five-question poll during the upcoming elections on October 25. Unlike a referendum, the results of this poll will not be legally binding, but rather act as a form of “direct democracy” and give the authorities an idea of “what people really think,” the president’s announcement says.
“This is a ‘dual purpose electoral weapon’: on the one hand, it’s an experiment in implementing Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s election promise about popular polls […] and on the other hand, it’s an election strategy,” writes political analyst Vladimir Fesenko, in a Facebook post responding to the initiative.
The way he sees it, conducting the poll at the same time as the local elections will mobilise younger voters who support the president and his party, Servant of the People. However, Fesenko also points out that it could equally drive away participation among seniors.
“Where it has an undoubted effect is [in] the reprogramming of the final stage of election campaigning,” Fesenko continues. Indeed,” Zelenskiy’s poll” has now become the main topic of conversation – and since he is releasing the questions over the course of the next five days, the news of the day is guaranteed to come from Zelenskiy.”
In other words, the poll’s roll-out – and the debate its questions will provoke – are allowing the president and his party to set the agenda for the news cycle and political discourse in the lead-up to election day, which will, in turn, upset the electoral strategies that their political opponents planned for the final phase of campaigning.
However, the procedure for conducting the poll could prove to be a weak point, Fesenko warns. “Spontaneous (voluntary) voting at polling stations can’t be controlled from the point of view of legal purity. Consequently, the results of such a survey will be perceived with a great deal of scepticism,” he says. “And I’m not even talking about the financial and other organisational and procedural ‘details’ that the ‘devil’ could be hiding in.”
This article originally appeared in FPRI's BMB Ukraine newsletter. Click here to learn more about BMB Ukraine and subscribe to the newsletter.