Zinaida Kononenko, 63, has voted in every presidential and parliamentary election in Ukraine, hoping that the country’s political leaders would improve living standards.
“Every time, they failed,” the deputy director of a kindergarten, said on Sunday after casting her ballot in Ukraine’s snap parliamentary election.
“But this time, it’s going to be different because these new guys are not professional politicians; they haven’t learned how to steal,” Kononenko said at a polling station in central Kiev.
The “new guys” come from Servant of the People, a party of political novices named after a television series that three months ago propelled its leader, the comedian Volodymir Zelensky, to Ukraine’s presidency.
In the series, Zelensky played a destitute and divorced schoolteacher whose diatribe about Ukraine’s political establishment made him a YouTube star and then president, against all political odds.
The 41-year-old actor ran for the presidency in real life, trouncing President Petro Poroshenko in elections in April and winning almost 73 percent of the votes. But Ukraine’s powerful parliament, known as Verkhovna Rada, was dominated by Poroshenko’s loyalists, and Zelensky’s first step as president was to announce a snap parliamentary election in the hopes of securing an outright majority.
The legislators and Poroshenko-appointed ministers responded by rejecting most of the new president’s initiatives, including proposals for electoral reform and the dismissal of an allegedly corrupt prosecutor general.
Despite the early setbacks, Zelensky retained his high approval ratings, and his party is forecast to get support from more than 40 percent of voters on Sunday, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday by Rozumkov Center, an independent pollster.
Some observers, however, are sceptical about the anti-establishment fervor of Zelensky’s party.
A Kyiv-based analyst called its members “political surfers” that are backed by deeply-entrenched players such as oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky widely seen as Zelensky’s main backer. Zelensky’s television series, as well as his immensely popular comic show, aired on Kolomoisky’s 1+1 television network, and the oligarch’s lawyers and aides became part of Zelensky’s team.
The vote on Sunday signifies “a total victory of the anti-establishment wave that destroys existing political coalitions”, analyst Alexey Kushch told Al Jazeera. “But political surfers – that are not in fact anti-establishment forces but continue the political mainstream – ride this wave.”
If Servant of the People fails to secure an absolute majority in parliament, Zelensky will most likely have to form a coalition. Observers say the most likely coalition partner is Voice – a party formed just months ago by Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, Ukraine’s biggest rock star, which is expected to cross the five percent threshold and enter parliament.
The second most-popular party is projected to be Opposition Platform – For Life, which is co-headed by oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The party is largely backed by ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians in southeastern regions, and may get more than 12 percent of the vote, according to the Rozumkov poll.
To its supporters, the party symbolises the rule of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich who was toppled in 2014 after months-long protests.
“That was a golden age,” Oleksiy Klyukin, who owned a furniture workshop at the time, said. “The [Ukrainian currency] hryvna was strong, everyone was making money, and [natural] gas was cheap.”
Fatherland, headed by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, may get 7.7 percent of the vote, and Poroshenko’s European Solidarity polled at about 6.5 percent.
Vakarchuk’s Voice is slated to gain about six percent of the vote.
Polls close at 17:00 GMT.