In Politics, Timing is Everything

Issue 125, July 2019.
In Politics, Timing is Everything
Getting elected relies on many things – a charismatic candidate, a compelling campaign, a talented team, and/or a popular platform. Surely, these things can matter. But as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi  has proven, terrific timing too, can mean everything. The new president put on a master-class on how timing matters in politics as his ascendency to the presidency and dominance in the parliamentary polls is a textbook example of why timing matters in politics.
Nine months ago, virtually no one in Ukraine expected Ukraine’s comedian-in-chief would replace former President Petro Poroshenko as the country’s next leader. In fact, the celebrity name more bandied about at the time was iconic Okean Elzy frontman and Lviv’s native son, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk. As late as November, Vakarchuk was polling as high as 10 percent. Zelenskyi was rarely even named in the polls. He waited until New Year’s Eve to announce his candidacy, bumping the President’s traditional New Year’s greeting in the process. He didn’t offer much for a plan; nor did he say much about who he’d be working with. He hoped to ride the popularity of his presidential TV character right through to the spring votes. It worked.
Zelenskyi managed to tap into the Ukrainian electorate’s desire for a “vote for change”. While nearly one in three voters chose the candidate in the first round, fully three-quarters of electors voted for the comedian in the second round – a vote that was as much anti-Poroshenko as it was pro-Zelenskyi. Still riding high in the polls, his first order of business was to call snap elections. The purpose? To ride the tide of his popularity – to use timing once again to his advantage – to stack the Ukrainian parliament with like-minded folks. It seems a sound strategy; Zelenskyi’s party has been polling between 40-50% - far ahead of every other party – and could elect over half the parliament.
After spurning his chance to be the “change candidate” by electing not to run for president, Vakarchuk started his own party shortly after the presidential vote. Polling just behind Zelenskyi when the latter announced his presidential bid, Vakarchuk’s new ‘Holos’ (‘Voice’) party is now polling at around just 7-8 percent, nearly 40 points back of Zelenskyi’s ‘Sluha Narodu’ (‘Servant of the People’) party. Those that might have chosen to work/vote for Vakarchuk and his ‘outsider’ platform, have all but abandoned the singer for the surety of the new President. If Zelenskyi represents the textbook example of how important timing is in politics, Vakarchuk could represent just the opposite.
Shortly after we go to print, Zelenskyi will likely have a powerful parliament to back his platitudes for reform. He’ll have the power and popularity to push through crucial legislation at a time when it is sorely needed. The time is right for reform in Ukraine. Let’s hope that a President that was so adept at timing in his campaigning can be just as timely while he governs.
-- Lee Reaney