Ukraine’s leader, facing a sweeping defeat in local elections this weekend, has rolled out a last-ditch plan to widen his appeal.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who’s struggled to deliver on promises to stamp out corruption and end the Kremlin-backed war in the country’s east, has added five referendum questions to the ballot -- from legalizing medical cannabis to slashing the number of lawmakers by a third.
The results won’t be binding: Zelenskiy told parliament Tuesday that he’ll simply “look forward to the answers.” But a drubbing at the ballot box would further undermine his crumbling majority in parliament.
While polling data shows young people being more likely turn out since the plebiscite was announced, the president is facing a tough task this late in the race. Polls suggest Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party will fail to win a single mayoral post in Ukraine’s big cities -- including his hometown of Kryvyi Rih.
The president “wants to attract attention and boost the turnout of his voters,” Yuriy Yakymenko, an analyst at the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv, said by phone. “As his personal and party ratings are falling, he decided to turn to some PR action. But it’s unlikely to help.”
Zelenskiy has had plenty to deal with since being elected last year -- from featuring in President Donald Trump’s impeachment saga to responding to the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane by an Iranian missile in Tehran.
But voters who backed the former TV comedian as a fresh face untainted by the country’s murky post-Soviet politics have grown disillusioned by a government reshuffle that axed reformers and the replacement of a respected top prosecutor with a loyalist.
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