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Ukraine's race a sign of our time


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Ukraine’s presidential election, in which a popular comedian with no political experience is projected to beat a seasoned incumbent with considerable baggage, reflects global trends that continue to shake the global order.

Across the world, economic stagnation, immigration, and other challenges are fueling disgust with traditional politics, leaving voters increasingly attracted to candidates who offer a fresh face and a new approach — even if (or especially if) the candidates are novices and their agendas are vague. 

The question is whether, over time, novice leaders (whether in the United States, Ukraine, or elsewhere) adapt to the post-war arrangements that have served the world well for three-quarters of a century, or those arrangements fall victim to unorthodox approaches that new leaders promise and voters seem increasingly willing to try.

That’s a timely question as freedom and democracy are declining around the world, Washington is cooling toward its Western allies and eschewing multilateral trade opportunities, Beijing is promoting an authoritarian alternative to U.S.-led freedom, China and Russia are working more closely in an anti-U.S. axis, and nuclear weaponry threatens to proliferate and further destabilize the world.

On April 21, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian who pretends to be President in a Ukrainian TV show, squares off against the actual incumbent President, Petro Poroshenko, who has served since 2014. In their battle, Zelensky and Poroshenko symbolize the unsettling global politics of our time.

First, it’s a battle between old and new.

Zelensky is what the ancient philosophers called a “Tabula Rasa” (a blank slate), for he has offered few ideas about what he would propose or whether he can work the mechanics of a parliamentary government.

The same forces that may catapult him to victory, however, offer him a huge opportunity. Only 9 percent of Ukrainians express confidence in their government, which is the world’s lowest level for a second straight year, so the bar that he must clear to satisfy public thirst may be a modest one. To succeed, Zelensky would need an effective reform agenda that increases public confidence by reducing corruption, nourishing transparency, and addressing the country’s serious economic problems.


What's one more clown in politics?

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