KIEV, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- Ukraine is set to hold presidential elections on March 31 with a record number of 44 candidates, the country's Central Electoral Commission said Friday.
The number is more than double the 21 candidates of the 2014 elections, and a fierce competition is predicted while a second round looks inevitable, analysts said.
The incumbent President Petro Poroshenko is seeking re-election, promising the continuation of reforms, improved living standards and restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity through political and diplomatic means.
He is joined on the ballot by an array of other politicians, public figures, celebrities and businessmen, whose campaign promises are very similar.
The large number of contenders, the similarity of their election programs, and the high level of distrust in the candidates create little chances for the elections to conclude in a single round, according to experts and observers.
Recent opinion polls indicate that none of the presidential hopefuls has an approval rating of more than 21 percent, while over 50 percent of the votes is required to win in the first round.
"I anticipate two rounds of the elections," Dmytro Sinchenko, head of the non-governmental organization Association of Political Sciences, told Xinhua.
According to some forecasts, Poroshenko and opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko have a good chance of making it to the second round. While some experts name actor Volodymyr Zelensky as another hopeful.
Poroshenko, who took charge of Ukraine in June 2014, has a "very high" chance to be re-elected, Igor Solovey, an international observer with local online media outlet LB.ua, told Xinhua.
"International support also plays into Poroshenko's hands -- the U.S., the EU and other European countries would like to see him as the next president," he said.
Tymoshenko, a veteran politician who had served as Ukrainian prime minister between 2005 and 2010, is viewed as the strongest challenger to the incumbent president.
Local analysts believe that Tymoshenko who had previously two unsuccessful attempts to take presidency -- in 2010 and in 2014, has learned the lessons of her past defeats and will stick to the tactics of defending the interests of the "ordinary people" who are dissatisfied with the current government.
"Tymoshenko took into account the mistakes of past campaigns and now she is aiming to maximize her electoral resources, including at the expense of direct competitors," Liliya Brudnytska, an analyst at the center of structural political science Vybir, told Xinhua.
Tymoshenko pledged that, if she wins, she will increase average wages and pensions by more than threefold, reduce gas prices for households and make access to loans much easier.
Zelensky, the newcomer in Ukrainian politics, has surprisingly taken the lead in some recent opinion polls.
However, analysts point to his relative lack of political experience and other factors as challenges to overcome.
"His electorate is urban youth, who usually do not go to the polls," said political expert Taras Zagorodniy, adding that "Zelensky is a television project and nobody yet has won the election through the television."