Comedian Zelensky Wins 1st Round of Ukraine’s Presidential Elections, to Face Poroshenko in Runoff

Comedian Zelensky Wins 1st Round of Ukraine’s Presidential Elections, to Face Poroshenko in Runoff

The comedian’s uncoventional campaign has barely mentioned Ukraine’s long-standing conflict with Russia, and has instead focused on fighting corruption.

Volodymyr Zelensky (Zelenskiy), a 41-year-old comedian with no political experience, has won the first round of Ukraine’s presidential elections, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko also qualifying for the runoff.

Zelensky is best known for his satirical TV show “Servant of the People”, in which he played an ordinary citizen becoming President after fighting corruption, a fictional plot he is now seeking to turn into reality.

According to exit poll results, Volodymyr Zelensky won 30.4% of the votes cast by Ukrainians in Sunday’s presidential elections, UNIAN reported.

17.8% supported incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, while 14.2% cast their votes for leader of the Batkivshchyna Party, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

9.8% voted for the co-chairman of the Opposition Platform – For Life Party Yuriy Boyko, and 7.1% voted for leader of the Civil Position Party Anatoliy Hrytsenko.

A total of 39 candidates ran in Sunday’s presidential vote, with a turnout of 63.5% (some 17 million voted out of 26.7 million eligible voters), according to Ukraine’s Central Election Commission. The runoff is scheduled for April 21.

Ukraine’s system is technically defined as semi-presidential, with the President wielding substantial powers.

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky’s campaign for the Ukrainian Presidency has been completely unconventional, relying on his popularity and social media, and the Ukrainians’ fatigue from the long-standing conflict with Russia.

In response to Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution in the winter of 2013-2014, which ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin sent troops to occupy the Crimean Peninsula, and then annexed it on March 18, 2014.

This has been followed by a pro-Russian insurgency possibly aided by Moscow in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine, with Ukraine and Russia remaining involved in a “cold’ conflict ever since.

The European Union as well as the United States and the rest of the West have sided with Kiev, introducing sanctions against Russia and criticizing its encroachments against Ukraine.

Unlike incumbent Poroshenko or former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, however, Zelensky has not focused on the conflict with Russia, and instead his main message appears has had to do with fighting corruption.

Zelensky seems to enjoy substantial support in Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine, partly attributed to his willingness to speak both Russian and Ukrainian publicly.

Ukraine’s incumbent President, chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko’s campaign slogan was “Army, Language, Faith” – a reference to his efforts to build up the Ukrainian military in the standoff with pro-Russian separatists in Donbass, the promotion of the Ukrainian language, and the recent establishment of an Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from Russia’s.

He has also managed to secure an Association Agreement with the European Union, which includes visa-free travel for Ukrainians.

Poroshenko’s image, however, has been marred by the perception of persisting corruption, including a recent scandal over defense procurement.

“I am ready – whether it is Poroshenko or not. What difference does it make?” frontrunner Zelensky said after the exit poll results became known, as cited by UNIAN, in response to a reporter’s question on whether he was prepared for a presidential debate with Ukraine’s incumbent President.

“It’s no matter who we face in a run-off … I have already been told that there are certain rumors: we are allegedly in talks with someone, looking for allies. We are not in talks with anyone. We are young people, we do not want, frankly speaking, to see all that past in our future, in the future of our country,” Zelensky said.

The comedian also retorted to Poroshenko’s comments describing him as a puppet of Ukrainian businessman Ihor (Igor) Kolomoisky.

“Well, are you Mr. Svynarchuk’s puppet? Or is Svynarchuk your puppet?” Zelensky said, referring to Poroshenko’s former business partner Oleh Svynarchuk and his son Ihor Svynarchuk over the recent defense procurement scandal.

(Banner image: Unian)

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