Comedian Zelensky Grabs Presidency in Landslide, Largest Win in Ukraine’s History
Zelensky has vowed to return home the Ukrainians held in captivity by the pro-Russian forces in Donbass.
41-year-old comedian Volodymyr Zelensky (Zelenskiy), an actor with no political experience, has defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko in the runoff of Ukraine’s presidential election, scoring the largest victory in the former Soviet republic’s history.
Zelensky triumphed in Sunday’s second round of the presidential election with over 73% of the votes, or nearly 13 million votes in absolute terms, Ukraine’s Central Election Commission of Ukraine announced on Monday, with 94.5% of the votes counted, as cited by Unian.
Petro Poroshenko, who is completing his one-term Presidency, got 24.5%, or some 4.3 million votes.
The voter turnout in Ukraine’s presidential election surpassed 62%, with more than 17 million votes.
Zelensky’s victory had been anticipated after his categorical win in the first round but the fact that it was so categorically was somewhat surprising to political commentators.
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 has now turned into reality.
Ukraine’s has a semi-presidential government system in which the President shares some powers with the parliament.
Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky’s campaign for the Ukrainian Presidency has been unconventional, relying massively on his popularity as an actor, on social media, and the Ukrainians’ fatigue from the long-standing conflict with Russia.
The open conflict has been in place since Ukraine’s Euromaidan Revolution in the winter of 2013-2014, which ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. That led Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin to send 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.
Zelensky’s presidential campaign has barely focused on the conflict with Russia, while his main campaign message has been on fighting corruption.
Zelensky has garnered major support in Russian-speaking Eastern Ukraine, and has been willing to speak both Russian and Ukrainian publicly.
Incumbent Poroshenko, a chocolate magnate, and other critics have described Zelensky as a “puppet” of Ukrainian businessman Ihor (Igor) Kolomoisky, often seen as a pro-Russian oligarch.
After acknowledging his victory, Zelensky promised to replace Ukraine’s Chief Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, and to even consider his rival Poroshenko for the job. He also vowed to make returning Ukrainian hostages held in captivity by pro-Russian rebels in Donbass his No. 1 task.
“We will continue the Minsk process, we will reboot it. I think we will have a personnel reshuffle. In any case, we will continue these Minsk talks,” Zelensky said, referring to the Minsk II Agreements brokered by Germany and France between Russia and Ukraine that were supposed to calm the conflict in Donbass.
“The most important thing is to return our fellow [citizens] alive … I think to return all our prisoners, all prisoners of war, our sailors is the number one task for us — this is our task,” he said, mentioning also the 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors captured by Russia in the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Azov Sea in November 2018.
(Banner image: TV grab from Zelensky’s Servant of the People show)