Saturday 24 August 2019

Comedian and president will go head-to-head in Ukraine election

Aiming high: Ukrainian comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Aiming high: Ukrainian comic actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Matthias Williams

With more than half of all ballots in the Ukraine presidential election counted yesterday, 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, held a comfortable lead over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.

The vote was deemed largely free and fair by the national electoral commission.

A crowded field of 39 candidates has now shrunk to just two, with Mr Zelenskiy and Mr Poroshenko set to go head-to-head in a second round run-off on April 21.

The comedian with no political experience raced ahead in the first round of Ukraine's presidential election, propelled by his anti-establishment appeal.

Mr Zelenskiy must now convince voters he is fit to lead a country that has been at war ever since protests in 2014 ejected a pro-Kremlin government and Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula.

He has been criticised for being an unknown quantity and light on policy detail, and his victory speech on Sunday provided little further insight into what he would do if handed the top job in the second-round vote.

Both Mr Zelenskiy and Mr Poroshenko face firmly west, and neither wants to move Ukraine back into Russia's orbit. But investors are also keen to see if the next president would push reforms required to keep the country in an International Monetary Fund bailout programme that has supported Ukraine through war, sharp recession and a currency plunge.

The result is a powerful challenge to the veteran politician Mr Poroshenko, at 16.6pc, and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who trailed in third place with 13.1pc.

"I would like to say 'thank you' to all the Ukrainians who did not vote just for fun," Mr Zelenskiy told cheering supporters on Sunday. "It is only the beginning, we will not relax."

In keeping with the laid-back style of his campaign, Mr Zelenskiy's election night venue provided a bar with free alcohol, table football and table tennis games.

Mr Poroshenko called the result a "severe lesson", especially from younger voters, and urged their support in a second round.

"You see changes in the country, but want them to be quicker, deeper and of higher quality.

"I have understood the motives behind your protest," he said.

Irish Independent

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