Sunday 26 May 2019

Task ahead is no laughing matter for rookie comedian-president

Real deal: New Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, pictured with wife Olena, has no previous political experience but will now take on the role for real after playing a fictional president in a television sitcom. Photo: Reuters
Real deal: New Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, pictured with wife Olena, has no previous political experience but will now take on the role for real after playing a fictional president in a television sitcom. Photo: Reuters

Nataliya Vasilyeva

Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been given an overwhelming directive for change after collecting more than 70pc of votes in the Ukrainian presidential election.

With nearly all ballots counted, he has 73pc of the vote compared to incumbent Petro Poroshenko's 24pc.

Monitors for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said the election took place with respect for "fundamental freedoms" and set the stage for a "democratic and orderly transfer of power".

The first-time candidate, who stars in a TV sitcom about a high school teacher who becomes president almost by accident, appeared to have won in both west and east, a rarity in post-Soviet Ukraine.

Mr Zelenskiy campaigned on unifying Ukraine, which is torn by bitter debates over national identity and a bloody conflict with Russia-backed separatists.

The separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and Russia's annexation of Crimea are likely to dominate the agenda of a leader with no previous political experience.

Mr Zelenskiy, a Russian speaker from central Ukraine, vowed to step up efforts to bring the east back under Kiev's wing but offered no details on what that entailed.

Campaign adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk said the new leader's team "does not have a magic wand" to deal with the occupied territories but favours jump-starting talks with Russia via mediators.

The president-elect's advisers also reject the idea of the government using force to regain control of the east and Crimea, Mr Danylyuk said.

Russia seized Crimea in 2014 in a move Ukraine and most of the world views as illegal.

Mr Zelenskiy will also have to face off against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has ruled his country for nearly two decades, if he wants to mend relations with Moscow.

Although polls predicted the untested comedian's win, Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday it was too soon to congratulate Mr Zelenskiy, much less talk about Russia-Ukraine co-operation, since the election results were not yet official.

Leaders of the United States, European Union, Germany and France have phoned Mr Zelenskiy to congratulate him.

Irish Independent

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