TV comedian on course for second big election win
TV comedian turned president Volodymyr Zelenskiy's party took a commanding lead in Ukraine's snap parliamentary election, consolidating the power of the novice politician whose stunning rise has upended traditional politics in the war-scarred nation.
Mr Zelenskiy (41), who played a fictional schoolteacher-turned-president in a popular TV series, has tapped into widespread voter anger over corruption and low living standards in one of Europe's poorest countries.
Yesterday's almost inevitable victory would give him control of parliament and the formation of a new government, handing him a stronger mandate to implement reforms after he won the presidential election in April by a landslide.
Exit polls showed him far ahead of all other parties although possibly short of a majority, prompting him to offer coalition talks with a pro-Western party, Voice, fronted by another political novice, rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk.
"We invite Mr Vakarchuk to talk," Mr Zelenskiy said at his election headquarters after the exit poll results were released.
"I think that the post of the Ukrainian prime minister - I will repeat - must be occupied by a new face, a person who specialises in economics," he added.
On taking office, Mr Zelenskiy had to deal with a cabinet and lawmakers mostly loyal to his predecessor Petro Poroshenko, prompting him to announce on the day of his inauguration a snap election to win a mandate in parliament.
Exit polls showed his Servant of the People party with by far the most votes. The Russian-friendly Opposition Platform was in a distant second place, followed by Mr Poroshenko's party and that of a former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.
Mr Vakarchuk's Voice party was fifth. After Mr Zelenskiy's offer, a senior member said Voice was open to an alliance with new political forces so long as they were not backed by oligarchs.
The election gives Mr Zelenskiy a firmer grip on a weakened country at the centre of a dispute between Moscow and the West, arising from Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014 and support for separatists in an armed revolt in the east.