Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

Ukraine elections: Comedian Zelensky wins presidency by landslide

Incumbent Petro Poroshenko concedes defeat in blow to Ukraine's political establishment

Future Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky became well-known in the country for playing a teacher who accidentally became president in a satirical drama called 'Servant of the People'. AFP 
Future Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky became well-known in the country for playing a teacher who accidentally became president in a satirical drama called 'Servant of the People'. AFP 

Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent leader of the Ukraine, has conceded defeat after exit polls indicated rival Volodymyr Zelensky would win more than 73 per cent of votes in a landslide victory.

Mr Zelensky, 41, was well-known in Ukraine for playing a teacher who accidentally became president in a satirical TV show called Servant of the People.

The actor and comedian led a political party named after his TV show.

Ukrainians had the choice on Sunday between Mr Zelensky, who has no political experience, or Mr Poroshenko, a billionaire nicknamed the "Chocolate King".

Mr Zelensky focused his campaign on being different to traditional politicians and is set to serve as leader for a five-year term.

"I will never let you down," he told celebrating supporters on Sunday.

"I'm not yet officially the president but as a citizen of Ukraine I can say to all countries in the post-Soviet Union: 'Look at us. Anything is possible'."

His victory is a blow for the Ukrainian political establishment.

Before the exit polls came in, Mr Poroshenko, who made his fortune in confectionery, had a warning for Ukrainians thinking of voting for his TV star rival.

"It is very important to be guided by reason during the vote, because it's not funny," he said. "At first, maybe it seems funny and fun, but it should not be painful later."

Mr Zelensky will lead a country that faces continued aggression from its eastern neighbour, Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his wife, Maryna, hold their ballot papers at a polling station. AFP
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his wife, Maryna, hold their ballot papers at a polling station. AFP

Mr Poroshenko was elected after the Russian annexation of Crimea. A keen supporter of Ukrainian attempts to join the EU and an opponent of military co-operation with Moscow, his election removed the pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych, who lives in exile in Russia.

During his tenure, Mr Poroshenko, who began his political career in the 1990s, has overseen judicial reforms to tackle the country’s widespread corruption problem.

But his popularity was hurt by accusations that he had not gone far enough.

In February several of Mr Poroshenko’s business associates were named in a scandal over Russian parts allegedly being smuggled into Ukrainian defence factories at inflated prices.

Although his policies are unclear, Mr Zelensky has promised to fight corruption and has suggested the way to end the war with pro-Russian separatists would be to hold western-backed talks with Russian President, Vladimir Putin.

But he has faced criticism over his ties to Ihor Kolomoisky, a powerful oligarch, whose TV channel broadcasts his shows.

The two candidates faced off on Friday for the first time during a televised debate held at the Olympic stadium in Kiev.

Mr Poroshenko, 53, said his rival was a “puppet” of Mr Kolomoisky.

But Mr Zelensky fired back with well-rehearsed lines, including: “I’m the result of your mistakes and promises.”

Ukraine, with a population of 42 million, is the least-trusting electorate in the world.

A Gallup poll published in March revealed that only 9 per cent of Ukrainians have confidence in their national government.

Updated: April 22, 2019 08:46 AM

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