Posted on: CNN | April 21st, 2019
Author: Kara Fox
Political newcomer and television comedian Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday declared victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections after exit polls showed he was on track for a landslide win against incumbent and chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko.
«We did it together. Thanks to everyone! Now there will be no pathetic speeches, I just want to say — thank you,» Zelensky said amongst loud cheers from a crowd of supporters.
Early projections put Zelensky at 73.2%, giving him a significant lead over Poroshenko, who has won 25.3%, according to an exit poll published by Ukrinform. A second exit poll conducted by the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation put Zelensky at 73% of the vote and Poroshenko at 25.5%.
Shortly after the first exit poll, Poroshenko conceded defeat.
In a series of tweets, Poroshenko said he had accepted the decision of the Ukrainian people and will leave office next month but added he would not leave politics.
«The new President will have a strong opposition, and the country will only benefit from this,» he said. «Personally, my team and I are ready to support the new President in all his decisions that will be in line with national interests of Ukraine and that will bring us closer to the European Union and NATO.»
In a barbed comment, Poroshenko tweeted he believed the Russian government would be happy about the election of a «new inexperienced» president of Ukraine who could be returned to Russia’s orbit of influence.
Poroshenko’s support haddwindled under a platform that was focused on playing tough with neighboring Russia, which has been locked in a proxy war with Ukraine for the last five years.
Zelensky’s bid for the presidency was initially dismissed as a protest vote and a joke. The actor found fame in his role in the Ukrainian television series «Servant of the People» as a down-and-out schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes President of Ukraine after becoming famous for an anti-corruption rant that went viral on social media.
But Zelensky’s biggest role as presidential hopeful resonated well with an electorate tired of economic turmoil, militant rhetoric and escalating tensions with Russia.
Poroshenko’s turbulent term
That conflict has claimed almost 13,000 lives, with at least 3,321 civilian deaths, according to United Nations estimates.
Poroshenko has also played on Ukraine’s bid for greater spiritual independence from Russia, welcoming a decision last October by Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the spiritual and symbolic leader of the Eastern Orthodox church, to recognize an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Ahead of the first vote on March 31, Zelensky challenged Poroshenko to a debate in the Kiev’s Olympic Stadium, the nation’s largest arena — under the condition that both men would take an alcohol and drug test.
Zelensky’s policies are unclear
Zelensky has no political experience, with a career mainly focused on his business empire — mostly in entertainment — which is estimated to be worth tens of millions.
He used that entertainment platform to announce his bid for the presidency on New Year’s Eve on Ukraine’s 1+1 channel. The country’s second-most popular TV station is owned by tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky, who is connected to Zelensky.
Ukraine is one of Europe’s poorest countries, with a growing number of people emigrating for better economic opportunities elsewhere.
The image that Zelensky has projected has been a simple one that stresses a new era of politics that would fight against corruption and oligarchy.
Zelensky has been able to effectively push back on criticism of his connection to Kolomoisky, saying that most TV stations in Ukraine are owned by oligarchs and that his relationship to the 1+1 tycoon is strictly professional.
Ukraine watchers say that Zelensky’s television series has functioned as a road map to the way that he might operate as a leader. His rise to power is a testament to Ukrainian population’s deep-rooted disappointment in the governing class, which has been befuddled by corruption and economic woes.
The team of advisors he’s chosen — a group of reform-minded technocrats — appear to be a potential signal towards the type of Ukraine he’d like to lead, one poised to act as a bridge between civil society and politics.
Chief among those advisors are former finance minister Oleksandr Danylyuk; former economic development and trade minister Aivaras Abromavicius; and lawmaker and anti-corruption campaigner Sergii Leshchenko.
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