Comedian Zelensky wins Ukraine presidency by landslide

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky after the announcement of the first exit poll at his campaign headquarters in Kiev on Sunday. His victory is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko, who had cast himself as a bulwark against R
Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky after the announcement of the first exit poll at his campaign headquarters in Kiev on Sunday. His victory is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko, who had cast himself as a bulwark against Russian aggression and a champion of Ukrainian identity.PHOTO: REUTERS

He trounces incumbent with 73% of vote despite little experience, few detailed policies

KIEV • Ukraine entered uncharted political waters yesterday after near-final results showed a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies had dramatically upended the status quo and won the country's presidential election by a landslide.

The emphatic victory of Mr Volodymyr Zelensky, 41, is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko, who had cast himself as a bulwark against Russian aggression and a champion of Ukrainian identity.

With 95 per cent of votes counted, Mr Zelensky had won 73 per cent of the vote, with Mr Poroshenko winning just under 25 per cent, the Central Election Commission said. Mr Poroshenko conceded defeat but said he planned to stay in politics.

Mr Zelensky, who plays a fictitious president in a popular TV series, is now poised to take over the leadership of a country on the frontline of the West's stand-off with Russia following Moscow's annexation of Crimea and support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Declaring victory at his campaign headquarters to supporters on Sunday night, Mr Zelensky promised he would not let the Ukrainian people down. "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!"

Mr Zelensky, whose victory fits a pattern of anti-establishment figures unseating incumbents in Europe and further afield, has promised to end the war in the eastern Donbass region and to root out corruption amid widespread dismay over rising prices and sliding living standards.

But he has been coy about exactly how he plans to achieve all that, and investors want reassurances that he will accelerate reforms needed to attract foreign investment and keep the country in an International Monetary Fund programme.

"Since there is complete uncertainty about the economic policy of the person who will become president, we simply don't know what is going to happen and that worries the financial community," said Mr Serhiy Fursa, an investment banker at Dragon Capital in Kiev.

The United States, the European Union and Russia will be closely watching Mr Zelensky's foreign policy pronouncements to see if and how he might try to end the war against pro-Russian separatists that has killed some 13,000 people.

WILD CARD

Since there is complete uncertainty about the economic policy of the person who will become president, we simply don't know what is going to happen and that worries the financial community.

MR SERHIY FURSA, an investment banker at Dragon Capital in Kiev, on the implications of Mr Zelensky's victory.

US President Donald Trump phoned Mr Zelensky and pledged to support Ukraine's territorial integrity, while European Council President Donald Tusk congratulated the Ukrainian people on what he called a show of democratic maturity.

Mr Zelensky said on Sunday he planned to continue European-backed talks with Russia on a so far largely unimplemented peace deal and would try to free Ukrainians imprisoned in Russia, which is holding 24 Ukrainian sailors among others.

Mr Zelensky has pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course, but has sounded less emphatic than Mr Poroshenko about possible plans for the country of 42 million people to one day join the European Union and Nato.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on social media Moscow and Kiev now had a chance to improve what he called their destroyed economic relationship, although he was not harbouring any illusions that it would necessarily happen.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 23, 2019, with the headline 'Comedian Zelensky wins Ukraine presidency by landslide'. Print Edition | Subscribe