Ukraine voters look likely to elect comedian as president

Mr Volodymyr Zelensky speaking to the media after voting at a Kiev polling station last month. He is expected to win the Ukrainian presidency in tomorrow's run-off polls.
Mr Volodymyr Zelensky speaking to the media after voting at a Kiev polling station last month. He is expected to win the Ukrainian presidency in tomorrow's run-off polls.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ZAPORIZHIA (Ukraine) • Ms Zoya Troshina plans to vote for a comedian for president tomorrow. She says she wants peace in her country - "at any price".

The comedian, Mr Volodymyr Zelensky, is set to beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko and win the Ukrainian presidency by a landslide in tomorrow's run-off election, according to polls.

Driving Mr Zelensky's surge is voter disdain for Mr Poroshenko, who has been president since 2014, and widespread fatigue with the war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"Poroshenko - he wants war," said Ms Troshina, 69, a retired engineer. "His is a party of war."

A poll published this week by Rating, a Ukrainian polling firm, showed Mr Zelensky leading Mr Poroshenko 58 per cent to 22 per cent among those planning to cast a ballot in the run-off, with 20 per cent undecided.

Other recent surveys have shown Mr Zelensky with a similar margin, while Mr Poroshenko's standing has been dragged down by the war, corruption scandals and a struggling economy.

"I want change," said actress Yana Kozak, 48, another Zelensky supporter in Zaporizhia, an industrial city a few hours' drive from the front line in eastern Ukraine. "I want the thieves to be punished and the war to be stopped."

 
 
 

Mr Zelensky, 41, has no political experience other than playing an incorruptible president of Ukraine on a popular sitcom Servant Of The People. Its third season, which began airing last month, includes scenes of an imagined future Ukraine in the aftermath of the Zelensky character's presidency, a prosperous country free of corruption.

Mr Poroshenko built his campaign around the slogan of "Army! Language! Faith!" - strengthening Ukraine's army to better resist Russia, promoting the use of the Ukrainian language over Russian and forming a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent from Moscow.

A victory for anyone but him in the presidential race, Mr Poroshenko said, would mark a victory for Russian President Vladimir Putin. But analysts say the patriotic message rang hollow as many Ukrainians struggled to make ends meet.

Mr Poroshenko has made a last-minute push to paint a Zelensky presidency as a gamble that puts Ukraine's very existence at risk.

"Most important: Don't lose the country," his new campaign billboards say.

"I don't really want to vote for him, but what to do?" said Ms Tetiana Lisova, a programmer in Kiev who said she would reluctantly vote for Mr Poroshenko. "Zelensky is a dark horse, and we don't know whom he'll bring with him."

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2019, with the headline 'Ukraine voters look likely to elect comedian as president'. Print Edition | Subscribe