Volodymyr Zelensky, who lacks political experience, led the results of the first round of presidential elections in Ukraine, putting him in a position of strength in front of the current president Petro Poroshenko, with the Ukrainians distrust of the traditional political class steeped in corruption scandals.
After his candidacy, Zelensky, the 41-year-old actor and businessman, whose political experience is limited to playing the role of president of a republic in a television series, managed to beat expectations through the result.
This indicates to the Ukrainians tired of the traditional political class after years of great economic difficulties and repeated scandals of corruption.
Despite critics questioning his election program and his ability to rule a country at war amid tensions between Russia and the West, he managed to achieve 30.25 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to results released by the Electoral Commission after counting 92.55 percent of the ballots.
Zelensky, who has a long lead over the current president Petro Poroshenko, 53, won 15.94 percent of the vote.
Former Prime Minister Yulia Temuchenko, 58, who led the polls at the start of the campaign, scored 13.39 percent, meaning she was excluded from the competition.
The Electoral Commission said it had not seen any significant transgression, while international observers hailed the “pluralism” of elections, which provided a “wide choice” for voters and allowed a “transparent” vote.
The European Union hoped to hold a “second session of freedom and transparency”, stressing the need to “adhere to democratic principles and respect the will of the Ukrainian people and avoid causing any unnecessary tension”.
Ukraine, the country of the European Union with a population of 45 million, is Europe’s poorest country.
Despite its departure from Russia and its resolute transition to the West, the country is currently undergoing the worst crisis since its independence in 1991.
The arrival of Western loyalists came to power in 2014, Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea, and the outbreak of a conflict in the east with separatists so far resulted in 13,000 deaths.
As an out-of-the-ordinary candidate, Zelensky didn’t run a regular campaign, preferring to perform comedies with his band and launch his positions through social networking sites instead of newspapers and television channels.
While his supporters see him as a new face in the rigid political landscape, some accuse him of being a puppet of the notorious oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky, the enemy of Poroshenko, which Zelensky denies.
“This is only a first step towards a major victory”, Zelensky welcomed the result from the headquarters of his main campaign.
“Just this beginning, we’ll not back down”.
Despite his support, like his rival Poroshenko, of continuing the pro-Western path taken by Ukraine five years ago, Zelensky considers that dialogue with Russia is inevitable.
The actor speaks most of the time in Russian language that is present in Ukrainian daily life, but he didn’t raise the issues of identity that the Ukrainians have divided since independence, allowing him to achieve high results in the Russian-speaking areas.
The Kremlin said on Monday it hoped “that the War party not to win the war, but the party that is looking for a gradual and real settlement of the situation in southeastern Ukraine”, referring to the Kremlin preferring Zelensky to the current president.
According to analyst at the Center “Dimokrazi House” in Kiev Anatoly Oticiuk, the comedian actor “will win”, considering that the result is “a reaction to corruption scandals and protest against the old elite”.
Poroshenko is credited with bringing his country closer to the West and reviving an army that has been wracked by economic reforms, but is accused of failing to fight corruption, the main issue of the popular uprising that brought him to power five years ago.
Poroshenko said he was “not happy,” adding, “It’s a tough lesson for me”.
Poroshenko thanked the voters who “supported the move towards NATO and the European Union and a final independence from Russia”.