Comedian comes out top in Ukraine poll on anti-corruption ticket

2 Apr 19

The shock victory of a comedian with no political experience in the first round of Ukraine’s elections shows the growing public anger at endemic corruption in the country. 

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Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

 

Early results after Sunday’s presidential election gave television comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy a sizeable lead over 38 rivals.

With three quarters of ballots counted by late last night, Zelenskiy was polling more than 30% of votes cast, the electoral commission indicated.

Incumbent president Petro Poroshenko was trailing second with about 17% of votes, and nationalist former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was third with 13%, Reuters reported.

A key campaign issue in the country of 42 million people has been widespread corruption among public officials, with many voters hoping that Zelenskiy can make a difference.

The 41-year-old comedian stars in a TV sitcom about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral.

Zelenskiy made corruption a focus of his candidacy, proposing a lifetime ban on anyone convicted of graft holding public office.

To make matters worse for establishment politicians, there were allegations of widespread vote buying and attempts at electoral fraud.

Ukraine’s interior ministry was reportedly “showered” with hundreds of claims that supporters of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko had offered money in exchange for votes.

Zelenskiy and Poroshenko are now likely to face each other in a run-off second round of voting on 21 April.

However, Poroshenko has a mountain to climb, with voters angry at his failure to stamp out corruption or improve living standards by rescuing Ukraine’s struggling economy.

Top Poroshenko associates have also been embroiled in allegations of military embezzlement and the incumbent president has been unable to end a five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in which 13,000 people have died.

  • Gavin O'Toole, expert on Latin America
    Gavin O'Toole

    A freelance journalist. He has written six books about Latin America and taught the politics of the region at Queen Mary, University of London.

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