Ukrainian comedian Zelensky set for run-off with incumbent president

Kiev - By Peter Spinella, - Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky expressed hope for the run-off as he appeared to win the first round of the country's presidential election on Sunday.

"This is just the first step towards the big victory," Zelensky told supporters in Kiev.

Incumbent President Petro Poroshenko trailed by about 10 percentage points, according to exit polls. He said in a speech that "there are many candidates, but only one president."
Zelensky appeared to mock that statement, telling supporters: "There are many exit polls, but only one winner."
Zelensky received about 30 per cent of the votes, with Poroshenko on some 17 per cent and rival former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on around 14 per cent, according to exit polls.
Zelensky, a dark horse candidate who led in opinion surveys ahead of the election, has distinguished himself in opposition to a political establishment that has struggled with corruption.
"Today a new life starts, without corruption," Zelensky, 41, said in Kiev. Zelensky, who plays a fictional president on a popular TV show, has never held political office.
With no candidate appearing to obtain the majority required to win outright, a run-off vote is expected to take place in three weeks, on April 21.
Meanwhile Ukraine's Interior Ministry said that more than 1,600 claims of electoral law violations had been made.
More than 100 of the claims pertained to illegal campaigning, the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page. Candidates are not permitted to campaign immediately before the election.
Photographing ballots accounted for nearly 100 of the claims, according to the statement. Attempts to bribe voters or damage ballots accounted for about 30 claims each.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was set to release its independent assessment of the voting on Monday.
In the show "Servant of the People," Zelensky plays a history teacher who gains notoriety with a viral video of him bad-mouthing the country's leadership and then surprisingly he is elected president himself.
In reality, Zelensky announced he was running for president in a short clip broadcast on Ukrainian channel 1+1 on New Year's Eve, just before midnight, when audiences were expecting Poroshenko to give his seasonal address to the nation.
The channel, which broadcasts "Servant of the People" and was airing a festive variety show that night, said the Zelensky clip was a "technical mistake." Then he officially entered the race.
"Zelensky is supported by voters who are unsatisfied with President Poroshenko, who mistrust the traditional political leaders and who want cardinal changes in Ukraine's system of governance," pundit Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Penta Centre of Applied Political Studies, told dpa.
Poroshenko, who will now likely face Zelensky in a run-off vote, had appeared slow in enacting expected reforms during his term, as his government struggled with a pro-Russian separatist rebellion in Ukraine's two eastern-most regions.
A tenet of Poroshenko's election campaign has been promoting his experience as Ukraine's leader throughout the toughest term of the country's post-Soviet history.
"This election is an absolute prerequisite for our movement forward" to join the European Union and the Western military alliance NATO, Poroshenko said at a polling station in Kiev.
The rebellion in eastern Ukraine erupted shortly after Poroshenko's Russia-friendly predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted in favour of stronger ties with the European Union.
About 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to estimates by the United Nations. Ukraine accuses neighbouring Russia of direct involvement in the conflict. Russia denies the allegation.
Kiev mayor and former boxing world champion Vitali Klitschko took a jab at neighbouring Russia in comments on election day.
In Ukraine no one knows who will be elected, Klitschko told dpa at a polling station in Kiev. "That is democracy. Only in Russia does one know a year in advance who the president will be."
The OSCE criticized the Russian presidential election last year for a "lack of genuine competition." Russia's long-time leader, Vladimir Putin, won the election with three-quarters of the votes.
Klitschko's comment underlined the deep divide between Moscow and Kiev amid Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's southern Crimea region and the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"Our vision is that Ukraine is part of the European family with European values," Klitschko said. "Poland, which has successfully made its way into the EU, is a role model." 
Whether Zelensky or Poroshenko is ultimately elected, a broad desire for integration with the EU, moving away from the sphere of influence of former Soviet ruler Moscow, is expected to shape future policy.
"Ukraine in any case is moving in the direction of the West," pundit Vadim Karasyov, director of Ukrainian think tank Institute of Global Strategies, told dpa.


Sunday, March 31st 2019
By Peter Spinella,

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