Ukraine leaps into unknown after comic elected president

Monday April 22 2019

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the media during press conference at his campaign headquarters in Kiev on April 21, 2019, after the announcement of the first exit poll results in the second round of Ukraine's presidential election, that showed him as the winner. AFP PHOTO 

By AFP

Ukraine leapt into the unknown Monday after comedian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president on promises of change but with just a vague blueprint of what he might do as leader.
Zelensky, whose previous experience in the world of politics was playing the president on TV, trounced incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a stinging rebuke to the establishment fuelled by anger over war and social injustice.

Ukrainians looked to the future with hope and anxiety after the performer took 73 percent of the vote on Sunday, according to nearly complete official results.
The star of "Servant of the People", a sitcom now in its third season, has vowed to pursue the pro-European course set out by his predecessor.
But Zelensky has also said he wants to improve ties with arch-enemy Russia.
On election night he appeared to taunt the Kremlin however, when he told people in fellow post-Soviet countries that "everything is possible."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday it was "too early to talk about President Putin congratulating Mr Zelensky, or about the possibility of working together."
Ties between Ukraine and Russia were shredded after a bloody uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime in 2014, prompting Moscow to annex Crimea and support insurgents in a conflict that has claimed around 13,000 lives.

'Most honest polls'
On the streets of Kiev, many praised the elections as a fair and peaceful transfer of power after popular uprisings of 2004 and 2014.
"People showed that they want change," 28-year-old Karina told AFP.
"We had the most honest polls in the history of Ukraine," she added, praising Poroshenko for conceding defeat soon after exit polls were published.

Zelensky -- who at 41 is to be Ukraine's youngest ever president -- has a vague progamme and it remained unclear who would fill top positions, including the role of prime minister.
He shunned traditional campaign rallies, instead performing comedy gigs, and implied he would use the same unorthodox style to run the country of 45 million that depends on international aid.
US President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron called the political novice to congratulate him, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged support.
In a joint letter to Zelensky on Monday, EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker expressed admiration for Ukrainians' "strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law."

"You will now truly be the Servant of the People," British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt told Zelensky on Twitter.
European observers praised Ukraine's election as "competitive and held with respect for fundamental freedoms" while regretting that the campaigns were thin on substance.
"The runoff was well-organised, despite operational challenges and a limited timeframe," the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) noted.

'Pack of wolves'
The Kremlin said it respected the choice of the people but questioned the legitimacy of the polls, noting that "three million" Ukrainian citizens living in Russia could not vote there.
Kiev refused to open polling stations at its diplomatic missions in Russia.

Zelensky has said that among his top priorities are securing the release of Ukrainians being held prisoner by Russia and rebooting moribund Western-brokered peace talks.
But many doubt the political neophyte will be able to turn around the country and take on hugely influential oligarchs.
Questions have been raised over his close ties to self-exiled tycoon Igor Kolomoysky.

Victoriya, a 74-year-old pensioner, said she liked the new president-elect but expressed concern that he may not last long.
"He has not met this pack of wolves yet," she told AFP.
The outgoing president said he would not quit politics and stood ready to help his successor, despite a bitter campaign.
Poroshenko's faction has the most seats in the legislature and new parliamentary polls are due in October.
The Ukrainian president has strong powers over defence, security and foreign policy but will need parliament backing to push through reforms.

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