Comedian Zelensky wins Ukrainian presidency

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev. (Reuters)
Updated 22 April 2019

Comedian Zelensky wins Ukrainian presidency

  • Petro Poroshenko tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag and national identity
  • Zelenskiy is a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies

KIEV: A comedian with no political experience won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, exit polls showed, dealing a stunning rebuke to the country’s political establishment.
Volodymyr Zelensky, whose only previous political role was playing the president in a TV show, trounced incumbent Petro Poroshenko by taking 73 percent of the vote, according to exit polls conducted by several think tanks.
It was an extraordinary outcome to a campaign that started as a joke but struck a chord with voters frustrated by poverty, corruption and a five-year war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 13,000 lives.
The 41-year-old star of the TV series “Servant of the People” will now take the helm of a country of 45 million people beset by challenges and having run on the vaguest of political platforms.
“I will never let you down,” Zelensky told jubilant supporters at his Kiev campaign headquarters where he was showered with glittering confetti after the exit polls were released.
“While I am not formally president yet, as a citizen of Ukraine I can tell all post-Soviet countries: ‘Look at us! Everything is possible!’.”
Zelensky won in all regions of the country, defeating Poroshenko even in the west where he traditionally enjoyed strong support.
Poroshenko, 53, conceded defeat in a speech at his campaign headquarters.
He said the results were “clear” and enough reason to “call my opponent and congratulate him.”
“I will leave office but I want to firmly stress — I will not quit politics,” Poroshenko said.
Preliminary results were expected in several hours but the same exit polls were accurate in the first round of the election.
After taking the most votes in last month’s first-round vote, Zelensky had enjoyed a strong lead going into Sunday’s poll.
From Ukrainian-speaking regions in the west of the country to Russian-speaking territories in the war-torn east, many voters said they feared uncertainty but yearned for change.
“We’re tired of all the lies,” said Marta Semenyuk, 26, who cast her ballot for the comedian.
“I think it just cannot get any worse and I hope he’ll live up to his promises,” said Larisa, an 18-year-old student from the government-held eastern port city of Mariupol.
Zelensky’s victory opens a new chapter in the history of a country that has gone through two popular uprisings in the last 20 years and is mired in a conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the east.
His supporters say only a fresh face can clean up Ukraine’s politics and end the separatist conflict.
But others doubt the showman will be able to take on the country’s influential oligarchs, negotiate with the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and stand up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“People have gone mad,” Viktoriya Olomutska, a 39-year-old Poroshenko supporter, said in Kiev. “Cinema and reality are two different things.”
Poroshenko had previously mocked his rival’s lack of political experience and argued he was unfit to be a wartime commander-in-chief.
The outgoing leader came to power after a 2014 pro-Western uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime, triggering Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
His supporters credited him with rebuilding the army and securing an Orthodox Church independent of Russia.
But many feel the country’s ruling elite have forgotten the promises of the revolution.
The comic shunned traditional campaign rallies and instead performed comedy gigs and used social media to appeal to voters.
The Ukrainian president has strong powers over defense, security and foreign policy but needs backing from parliament to push through reforms.
Poroshenko’s faction has the most seats in the current legislature and new parliamentary polls are due in October.
The West has closely watched the race amid concern a new government might undo years of economic reforms.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called both Zelensky and Poroshenko on the eve of the run-off vote.


Former head of US election security calls Trump team fraud allegations ‘farcical’

Updated 40 sec ago

Former head of US election security calls Trump team fraud allegations ‘farcical’

LOS ANGELES: The top US cybersecurity official fired by Republican President Donald Trump for saying the Nov. 3 election was the most secure in American history said on Friday voter fraud allegations made by Trump and his allies are “farcical.”
Chris Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the CBS 60 Minutes program that allegations of US voting machines being manipulated by foreign countries were baseless.
Sidney Powell, a Trump attorney cut loose by the Trump legal team this week, had put forward a conspiracy theory that election systems created in Venezuela at the behest of the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez helped tip the US election to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden.
She and others have also alleged that voting machines had flipped votes from Trump to Biden and some US voting information was stored on servers in Germany.
“All votes in the Unites States of America are counted in the United States of America. Period,” Krebs said, in an excerpt broadcast on CBS Evening News. The full 60 Minutes interview will air on Sunday. Krebs was fired by Trump on Nov. 17 after calling the election the “most secure in American history.”
“There’s no evidence that any machine that I’m aware of has been manipulated by a foreign power,” Krebs said, calling such allegations “farcical claims.” He added: “The American people should have 100% confidence in their vote.”
Biden won the election with 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232. He leads Trump by over six million in the popular vote.
Trump and his lawyers continue to allege, without evidence, that the election was stolen through widespread fraud and Trump is the winner. Trump said on Thursday he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden.