KIEV: Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky topped the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election with almost twice the vote share of his nearest rival, incumbent Petro Poroshenko, partial results showed Monday, reports AFP.
Zelensky’s political experience had been limited to playing the president in a TV show when he announced his long-shot candidacy at the start of the year.But the 41-year-old capitalised on frustration over corruption and a stalling economy to leapfrog his establishment opponents.
The election commission website said Zelensky had 30.2 percent of the vote and Poroshenko 16.7, with just over half of all votes counted.
The pair will now meet in a run off set for April 21.
Ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was herself favourite when she launched her campaign, was knocked out with 13.08 percent of the vote, the figures showed.
Zelensky had topped opinion polls for weeks and the main question going into the Sunday vote was who of Tymoshenko and Poroshenko would meet him in the second round.
But the size of his victory came as a surprise to many in Ukraine.Meanwhile, the Kremlin said Monday it hoped Ukrainian presidential polls would not bring to power a “party of war”, while declining to comment on the first-round lead taken by actor Volodymyr Zelensky, reports AFP.
Zelensky has said that if elected, he would demand Russia end its occupation of territory in eastern Ukraine and pay compensation—a prospect widely seen as unrealistic.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists Moscow is “closely following” candidates’ statements on the conflict.
Kiev and Western powers accuse Russia of giving military support to separatists in the east.
“Of course we would like to see not a party of war in control in Ukraine but a party that is aimed at real, step-by-step resolution of the situation in southeastern Ukraine,” Peskov said.
Asked to comment on Zelensky’s stance on the Russian occupation, Peskov said Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, “is not up for discussion.”
He said the conflict “is a consequence of the policies carried out by Ukraine’s leadership”.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was elected in 2014 on a promise to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Under Poroshenko, Kiev has sought closer ties with the West as the war rumbles on, with a death toll now estimated at around 13,000.
Putin’s spokesman said it would be “premature” to comment on the significant lead taken by comedian Zelensky in the first round of voting on Sunday. It will be followed by a run-off vote on April 21 between Zelensky and Poroshenko.
Partial results published on Monday morning showed Zelensky taking 30 percent in Sunday’s first round, well ahead of Poroshenko on roughly 17 percent.
“This is a protest against the old elites and a call for new faces.”
Oktysyuk suggested Poroshenko would try to frame the contest as part of a wider confrontation between Moscow and the West—presenting himself as the only candidate who could stand up to the Kremlin.
The president said the results were a “harsh lesson” for him personally and for the country’s authorities as a whole after exit polls were released late Sunday.
Zelensky has yet to spell out in detail what he would do in power and one of his campaign slogans was: “No promises. No apologies.”
Despite concerns about his vague platform, supporters insist only a total outsider can clean up Ukraine’s murky politics.
Some accuse Zelensky of acting as a front for the interests of oligarch Igor Kolomoysky, who owns the channel that broadcasts the entertainer’s shows, but he denies any political links.
The actor eschewed rallies and interviews in favour of playing gigs with his comedy troupe up to the final days of campaigning.
His political comedy “Servant of the People” returned for its third series this week.