Comedian Takes Commanding Lead In Ukraine Presidential Vote

KIEV (Reuters) -
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks following the announcement of exit polls at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine Sunday night. (Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo)

A comedian with no political experience took a commanding lead in the first round of& Ukraine’s presidential election, offering a fresh face to voters fed up with corruption in a country on the front line of the West’s standoff with Russia.

With 94 percent of votes counted late on Monday, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic who plays a teacher-turned-president in a popular series, had won 30 percent.

President Petro Poroshenko was trailing in a distant second with just under 16 percent, a hole that may be too deep to climb out from. He faced a public furious at his failure to stamp out corruption or improve living standards five years after a pro-Russian leader was swept out by a popular revolt.

In a field of 39 candidates, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko placed third with 13 percent.

That leaves Zelenskiy and Poroshenko set to face each other in a run-off in three weeks.

In a cheerful victory speech on Sunday night, Zelenskiy provided little insight into what he would do if he wins.

“I would like to say ‘thank you’ to all the Ukrainians who did not vote just for fun,” Zelenskiy told cheering supporters. “It is only the beginning, we will not relax.”

Poroshenko, 53, attacked Zelenskiy as fundamentally unserious, a reckless choice at a time when the country still faces a conflict against Russian-backed separatists.

President Vladimir Putin “dreams of a soft, pliant, tender, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically undecided president of& Ukraine. Are we really going to give him that opportunity?” Poroshenko said.

But analysts said it would be tough for Poroshenko, a confectionary billionaire, to fight back to win the second round: “I find it hard to imagine how a gap that wide could be closed,” said Serhiy Fursa, a Kiev-based investment banker at Dragon Capital.