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A Comedian Just Became Ukraine's Next President
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=47231"><span class="small">Alex Ward, Vox</span></a>   
Monday, 22 April 2019 08:24

Ward writes: "Volodymyr Zelensky rode a populist, anti-corruption message straight to the presidency."

Volodymyr Zelensky was just voted in as Ukraine's next president. Here he talks to journalists after taking a drug and alcohol test at the Eurolab diagnostic center on April 5, 2019. (photo: Pyotr Sivkov\TASS/Getty Images)
Volodymyr Zelensky was just voted in as Ukraine's next president. Here he talks to journalists after taking a drug and alcohol test at the Eurolab diagnostic center on April 5, 2019. (photo: Pyotr Sivkov\TASS/Getty Images)


A Comedian Just Became Ukraine's Next President

By Alex Ward, Vox

22 April 19


Volodymyr Zelensky rode a populist, anti-corruption message straight to the presidency.

krainians on Sunday overwhelmingly voted to make a comedian their next president — ushering in a new era of politics in the struggling country.

Volodymyr Zelensky, a famous comedian who portrayed Ukraine’s head of state for years on a popular comedy show, defeated the incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, who had been in power since 2014.

According to exit polls, Zelensky won a staggering 73 percent of the vote. Poroshenko conceded the race not long after polls closed.

It’s all quite the rise for an ordinary guy who, well, played an ordinary guy-turned-president on television.

Zelensky — or “Ze,” as he’s more popularly known — has no prior political experience and hasn’t offered a detailed blueprint for how he would govern. But he struck a populist, anti-corruption message during the campaign that clearly resonated with millions of Ukrainians suffering from poverty and government graft. That, plus his previous celebrity, made him a formidable force during the Eastern European country’s election.

The big question now is if he can follow through on his promises to stamp out undue oligarch influence in Kyiv and turn Ukraine’s economic fortunes around. After all, the comedian has no prior political experience and didn’t offer a detailed governing blueprint during the campaign.

Clearly, though, Ukrainians believe Zelensky embodies the change they hope he can bring to a struggling nation.

“There’s been a desire for a new face for a long time,” Melinda Haring, a Ukraine expert at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC, told me before the election. “It was clear the people wanted someone without the same baggage and connections to political dinosaurs.”

Ukraine’s struggles led to Zelensky’s rise

Experts say Zelensky’s remarkable story stems from Ukrainians’ dissatisfaction with decades of failed political leadership.

“After almost 30 years of electing to the presidency either relatively pro-Russian or officially pro-Western candidates from the economic and political elite, Ukraine remains one of the poorest nations in Europe,” Andreas Umland, an expert at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, wrote for the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank on April 16.

A World Bank chart below showing Ukraine’s massive dip in gross domestic product per capita starting around 2013 illustrates this point. And while the country has been experiencing a bit of growth lately, Ukraine is still among Europe’s poorest — if not the poorest — countries.


The country’s troubles have led millions of Ukrainians to flee in search of a better life.

“Ukrainians just want a normal standard of living,” Haring told me, but “Ukraine has gotten poorer as Poroshenko has gotten richer.”

Since Poroshenko, who once led the very successful company Roshen, took power in 2014 corruption only worsened as the government’s ties to oligarchs have strengthened. That made it harder for Ukraine to attract foreign investment and help the country’s economy rebound.

In February, Ukraine’s finance minister said that if the country grows at the same economic rate for 50 years — a big if — Ukraine will have the same economic strength as Poland. That, to put it mildly, isn’t an optimistic outlook it may take a half-century to become a European economic success story.

So while Poroshenko got high marks from many for pushing back against Russia’s invasion of parts of Ukraine’s east and south, a record he touted throughout the election, experts said that counted for very little.

“Poroshenko either misread the voters or thought his campaign themes — army, language, and faith — would carry the day,” Steven Pifer, the US ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000, told me on Thursday. “It looks like he greatly misjudged the electorate.”

Voters clearly wanted to hear new ideas for a new Ukraine, and that meant stemming the country’s rampant corruption and kick-starting the nation’s sputtering economy.

Poroshenko was such a symbol for Ukraine’s old ways that it was almost funny. Enter a comedian.

Zelensky represents what Ukraine wants to be

Zelensky, 41, made his name on Servant of the People, a comedy program that you can watch on Netflix in the US. It follows the life of Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, an everyman schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president and takes on the nation’s oligarchs.

The actor wants to do the same thing — but now in real life.

It’s probably not surprising that such an unconventional candidate ran an unconventional campaign. He held few big rallies and rarely spoke to the press. Instead, he mainly toured the country with comedy troupes to perform in skits and make audiences laugh, experts told me. But he leveraged social media to directly connect with voters and make his pitch.

Not much is known about his foreign policy except that he is mainly pro-Western, wants Ukraine to enter the European Union, and would seek NATO membership for his country — all positions that didn’t separate him much from Poroshenko.

There are two big worries Ukrainians still have about Zelensky, however. The first, of course, is his inexperience. But Ukrainians have shrugged that off in the past, though, like when voters in Kyiv voted in 2014 to make former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko their mayor.

The second, and more important, is just how close he is to a Ukrainian oligarch: Igor Kolomoisky.

Zelensky’s show appeared on Kolomoisky’s TV channel, and the billionaire has long been a Poroshenko rival. Some worry that the comedian may simply be a tool of another Ukrainian fat cat trying to wield power, a charge Zelensky denies.

But those concerns didn’t dissuade Ukrainians from choosing Zelensky on Sunday. And so now a Ukrainian comedian who entered an election to take on the entrenched corruption in his country will be the next president. It sounds like a joke, but it’s reality.

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-5 # nice2bgreat 2019-04-22 09:11
.
I don't know anything about this guy, Volodymyr Zelensky, but they say he is linked to Russia -- and they may have influenced the election.

The Facbook ads and Twitters during the campaigns were suspicious. Lte's just say, "there were some memes".

A Special Prosecutor must be appointed to investigate whether Zelensky is in the pocket of, or is a puppet of Russia; and whether Zelensky or his campaign coordinated in any way with the Russian government, before or during the election.

Why else has Zelensky not threatened war with Russia over Crimea?

Are we going to just let this go?

Russia must remove all troops from Crimea and they must relocate their naval base away from the Crimean peninsula?

Doesn't anyone realize that Professor Zelensky was the villain in "To Be or Not To Be? ... or was that Soletski? ... No, it is Siletsky.

But that's beside the point.

The point is that the CIA has 6 way to Sunday to get him in line, if he won't listen to reason.

Ukraine must continue to deferentially engage with US interests -- the way it's been since the 2014 revolution -- or he must be impeached, investigated and impeached.

#Resist

Right?
.
 
 
0 # BetaTheta 2019-04-22 10:20
Jon Stewart for president! Or maybe Alec Baldwin?
 
 
+1 # Kootenay Coyote 2019-04-22 12:03
At least Ukraina has a real comedian to lead the country, unlike the USA with its ‘fake/failed’ comedian….
 
 
+1 # Robbee 2019-04-22 12:37
A Comedian Just Became Ukraine's Next President
By Alex Ward, Vox
22 April 19

- we tried that here and it wasn't funny!

frankly it was far worse than no president at all!
 
 
+1 # dascher 2019-04-22 15:12
"He held few big rallies and rarely spoke to the press. " The NY Times article about him said he OFTEN spoke at Press Conferences unlike Poroshenko who NEVER did. One of those must be wrong.

Also - nobody seems to want to tell us what proportion of the Ukranian Electorate voted in this weird election nor whether votes were help throughout the country or only in the Western part of the country where the more "pro-West" Ukranians are more numerous than those who are more "pro-Russian".
 
 
0 # lfeuille 2019-04-22 21:45
I read somewhere it was 73% in the runoff. I don't know about the first round.
 
 
-1 # campaws@gmx.com 2019-04-22 15:36
Sound like Ukraine just had it's very own trumpian moment...