A popular comedian seen as "soft" on Russia and who said he would actually sit down with Vladimir Putin to talk peace looks to upset Ukrainian politics, as he's significantly leading in exit polls during Sunday's presidential elections in Ukraine.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who incidentally played the president on TV as part of his comedy career has according to exit polls cited by the BBC received 30.4% of the vote, with current president Petro Poroshenko second with 17.8%.
"I'm very happy but this is not the final result," Zelenskiy told the BBC moments after after the exit polls were announced, while incumbent Poroshenko, who has led Ukraine since the February 2014 Maidan conflict that toppled former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, described the forecast of his defeat as a "harsh lesson".
Though there have been reports of election violations, President Poroshenko acknowledged Sunday’s presidential election as "free" and having legitimately "met international standards," according to Reuters. The country of 44 million is choosing from a packed field of 39 presidential candidates; however Zlelenksy — already very familiar to much of the population through TV — has consistently polled as the front runner.
Ukraine's president will be determined during the April 21 run-off, where Zelensky is projected to beat both Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The 41-year-old Zelensky is as pro-EU as much of the rest of the field, but has kept things deliberately light, presenting himself as part-politician, part satirical comic, who has done little to campaign beyond presenting himself as a "common sense" citizen.
Interestingly, his willingness to speak both Ukrainian and Russian in public forums has made him popular in the Russian-speaking east of the country, according to the BBC, which further reports:
Mr Zelenskiy is aiming to turn his satirical TV show Servant of the People - in which he portrays an ordinary citizen who becomes president after fighting corruption - into reality.
He has torn up the rulebook for election campaigning, staging no rallies and few interviews, and appears to have no strong political views apart from a wish to be new and different.
His extensive use of social media appealed to younger voters.
It could be Ukrainians are ready for a general calming of tensions over and against Poroshenko's tough anti-Russian and pro-nationalist talk of "Army, Language, Faith" — and amid his corruption allegations and a recent scandal involving defense procurement.
Exit polling suggests Zelenskiy will face president Poroshenko in the 2nd round on April 21. Poroshenko will try to make the newcomer look stupid in TV debates, Zelenskiy will harp on the president's wealth & corruption scandals. @RFERL pic.twitter.com/YjcNUm94Ok— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) March 31, 2019
Electing a comedian and political satirist certainly represents broad disillusionment with Ukraine's political elite, which have overseen years of intermittent regional conflict and a stagnant economy. Zelenskiy is seen as a more familiar "common man" and political outsider with no experience, compared to chocolate magnate Poroshenko, who is among Ukrainian's wealthiest people.
Zelenskiy said on Sunday just after casting his ballot in Kiev "A new life, a normal life is starting." He added his hope for a new political landscape marked by "a life without corruption, without bribes."