A comedian making his first foray into politics won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, exit polls showed, delivering a harsh blow to the country’s political establishment.
Volodymyr Zelensky, whose only previous political role was playing the president in a TV show, hammered incumbent Petro Poroshenko, taking 73% of the vote, according to exit polls conducted by several think-tanks.
It was a remarkable conclusion 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 killed about 13,000 people.
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.”
Poroshenko said, “I will leave office but I want to firmly stress – I will not quit politics.”
– with reporting by AFP