Kiev, Ukraine – Comic Volodymyr Zelensky has won Ukraine’s presidential runoff vote, defeating incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with 73.2 percent of the vote against 25.3, according to exit polls.
The ballots cast on Sunday were yet to be counted by Ukraine’s Central Election Commission, but the exit polls coincided with the official results after the first round of elections which were held three weeks ago.
Poroshenko conceded defeat at a press conference minutes after the exit polls were announced, saying he would help the new president prepare for the role between the official announcement of the election results and his inauguration.
“Next month, I will leave the office of the head of state. This is the decision of the majority of Ukrainian people. I accept this decision. I am leaving the office, but I want to highlight that I am not leaving politics. I will fight for Ukraine,” he said.
“My team and I are ready to support the president in everything that gets us close to the European Union and NATO. And between the official announcement of election results and his inauguration, I am ready to spend any length of time without any restrictions on helping the new president get up to speed,” said Poroshenko.
We succeeded to ensure free, fair, democratic and competitive elections. No doubt that Ukraine has put a new high standard for the democratic electoral campaign. I will accept the will of Ukrainian people.
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) April 21, 2019
On his part, Zelensky pledged his supporters never to let them down.
He also said: “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!”
Fiction turns real
Zelensky, the star of the Servant of the People television sitcom, where he fights corruption as a teacher-turned-president, benefited from the Ukrainians’ fatigue of mainstream politicians.
The majority of the population hold Poroshenko responsible for the government’s failure to tackle endemic corruption in the country.
“Low living standards and corruption are problems you will suffer from no matter where you live in Ukraine – Kherson, Lviv or Donetsk. People migrate to Poland in droves. Why does Poland live better than us?” Inna Bellenko told Al Jazeera in the capital, Kiev.
“The new generation [Zelensky’s team] will hopefully bring new ideas and strength to raise our country from its knees. I believe he is truly committed to improving Ukraine,” she said.
Olesia, the 34-year-old mother-of-three who didn’t want to give her surname, said she understood that Ukraine was taking “a big risk” by bringing an untested president in power.
“But we have no choice,” she said. “We have to either live in the past or try something new. He seems like a decent person. We trust him more. I would like all the people to live well, not only a small part [of the population].”
Tetyana Alekseieva, a 26-year-old who also voted for Zelensky, said: “I hope this change is for the good. Hopefully, the war will end.”
“We don’t know whether Zelensky will be better than the previous presidents, but I prefer to give someone new a chance,” she said. “We need to stop corruption which is everywhere now. I hope this president will help.”
Yuriy Kulinich, 40, who voted for Poroshenko, said he feared the uncertainty.
“Zelensky has not provided us with his action plan and it is very unclear what will he do. There is a particular fear that Ukraine can roll back to the [Viktor] Yanukovich times of pre-Maidan Ukraine,” he said, referring to the Russian-backed president of Ukraine overthrown in the pro-West uprising in 2014.
“There will be a revenge of [Yanukovich’s] Party of Regions members – pro-Russian forces – and it is causing tension. This is the worst case [scenario]. In the best case, we will just stall and again we will just lose this time. There is no time left though.”
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