Jewish Comedian Zelensky Wins Ukranian Presidential Election by Landslide

After exit poll showed the comedian won by 73 percent, incumbent Poroshenko concedes defeat in Ukrainian presidential vote

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky reacts after the announcement of the first exit poll results in Kiev, on April 21, 2019.
AFP

After an exit poll from Ukraine's presidential election showed comedian Volodymyr Zelensky winning with 73 percent of the vote against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, Poroshenko on Sunday conceded he had been soundly defeated.

>> His one clear advantageWhy his Jewishness is not an issue

He said he would be leaving office next month, but that he did not plan to quit politics altogether. 

Zelensky was born in 1978 to Jewish parents in Krivyi Rih, a predominantly Russian-speaking industrial city in southern Ukraine. He left to pursue a career in show business; in 2003, he and two friends from his hometown founded the film studio Kvartal95 in the capital, Kiev.

The studio became enormously successful throughout the post-Soviet world, and several of Zelensky’s Kvartal95 colleagues now play key roles in his campaign team.

The comedian would thus become Ukraine’s first Jewish president, making his country the only one outside of Israel to have both a Jewish president and prime minister; Volodymyr Groysman took the latter post in April 2016.

His rival Poroshenko has fought to integrate the country with the European Union and NATO, while strengthening the military which is fighting Kremlin-backed separatists in the east of the country.

Pushing the use of the Ukrainian language and instrumental in establishing a new independent Orthodox church, the 53-year-old confectionary magnate casts himself as the man to prevent Ukraine again becoming a Russian vassal state.

But reforms crucial to keep foreign aid flowing have been patchy. Conflict in the eastern Donbass region has killed 13,000 people in five years and rumbles on despite Poroshenko's promise to end it within weeks.

Frustration over low living standards and pervasive corruption has left the door open for Zelensky.

Zelensky has tapped into the anti-establishment mood, though his inexperience makes Western officials and foreign investors wary and skeptics question his fitness to be a wartime commander-in-chief.

Inviting comparisons with U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy's Five-Star movement, his campaign has relied heavily on social media and comedy gigs of jokes, sketches and song-and-dance routines that poke fun at his political rivals.