Sitcom star leads Ukraine presidential election; Runoff vote likely

Sitcom star leads Ukraine presidential election; Runoff vote likely
Associated Press
March 31, 2019
March 31, 2019 11:35 PM EDT
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Ukrainian actor and candidate in the upcoming presidential election, hosts a comedy show at a concert hall in Brovary, Ukraine, Friday, March 29, 2019. Efrem Lukatsky / AP
KIEV, Ukraine — Early results in Ukraine’s presidential election showed a comedian with no political experience with a sizable lead over 38 rivals but far from a first-round victory, while the incumbent president and a former prime minister were close contenders to advance to the runoff.
The strong showing of Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Sunday’s voting appeared to reflect Ukrainians’ desire for new blood in a political system awash in corruption and a new approach to trying to end the war with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east that has wracked the country for nearly five years.
With 20% of the polling station protocols counted, Zelenskiy had 30%, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was a distant second with about 17% and Yulia Tymoshenko with 13, the elections commission said early Monday. The results were closely in line with a major exit poll.
The top two candidates advance to a runoff on April 21. Final results in Sunday’s first round are expected to be announced later Monday.
The election was shadowed by allegations of widespread vote buying. Police said they had received more than 2,100 complaints of violations on voting day alone in addition to hundreds of earlier voting fraud claims, including bribery attempts and removing ballots from polling places.
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Zelenskiy stars in a TV sitcom Servant of the People about a teacher who becomes president after a video of him denouncing corruption goes viral and his supporters hold out hope that he can fight corruption in real life.
“This is only the first step to a great victory,” Zelenskiy told reporters after the exit poll was announced.
“Zelenskiy has shown us on the screen what a real president should be like,” said voter Tatiana Zinchenko, 30, who cast her ballot for the comedian. “He showed what the state leader should aspire for — fight corruption by deeds, not words, help the poor, control the oligarchs.”
Campaign issues in the country of 42 million included Ukraine’s endemic corruption, its struggling economy and a seemingly intractable conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people since 2014.
Concern about the election’s legitimacy have spiked in recent days after Ukraine’s interior minister said his department was “showered” with hundreds of claims that supporters of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko had offered money in exchange for votes.
Like the popular character he plays, Zelenskiy, 41, made corruption a focus of his candidacy. He proposed a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of graft. He also called for direct negotiations with Russia on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“A new life, a normal life is starting,” Zelenskiy said after casting his ballot in Kyiv. “A life without corruption, without bribes.”
His lack of political experience helped his popularity with voters amid broad disillusionment with the country’s political elite.
Poroshenko said “I feel no kind of euphoria” after the exit poll results were announced.
“I critically and soberly understand the signal that society gave today to the acting authorities,” he said.
It is not clear whether he would or could adjust his campaign enough to meet Zelenskiy’s challenges over the next three weeks.
Poroshenko, 53, a confectionary tycoon when he was elected five years ago, pushed successfully for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be recognized as self-standing rather than a branch of the Russian church.
However, he saw approval of his governing sink amid Ukraine’s economic woes and a sharp plunge in living standards. Poroshenko campaigned on promises to defeat the rebels in the east and to wrest back control of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 in a move that has drawn sanctions against Russia from the U.S. and the European Union.
Speaking at a polling station Sunday, the president echoed his campaign promises of taking Ukraine into the EU and NATO.
The president’s priorities persuaded schoolteacher Andriy Hristenko, 46, to vote for him
“Poroshenko has done a lot. He created our own church, bravely fought with Moscow and is trying to open the way to the EU and NATO,” Hristenko said.
Ukraine’s former prime minister, Tymoshenko, shaped her message around the economic distress of millions in the country.
“Ukraine has sunk into poverty and corruption during the last five years, but every Ukrainian can put an end to it now,” she said after voting Sunday.
During the campaign, Tymoshenko denounced price hikes introduced by Poroshenko as “economic genocide” and promised to reduce prices for household gas by 50% within a month of taking office.
“I don’t need a bright future in 50 years,” said Olha Suhiy, a 58-year-old cook. “I want hot water and heating to cost less tomorrow.”
A military embezzlement scheme that allegedly involved top Poroshenko associates as well as a factory controlled by the president dogged Poroshenko before the election. Ultra-right activists shadowed him throughout the campaign, demanding the jailing of the president’s associates accused in the scandal.
Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko both used the alleged embezzlement to take hits at Poroshenko, who shot back at his rivals. He described them as puppets of a self-exiled billionaire businessman Igor Kolomoyskyi, charges that Zelenskiy and Tymoshenko denied.
Many political observers have described the presidential election as a battle between Poroshenko and Kolomoyskyi.
Both the president and the comedian relied on an arsenal of media outlets under their control to exchange blows. Just days before the election, the TV channel Kolomoyskyi owns aired a new season of the “Servant of the People” TV series in which Zelenskiy stars as Ukraine’s leader.
“Kolomoyskyi has succeeded in creating a wide front against Poroshenko,” said Vadim Karasyov, head of the Institute of Global Strategies, an independent Kyiv-based think-tank . “Ukraine has gone through two revolutions, but ended up with the same thing — the fight between the oligarchs for the power and resources.”
Like I said in OB's thread about this, Democracy is in action the way it should be
Ukraine election proves Canada’s support works — and must continue: ambassador


The clearest evidence that Canadian and western support for Ukraine is yielding positive results is the peaceful transition of power after presidential elections two months ago, and a continued Canadian presence in elections next month could help highlight further Russian attempts at interference.
That's according to Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, in an interview with The West Block's Mercedes Stephenson.
"It's something which most Canadians take for granted but it's not something we take for granted in our part of the world," he said, adding he is glad for the roughly 500 Canadian election observers who have been sent to monitor the highly anticipated elections in the country.
READ MORE: Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy sworn in as president, dissolves parliament moments later
Those results were widely viewed as a test for how the country would handle attempts by Russia to interfere in its election.
Interference had been anticipated to take the form both of cyber manipulation as well as physical blocking of access to polls in areas like Crimea and eastern parts of Ukraine, and the Canadian Press reported earlier this year that Russian interference still kept roughly one million Ukrainians from going to the polls.
And while there were some concerns over how some state resources were used in the vote, the presidential elections got the stamp of approval from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which deemed the vote both free and fair.
Actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the election, unseating Petro Poroshenko who had been elected in 2014 following the Ukrainian revolution that ousted former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.
Zelenskiy is untested, new to political life but propelled into office on a wave of resentment for the way businesses as usual was being done.
It's a scenario similar to the populist wave that catapulted U.S. President Donald Trump from a reality TV star into the Oval Office in 2016.
READ MORE: Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy celebrates landslide win in Ukraine presidential election
Like Trump, Zelenskiy has quickly faced criticisms of trying to circumvent the system. Moments after being sworn in as president last month, Zelenskiy dissolved the Ukrainian parliament and moved up the parliamentary elections — they had been scheduled for the fall.
He justified the move by casting the parliamentarians in place as corrupt, accusing them of looking only for "kickbacks, money laundering, and corruption.”
Shevchenko didn't mention the decision in his interview but said he hopes the election interference observed by Canadian monitors during the campaign will help them recognize the signs of interference in the upcoming federal election this fall.
He said if he has one piece of advice for Canada, it's to act decisively.
"You do not have to wait when this major interference comes into your backyard," he said. "We saw several major avenues for interference into the elections ... that's why we feel it's very important for us to share our experience how we fight this interference with the Canadians."
The issue and how to apply lessons learned to the upcoming Ukrainian parliamentary elections in July is set to form a big part of the agenda at the Ukraine Reform Conference being hosted by Canada in Toronto next week.
It will bring together Ukrainian leaders, foreign ministers and parliamentarians from around the world to discuss how best to cement democratic reform in Ukraine and how to address Russian aggression.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland will host the event .

A pretty good article until the bolded now it leaves the question on how she is going to screw this one up? And who is she going to piss off?
bill barilko
Zelenskiy is in fact a flunky bought & sold by the notorious Ihor Kolomoyskyi

The more things change the more they stay the same.....

Read it & weep Canadian taxpayers
Corruption in Ukraine hurts reform, U.S. envoy says as Toronto conference begins


OTTAWA — Ukraine's weak judicial system is hurting the country's prospects for reform, which is the only way it will ultimately overcome Russia's ongoing aggression, says the Trump administration's point man on the embattled country.
"You have a judiciary that has been subject to political influences from various directions for a long time," said Kurt Volker, the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations and former ambassador to NATO. He offered that assessment on the margins of a major international conference on the Eastern European country's future that began in Toronto on Tuesday.
The meeting marked the North American debut of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who projected bonhomie before and after his meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Zelenskiy, a popular actor and comedian with no previous political experience, easily won this spring's presidential election, unseating Petro Poroshenko.
His appearance in Toronto is partly about allaying concern over whether someone who played the Ukrainian president in a TV drama was cut out for the actual job. Representatives from more than three dozen countries and international finance organizations want to see continued momentum on Poroshenko's five years of reforms.
Zelenskiy also met David Lipton, the first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund, which has in the past frozen billions in reconstruction money for Ukraine because of concerns over corruption.
Volker said Lipton expressed concerns about the lack of "legal certainty" in Ukraine — the rules-based stability that gives potential investors confidence they need to enter the market.
"Investors do not have that confidence right now," said Volker. "Some terrible things are holding the Ukrainian economy back because it keeps foreign investment away."
That being said, the United States is confident that Zelenskiy is up to the task of speeding up reform in Ukraine.
Trudeau was certainly upbeat about Ukraine's future, touting Canada's free-trade deal with the country.
"One of the things we've seen over the past years and the election of President Zelenskiy is a fresh impetus and strong determination to continue on the path to reform. We recognize there continue to be tremendous challenges," said Trudeau.
"We recognize that many of those challenges are also external, with Russia determined to interfere with the progress towards full freedoms and reforms that Canada and our friends around the world all want to see for Ukraine."
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in the worst breach of Europe's borders since the Second World War, an act Canada and its Western allies view as illegal. Russia has also fomented a pro-Kremlin insurgency in the country's east that has left more than 13,000 dead.
In November, Russia detained 24 Ukrainian sailors and seized three ships in the Kerch Strait, which connects the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea off the Crimean coast. Last month, a United Nations maritime tribunal said Russia must free the sailors and their ships. Russia says the tribunal has no jurisdiction over it.
"We lost a good hunk of our territory and we lost the lives of Ukrainians," said Zelenskiy.
Canada, he said, is "steadfast and unwavering" in support of his county, including through its sanctions policy against Russia.
The two leaders also discussed Canada's decision to open the door to arms exports to Ukraine, which became possible as of December 2017 when Global Affairs Canada removed restrictions on Canadian companies seeking permits to sell weapons there.
The government has said little about how much business that has generated for Canadian arms manufacturers, although Trudeau said Tuesday a Canadian company has invested in an ammunition factory in Ukraine.
Zelenskiy attended the conference in Toronto more than a month before he is to visit the United States and Ukraine's envoy said that's no mistake.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine's ambassador to Canada, said it's an indication of just how important Zelenskiy sees the ties between the two countries that have grown in the last 28 years.
Zelenskiy has worked quickly since he was declared the winner of the Ukrainian presidency at the end of April, dissolving his country's parliament and pushing forward with new elections for that assembly later this month, a timeline that was months ahead of its previous schedule.
Shevchenko said the conference will help Zelenskiy set his agenda for his term in office, which includes fending off ongoing threats from Russia.
Canada has supplied Ukraine with $785 million worth of military, legal, financial, development and political assistance since 2014 when President Vladimir Putin tried to bring the country back into Russia's sphere of influence just as Ukraine was poised to deepen its integration with the European Union.
Canadian is also home to 1.3 million people of Ukrainian descent. That makes them one of the country's most influential diaspora communities, which has big domestic political implications with the October federal election looming.
The Conservative opposition said Tuesday that the Liberal government isn't doing enough to show its support for Ukraine. Erin O'Toole and James Bezan, the party's critics for foreign affairs and defence, called on the government to send Canadian troops to lead an international peacekeeping mission along the Ukraine-Russia border.
They also called for increases in military and development assistance, as well as more sanctions against Russians.

Was his show better than the Apprentice?