- Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
- Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience, has won Ukraine’s presidential election, according to national exit polls released Sunday.
- Zelensky’s campaign caught international attention because he was previously known as the star of “Servant of the People,” in which he plays a teacher who is elected president of Ukraine.
- Though he captured the anti-establishment vote from citizens frustrated with rampant corruption surrounding incumbent Petro Poroshenko, some are concerned his inexperience and lack of commitment to specific policies could be a weakness with nearby powers including Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has won Ukraine’s presidential election, according to national exit polls released Sunday.
Before declaring his campaign, Zelensky starred in “Servant of the People,” a TV show where he plays a history teacher who is elected president of Ukraine after his anti-corruption rant goes viral.
“I’m not a politician,” Zelensky said during a debate days before the election. “I’m just an ordinary person who has come to break the system.”
Though he hasn’t been specific about his political views, Zelensky has described himself as “very liberal,” and made a splash among the anti-establishment vote that has accompanied the swelling of populism against traditional democracy in Europe at large, but also corruption-ridden Ukraine.
The 41-year-old quickly captured attention across the international stage as he dodged the normal election processes including debates, policy-heavy interviews, and reaching for publicity, relying instead on his energetic public image as an outsider, which the Financial Times reported went well with brewing public anger over poverty and corruption under incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
Zelensky, who is Jewish and speaks Russian, studied law before becoming a comedian and actor and shot to prominence in 2006 on “Dancing with the Stars.”
He’s enjoyed a raucously popular campaign fueled by Instagram and YouTube, multiple reports have said Ukrainians are concerned about the comedian’s abilities to represent the country against powerful neighbors including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who illegally annexed the country’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.
Putin and incumbent Poroshenko have squared off over Ukraine’s sovereignty as Russia has grown increasingly concerned with maintaining influence in Eastern Europe.
The war in eastern Ukraine killed about 13,000 people, according to a 2015 United Nations report, despite a cease-fire agreement the countries signed in 2014.
Zelensky has a number of domestic and international challenges ahead of him if he officially becomes president, but he reportedly expressed a positive reaction to Sunday’s results, saying “To all Ukrainians, no matter where you are, I promise that I will never let you down.”
“Though I’m still not president, I can say as a Ukrainian citizen to all the countries of the former Soviet Union: Look at us,” Zelensky said after the results were revealed, according to the Washington Post. Everything is possible.”