In a story stranger than fiction, a popular television comic is set to become Ukraine’s next president.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Volodymyr Zelensky won twice as many votes as the second place candidate, current president Petro Poroshenko. Though a run off is scheduled for April 21, all polls indicate that Zelensky will win in a landslide.
This follows a growing trend in the United States and Europe of populist movements rejecting establishment candidates and favoring outsiders. The bureaucracy faces particular hostility in the Ukraine because of endemic corruption in the old guard, according Oleksandr Danylyuk, a former finance minister.
“The people of Ukraine will most likely vote for Volodymyr [Zelensky] because they don’t trust anyone else.”
Danylyuk was fired from his job because he openly criticized the government’s lack of action on tackling corruption. Corruption has been blamed for turning Ukraine into Europe’s second poorest country.
Ironically, Zelensky currently plays the president of Ukraine on a television comedy called Servant of the People. The show centers around a wholesome 30-something high school history teacher who wins the presidency following a viral video of him ranting against government corruption.
Zelensky seems to be taking cues from his fictional life, registering his party as the same one in his television show, and even using the same logo. On Facebook, Zelensky even uses a photo of himself in character as President Holoborodko.
Though comical on the surface, the election could have very serious consequences. Ukrainian soldiers are still fighting Russian-backed rebel forces in a region of Donbas, and Russia is vying for more political control in its neighbor.
World leaders are taking note, and expressing fears, over what a Zelensky win would mean. An EU official expressed his worries over the vagueness of Zelensky’s platform.
“This comedian, nobody knows what exactly his program is, who is really behind him, what is his theme.”
Western officials had tried meeting with Zelensky to get a better grasp of his foreign policy goals. Though Zelensky was reportedly congenial, he offered few specifics on whether he would remain as pro-Europe as his predecessor.
Zelensky worryingly speaks mainly Russian and has chosen not to “explicitly condemn Vladimir Putin for backing the war in Donbas,” according to The Daily Beast. He also has “close business ties” to Ihor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian oligarch that has been accused of defrauding Ukraine’s largest bank.
The Trump administration has made no comments on the political upset, though it has been alleged that the president still has a grudge against the current president, Poroshenko, for supposedly helping Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign.