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Zelensky to face Poroshenko in Ukraine runoff

March 31, 2019

Following the first round of Ukraine's presidential vote, TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is leading the pack far ahead of President Petro Poroshenko, exit polls show. Poroshenko said the result was a "harsh lesson."

Zelensky voting in Kyiv
Ukrainian comic actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky casts his ballotImage: Reuters/V. Ogirenko

Political newcomer Volodymyr Zelensky has won over 30 percent of the vote in Ukraine's presidential polls, with President Poroshenko claiming around 16 percent support, results with 70 percent of the votes counted showed on Monday.

Another key contender, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, scored around 13 percent. The results would put Zelensky and Poroshenko into the final vote on April 21.

Ukraine's central elections commission reported that 64 percent of registered voters participated in the vote.

'A life without corruption'

Forty-one-year-old Zelensky is famous for playing a character of a president in a political comedy show called "Servant of the People."

During his campaign, Zelensky focused on fighting corruption and urged direct talks with Russia to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"A new life, a normal life is starting," Zelensky said after voting on Sunday. "A life without corruption, without bribes."

Following the exit polls, he also said that his apparent victory was "only the first step towards a big victory."

"We don't care who else is going to enter the second round," he said. "We are young people, we don't want to see all this past in our future, in our country's future."

Yevhen Hlibovytsky, a leading Ukrainian analyst at the pro-European think tank Nestor group, told DW that it is difficult to determine what kind of president Zelensky will be because he hasn't taken any strong policy stances up to this point.

"Zelinsky is basically a screen onto which many Ukrainians project their expectations," Hlibovytsky said. "It's very difficult to say [what kind of president] Zelinsky will be should he be elected."

'Harsh lesson' for Poroshenko

Petro Poroshenko, the 53-year-old current president and millionaire chocolate magnate, claimed the office shortly after the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Ahead of the Sunday vote, Poroshenko focused on bringing Ukraine into the EU and NATO, and also pledged to take back control of the Crimean peninsula and defeat the rebels in the east.

Poroshenko described the election as "a crossing of the Rubicon of not returning either to the Soviet Union or to the Russian empire."

However, he has lost support due to the country's economic woes and widespread corruption.

"This is a harsh lesson for me and the authorities as a whole," he told reporters after the exit polls were published. "It is a reason to work on our mistakes."

Read more: Ukraine's presidential hopefuls: What you need to know

The head-to-head battle between Zelensky and Poroshenko will pose a strong contrast to the crowded political field in the general campaign, which saw a total of 39 candidates vying for the office.

Tymoshenko waved off exit polls

On Sunday evening, Ukrainian police said they had received over 1,600 claims of electoral law violations.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who had spent years in prison under the country's former pro-Russian leadership, had tried to downplay the exit polls and said she was still hoping to enter the next round.

"I am urging [the voters] to pay no mind to the exit polls," she said on Sunday evening.

dv, dj/ng (Reuters, AP, dpa)

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