KIEV (Reuters) – The three best candidates in Ukraine's presidential election tuned Sunday in a first round, as a comedian – who happens to play a fictional president in a popular television series – is chosen to win.
Ukrainian comedian actor and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy casts his poll at a polling station during a presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS / Valentyn Ogirenko
Political Newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, who appeals to the voters Complete link in polls in a three-horse race against President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
At stake, the leadership of a country on the front of the West's standoff with Russia after the 2014 protests in the Maidan street protested Porkos Kremlin-friendly predecessor and Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula.
No candidate is expected to receive more than half of the votes, which means that the election would go to a resignation on April 21. Out of a crowded field of 39 candidates, none of the likely winners will move Ukraine back to Russia's circuit.
Investors are looking to see if the next president will push reforms required to hold the country in an international monetary fund program that has supported Ukraine through war, sharp recession and exchange rate.
Joker with journalists after voting, anti-establishment candidate Zelenskiy said he was in an optimistic mood and had "voted for a very worthy guy."
"A new life begins, a normal life, a life without corruption, without bribes – the life of a new country, the land of our dreams," said Zelenskiy.
Despite several accusations of electoral fraud among the candidates prior to the election, the first half of the voting day seemed to go smoothly. Police said they had received 284 minor infringement reports at noon (09:00 GMT) and initiated three criminal cases.
Poroshenko has fought to integrate the country with the EU and NATO, while strengthening the military, fighting with Kremlin-backed separatists in the east of the country.
After voting with his family on Sunday, the incumbent talked about how a fair vote was crucial for Ukraine's progress.
"This is an indispensable condition for our progress so that Ukraine returns to the family of European nations and our membership of the European Union and NATO," said Poroshenko.
Pushing the use of the Ukrainian language and helping to set up a new independent orthodox church, the 53-year-old confectionery magnet casts itself as a man to prevent Ukraine from becoming a Russian whale nation again.
But crucial reforms to keep foreign aid flowing have been uneven. Conflict in the Eastern Donbass region has killed 13,000 people in five years, and despite Porko's promise to end it within a few weeks. Frustration of low standard of living and profound corruption has left the door open to Zelenskiy.
Only 9 percent of Ukrainians trust their national government, the lowest of all voters in the world, showed a Gallup poll published in March.
Zelenskiy has tapped into the anti-establishment mood, though his inexperience makes Western officials and foreign investors cautious and skeptics questioning his fitness to be a warlord.
Inviting comparisons with US President Donald Trump and Italy's five-star movement, his campaign has been heavily dependent on social media and comedy gigas of jokes, sketches and song and dance routines that are fighting fun with their political rivals.
"He highlights the perceived need for" new faces "in politics and could hover the young pro-reform voters to his side," said analyst Unit Analyst Agnese Ortolani.
Zelenskiy's campaign blurred the line between reality and the television series, where he plays a meticulously honest history teacher who accidentally becomes president.
In series three, which began to air in March, his character is thrown into prison, and the country falls under the control of oligarchs, populists and ultra-nationalists and eventually becomes divided into 28 states. Thinly disguised characters, reminiscent of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, come to power.
The election has been mistreated by allegations of fraud and reconciliation, which means that one or more of the candidates could contest the outcome. Ultra-nationalists, acting as election observers, have also raised concerns about the prospect of violence.
Reporting by Matthias Williams, Natalia Zinets, Pavel Polityuk and Polina Ivanova; written by Matthias Williams and Polina Ivanova; Editing by David Holmes and Raissa Kasolowsky