Kiev, April 22: Actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, 41, with no political experience other than portraying President in a TV series, scored a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election by winning won over 73 per cent of the vote, the media reported.
Zelensky’s rival and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko conceded defeat after the first exit polls were published on Sunday evening, but said he will not be leaving politics.
With nearly all ballots counted (95 per cent) in the run-off vote, Zelensky has received more than 73 per cent with Poroshenko trailing far behind on 24 per cent of the vote, according to reports.
“I will never let you down,” Zelensky, a political novice, best known for starring in a satirical television series “Servant of the People” in which his character accidentally becomes Ukrainian President, told celebrating supporters.
Following the development, Russia, which backs separatists in eastern Ukraine, said it wanted Zelensky to show “sound judgment”, “honesty” and “pragmatism” to improve relations. The comments came from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in a Facebook post on Monday.
He said he expected Zelensky to “repeat familiar ideological formulas” he used during the election campaign. “I have no illusions on that score. At the same time, there is a chance to improve relations with our country,” he said.
Poroshenko told voters Zelensky was “too inexperienced” to stand up to Russia effectively, the BBC reported.
Zelensky said he would “reboot” peace talks with separatists fighting Ukrainian forces and volunteers in the east. “I think we will have personnel changes. In any case we will continue in the direction of the Minsk (peace) talks and head towards concluding a ceasefire.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Ukrainian voters expressed their desire for political change. “The new leadership now must understand and realise the hopes of its electors,” Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told the Ria Novosti news agency. “This, of course, applies to domestic as well as foreign affairs.”
French President Emmanuel Macron congratulated Zelensky in a phone call, as did Poland’s President Andrzej Duda. In a tweet, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “You will now truly be the Servant of the People.”
The US embassy in Ukraine tweeted its congratulations, while European Council President Donald Tusk said the EU was “determined to continue its support” for Ukraine.
Zelensky will take charge of Ukraine at a time when the nation faces several challenges, including a struggling economy and an ongoing war against Russia-backed separatists in the east that has claimed over 13,000 lives.