KIEV – Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Vladimir Zelenskiy will face off against President Petro Poroshenko in a second round of the presidential election, results with 44 percent of the votes tallied showed on Monday.
After 44.07 percent of the votes counted, the actor had won 30.14 percent of the votes in the polls held on Sunday, while Poroshenko had secured 16.74 percent, more than 13 percentage points behind his rival, according to the country’s Central Election Commission.
Exit polls on Sunday had put Zelenski in the lead and said he would face the incumbent president in a runoff vote.
As soon as the exit poll results became known, very shortly after the polls closed, Zelenski came out and – amid jubilation by his supporters – thanked Ukrainians for “not casting joke votes” but rather voting seriously and giving him the opportunity to move to a runoff against the country’s current leader, who is hoping to be re-elected.
“Everything super! This is just the first step to victory. There are lots of exit polls, but there’s just one winner,” said the actor and comedian, whom few took seriously when he announced his presidential run less than three months ago.
Zelenski had good reason to celebrate, given that all the exit polls reported on by Ukrainian television channels and news agencies gave him more than 30 percent of the votes, while Poroshenko garnered only about 18 percent.
Thus, Zelenski, who had led the voter surveys since late January, also has vaulted into the favorite spot for the April 21 runoff vote.
It appears that the analysts were wrong that young voters would not give their support to Zelenski, given their traditional refusal to vote in Ukraine.
The comedian also appeared to cement his popularity in the country’s east – where he garnered more than 42 percent support – and in the south, where he got 30.7 percent despite the Russian-speaking majority there, and he only trailed Poroshenko in the west, the most nationalistic part of Ukraine.
With an eye toward the runoff, Zelenski had categorically refused in television statements to work out a deal with former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko – apparently the big loser in Sunday’s vote – to support him in exchange for once again becoming premier.
“We’re not going to cut a deal with the old guard,” he declared.
Meanwhile, Poroshenko appeared to be relieved, given that during much of the campaign it had seemed that he would be ousted in the first electoral round because of the significant public discontent over the dramatic drop in Ukraine’s standard of living since the Maidan revolution that brought him to power.
He took the opportunity of his pending runoff contest to “issue a call to the young generation, ... under 30” and say that he shared “your desire for change.”
“We have to unite and not waste time. I fully understand the reasons for your disaffection. Everything we’ve been doing for the last five years is for the young people, for the future generation,” Poroshenko emphasized in appealing to Zelenski’s young supporters.
Poroshenko said that he did not “feel any euphoria” at the first-round result, adding that “this is a very hard lesson for me and for our entire team. But he who does nothing cannot make a mistake.”
Meanwhile, Timoshenko had tried to take advantage of the social discontent with Poroshenko’s economic management, but once again it seems that she will not fulfill her dream of becoming Ukraine’s head of state.
However, she did not throw in the towel right away and refused to acknowledge her defeat arguing that the exit polls putting her in third place were suspect.
Timoshenko, who was defeated for the presidency in 2010 by Viktor Yanukovich – the pro-Russia leader who was later ousted in the Maidan revolution – and five years ago by Poroshenko, called on her supporters to demand a definitive recount and to “fight for every vote.”
The exit polls from Timoshenko’s Batkivschyna (Fatherland) party were giving Zelenski 27 percent of the vote to her 20.9 percent.
According to preliminary results from the Central Election Commission, there were no significant violations of the country’s election laws, with 63.48 percent of Ukraine’s 34 million eligible voters turning out to cast ballots.
About five million Ukrainian residents in the eastern territories of Donetsk and Luhansk controlled by pro-Russian separatists were unable to exercise their right to vote.
There were a record 39 candidates running for president in these elections.
More than 2,300 international observers from 17 countries were supervising the elections, albeit not from Russia, as Ukraine has banned Moscow by law from participating in any way its presidential elections.