Ukraine votes with TV comedian favourite

The people of Ukraine are voting in the first round of presidential elections.

Current leader Petro Poroshenko, 53, is seeking re-election but the surprise front-runner is 41-year-old comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Both, along with former Prime Minister (PM) Yulia Tymoshenko, 58, have expressed largely pro-European Union (EU) views during the campaign.

None of the pro-Russian candidates are seen as serious contenders. Areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists are boycotting the poll.

If no candidate gets more than 50 per cent (yesterday), the top two will fight it out in a second round on April 21.

A total of 39 candidates are on the ballot paper, but only the three front-runners are considered to have any chance of victory.

The Ukrainian president has significant powers over security, defence and foreign policy and the ex-Soviet republic’s system is described as semi-presidential.

Mr Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs, was elected in a snap vote after former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was toppled in the February 2014 Maidan Revolution, which was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a Russian-backed insurgency in the east.

The next president will inherit a deadlocked conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists in the east, while Ukraine strives to fulfill EU requirements for closer economic ties.

The EU says that about 12 per cent of Ukraine’s 44 million people are disenfranchised, largely those who live in Russia and in Crimea, which Russia annexed in March 2014.

Mr Zelenskiy is aiming to turn his satirical TV show – in which he portrays an ordinary citizen who becomes president after fighting corruption – into reality.

He has torn up the rule book for election campaigning, the BBC’s Jonah Fisher reports from Kiev.

He has done no rallies and few interviews, and appears to have no strong political views apart from a wish to be new and different.

His extensive use of social media appeals to younger voters.

His readiness to speak both Russian and Ukrainian, at a time when language rights are a hugely sensitive topic, has gained him support in Ukraine’s largely Russian-speaking east.

Opinion polls suggest he will have a clear lead over Mr Poroshenko and Ms Tymoshenko in the first round, and would retain it in a run-off against either of them.

Mr Poroshenko aims to appeal to conservative Ukrainians through his slogan “Army, Language, Faith”. –BBC

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