Ukrainian comic prepares to become the next president

World Today

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky kisses his wife Olena after the announcement of the first exit poll results in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev on April 21, 2019. (Photo by Sergei GAPON / AFP)

In Ukraine, a man who played the president on TV is preparing to take on the role in real life. Volodymyr Zelensky won more than 70 percent of the vote Sunday to defeat incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. But Zelensky will take control of a country that’s facing a lot of challenges. CGTN’s Natalie Carney  has details.

He won by a landslide — Volodymyr Zelensky — a popular comic actor with no previous government experience and he’ll now play a new role for the Ukrainian people — he will be their next president. But Ukraine has a lot of challenges ahead. Many feel the military standoff with Russia in the eastern Donbass region is one of the most important issues they face.

“I think when the war stops, everything will improve,” said Igor Rasmanov. “The country can’t develop when there is war.”

On the eve of his victory, Zelensky pledged that he would wage an “information war” against the hostilities in Donbass, but gave no details.

“Sociology shows that the war is the main problem, and the president will have to give promises and make decisions that society will or will not support,” said political scientist Oleg Saakyan.

Some Ukrainians fear Zelensky’s political inexperience will be no match for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think he will start falling on his knees in front of Putin, telling him to take Donbass, take Crimea, just don’t make war in Ukraine,” said this Kiev resident. “This threat currently exists, that we can lose part of our country.”

To address the country’s long-standing corruption problem, Zelensky said he will overhaul law enforcement, and strip lawmakers and judges of legal immunity.

The country’s economy is also struggling; taxes and utilities are high while salaries and pensions are low. Zelensky says he will do what is needed to maintain economic stability and stay on course with Ukraine’s IMF program.

Yet, the most pressing challenge for Zelensky is the government itself. The country’s parliament is divided and without a strong coalition partner, Zelensky will face a difficult time getting changes approved.

“I believe Zelensky will succeed, but I don’t think he will be able to do anything before the end of the summer with this current parliament,” said Evgeniy Tov. “He needs his own team to support his ideas.”

Parliamentary elections take place in October, but there’s no guarantee a more favorable outcome will emerge.

“We see a new generation of Ukrainians that are ready to live in an open democratic country, taking responsibility and being politically active, but there are many institutions that are still on Soviet rails,” said Saakyan.

The overwhelming vote this weekend  showed that the people of Ukraine want change. However, it will take a lot for the new president to prove to them that he is the man to do it.