Comedian likely to top first round as Ukraine chooses president

Kiev: A comedian whose political experience is limited to playing the president on TV vowed to tackle Ukraine’s corruption, as he voted on Sunday in the first stage of a presidential election he is tipped to win.
Actor Volodymyr Zelensky’s bid began as a long shot but he has leapfrogged establishment politicians amid public anger over graft and stagnating living standards.
“A new life is beginning, a good life, without corruption, without bribes,” the 41-year-old told journalists as he voted with his wife at a Kiev polling station.
If elected, the entertainer will take the reins of a country fighting Russia-backed separatists in its east and struggling to recover from an economic crisis.
Incumbent Petro Poroshenko was vying with ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko to face Zelensky in a run-off next month, according to final opinion polls.
A recent survey put them neck and neck at around 17 per cent, though another showed Poroshenko — who amassed a vast fortune in the chocolate business before being elected leader in 2014 — pulling ahead of ally-turned-foe Tymoshenko to make the second round.
Zelensky, the 41-year-old star of a political comedy series called “Servant of the People” that returned for its third season this week, had more than 25 per cent support in final surveys.
In polling stations across Ukraine, voters expressed dissatisfaction with the candidates and many said they were opting for what they saw as the least of three evils.
“I’m voting for anyone apart from Poroshenko. I don’t believe him, he cheated us,” said 40-year-old housewife Olga, who had come to a polling station in the Western city of Lviv with her young daughter.
“I’m just going to go into the booth and decide who to vote for. I just don’t know. Definitely not for Zelensky,” said Irina, a 35-year-old manicurist in central Kiev.
In the eastern city of Mariupol, near the frontline of the separatist conflict that has cost 13,000 lives over five years, soldiers were among those casting their ballots.
The war is “the main question for everyone,” said 22-year-old soldier Sergiy, without specifying who he was voting for. “The country is tired of this situation, people are tired.”
Casting his vote in central Kiev, Poroshenko said he regretted mud slinging during the campaign but praised the “well prepared” and “secure” election.
Security services said armed special forces had been deployed in towns and cities across the country on polling day.
There are a record 39 candidates on the ballot paper — which is more than 80 cm long — but only the three frontrunners have a realistic chance of progressing to a run-off vote.
All three have said they will keep Ukraine on the European course it has charted since a 2014 revolution forced pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych from office.
The popular uprising was followed by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko was elected after he pledged to tackle graft, align Ukraine with the West and end the separatist fighting. — AFP