KIEV, Ukraine | With nearly all the votes counted in Ukraine, TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy is projected to win the country’s presidential runoff vote in a landslide.
The Central Election Commission says Monday that Zelenskiy has won 73% of the vote while the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko got just 24% support with more than 96% of the ballots counted.
Unlike in most of the elections in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, Zelenskiy appears to have won both in Ukraine’s west and east, areas that have been traditionally polarized. One of the campaign slogans of the popular television comedian who has no previous political experience was to unify Ukraine, which has been torn by bitter debates over its identity as well as the separatist conflict in the east that is fueled by neighboring Russia.
Even with a landslide to give him a powerful mandate for change, Zelenskiy has daunting challenges ahead.
The simmering, deadly conflict in eastern Ukraine and the conundrum over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea are likely to dominate the agenda of the man who up until now has only played the president in a TV sitcom. Zelenskiy, a Russian speaker from central Ukraine has promised to step up efforts to re-integrate the east back into Ukraine’s fold but has offered no details on how he is going to do that.
A political novice, 41-year-old Zelenskiy will also have to face off against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has ruled his country for nearly two decades, if he wants to mend relations with Ukraine’s neighbor.
Officials in Moscow on Monday sounded cautiously optimistic but also condescending about Zelenskiy’s victory.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on his Facebook page on Monday morning that the election results in Ukraine show “there is a chance to improve the relations with our country after all.”
Medvedev, whose government has been supplying the Ukrainian separatists with weapons and manpower, expressed hope that Zelenskiy would be “pragmatic and responsible” when tackling separatism in the east.