Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience, scored a crushing victory over incumbent Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s runoff presidential vote Sunday, according to exit polls.
The national exit poll, which consisted of results from a number of polling agencies, showed Zelenskiy winning 73.2 percent of the vote compared to Poroshenko’s 25.3 percent — a margin of nearly 48 percentage points.
The first official results are expected to be released early Monday morning.
Zelenskiy thrashed Poroshenko in the first round of the election at the end of last month, setting the stage for Sunday’s runoff. The comedian’s only brush with Ukrainian politics has been to play the president in a television show called “Servant of the People,” a popular satire about a teacher who wins the country’s highest office and fights corruption.
His quick rise to success is largely due to him being a new face in the political arena of a country where voters have grown dissatisfied with establishment politicians and issues such as corruption as well as the country’s unresolved war and sluggish economy.
His TV character, Vasily Goloborodko, is a modest high school teacher who is unexpectedly catapulted into the presidency overnight and confronts the country’s crooked political establishment.
Poroshenko, a billionaire candy tycoon and one of Ukraine’s richest men, was himself elected five years ago on a wave of anti-establishment sentiment, following a revolution that drove the country’s pro-Moscow leader, Viktor Yanukovych, from power.
Poroshenko can point to a number of big wins as president, such as containing the Kremlin-led insurrection in the country’s east, acquiring visa-free travel for Ukrainians to the EU and staving off economic collapse. But for many voters, he has come to symbolize oligarchs’ continued grip on Ukraine’s economy and government.
Election day was fairly uneventful — a stark contrast to the campaign itself, which was marked by accusations of foul play, insults and heated rhetoric.
A debate between the two candidates Friday in Kiev’s central football stadium, for example, resembled more a sporting contest than a political discussion, with more than 20,000 cheering supporters in attendance and millions more watching on television.
On Sunday, Zelenskiy was greeted by a crush of journalists when he arrived at his polling station, and said little more than that the election was “a victory for the Ukrainian people.”
Poroshenko, for his part, cast his ballot in central Kiev around midday and warned against taking the election lightly.
“It is very important to be guided by reason during the vote,” he said. “Because it’s not funny. At first maybe it seems funny and fun, but it should not be painful later.”