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The entertainer Zelensky (centre). Wikipedia

Ukraine elects its first Jewish president

A real comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, better known for playing a president in a TV show, won the final round of the presidential election on Sunday. The incumbent President Petro Poroshenko has conceded defeat.

Published: April 22, 2019, 11:54 am

    The comedian had won the first round with 30 percent of the vote, nearly double the showing of Poroshenko, but because neither candidate won a majority, the two faced off in Sunday’s run-off with an exit poll showing Zelensky winning 73 percent of the vote.

    The comedian would thus become Ukraine’s first Jewish president, the only one leading a country outside of Israel to have both a Jewish president and Prime Minister. Volodymyr Groysman was appointed as PM in April 2016.

    Ukraine is the home of Europe’s fourth-largest Jewish community.

    His detractors say that Zelensky is nothing but a puppet of Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who lives in Israel but runs a business empire in Ukraine.

    According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the oligarch “has a score to settle with Poroshenko for the nationalization of his bank, PrivatBank.

    “Zelensky’s broad appeal has rested on his ability to distance himself as much as possible from divisive issues lacking a consensus,” Haaretz noted. At his press conference, Zelensky spoke in a mix of Ukrainian and Russian, switching between the two languages, sometimes in one sentence and even in English.

    He also announced an “infowar” to end the war in Donbass, adding that “we will continue the Minsk process, we will restart it”.

    Zelensky however refused to provide any names that will be appointed to the new administration, the judiciary, or the country’s military.

    “We have very serious acting generals who have authority in the army, you will definitely see them. I have no right to give the names of these people now, as there is an agreement with the generals,” Zelensky responded when questioned by journalists.

    The comedian, who has no experience in politics, has exploited the increased mistrust of the voters with regard to the power in place.

    A Ukrainian president has never received such massive support, Le Monde reported. Yet, by electing a complete stranger, it is a leap into the void that voters have chosen.

    Often compared to the Italian Beppe Grillo , Volodymyr Zelenski is, at 41, also the youngest president that Ukraine has elected. “I will not let you down,” promised the new head of state before addressing “all countries of the post-Soviet space.” He added: “Look at you, everything is possible!”

    French President Emmanuel Macron received Zelensky at the Élysée Palace in Paris on 12 April this year.

    Polish President Andrzej Duda was first of the European leaders to congratulate Zelensky and on April 22, Ukrayinska Pravda reported that Donald Trump congratulated Zelensky on the victory over the telephone.

    Zelensky supported the 2013–14 Euromaidan movement and during the War in Donbass, he actively supported the Ukrainian army. He said earlier that the Ukrainian people had already chosen “eurointegration” and claimed that Ukrainian NATO membership was “the choice of the Maidan and the course that is enshrined in the Constitution, in addition, it is an instrument for strengthening our defense capability”.

    He considered the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic (DPR and LPR) to be Russia’s “puppets”, and claimed that it would “make no sense to speak with them”.

    Regarding the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea, Zelensky said that it would only realistically be possible to return Crimea to Ukrainian control after regime change in Russia.

    He has supported the free distribution of cannabis and the legalisation of prostitution and gambling.

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