He’ll face the beleaguered Western-backed president, Petro Poroshenko, in a run-off.
The West has become increasingly bored of Ukraine, corruption has increased and young people are voting with their feet, by leaving. Thus, you have around 2 million Ukrainians in Poland and over 3 million in Russia.
By comparison, the population of Kiev is 2.8 million, and the second biggest city, Kharkov, is home to about 1.4 million.
As a result, it’s hardly a surprise that Zelensky has topped the polls in round one. A popular celebrity who plays a fictional president on a local TV serial, he’s effectively a Ukrainian Beppe Grillo or Donald Trump, albeit with a different worldview.
But Zelensky is also not a leftist populist. There’s been no elaborate social spending pledges, guarantees to halt privatizations, nor rhetoric about taxing the well-off. Indeed, unrealistic proposals may have kiboshed third-placed Tymoshenko, who suggested she would more than treble wages to Polish levels within five years – an absurdly ridiculous pipe-dream.
While he’s in the driver’s seat now, there’s no guarantee of Zelensky winning the run-off on April 21. Poroshenko’s political machine will throw the kitchen sink at him over the coming weeks (around 80 percent of Ukrainians believe the election is likely to be stolen), and he may struggle in proposed TV debates against his more experienced opponent.
Furthermore, even if he succeeds, Zelensky will lack support in parliament, and he has no established political bloc. The only way he can remotely surmount this hurdle is by making deals with existing factions. But the price could be installing Tymoshenko as prime minister, and perhaps retaining hardline Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Both of whom are very wealthy individuals who have been dogged by corruption allegations.
Such moves, of course, wouldn’t represent a break with the past, and would risk disappointing Ukrainian voters yet again by denying them the fresh start so many desire.