Volodymyr Zelenskiy Wins Landslide Victory in Ukraine Presidential Election

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy, center right, and his wife Olena Zelenska, center left, greet their supporters at his headquarters in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, April 21, 2019.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old television actor, won a landslide victory in the Ukrainian presidential election Sunday, with exit polls showing he received about 73% of the vote in the final round -- nearly three times as many as his rival, the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, VOA reports.

"We did it together. Thanks to everyone! Now there will be no pathetic speeches, I just want to say, thank you," Zelenskiy told cheering supporters in Kyiv Sunday evening.

Conceding defeat Sunday evening, Poroshenko offered his congratulations to Zelenskiy, and added, "I will leave the office, but I want to announce firmly: I will not leave politics."

Poroshenko later wrote on Twitter: "You may just look at the celebrations in the Kremlin on the occasion of the elections. They believe that with a new, inexperienced Ukrainian President, Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia's orbit of influence."

Zelenskiy combined a slick social media campaign with his image as an outsider, capitalizing on a swell of public anger at the old Ukrainian politics of cronyism and corruption.

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Ultimately, the slow pace of reforms cost Poroshenko a second term, said political analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk of the Kyiv-based Democracy House.

"Ongoing corruption scandals, some reforms, the decline in living standards and poverty prompted voters in east, in the center, and the west – but also some in Kyiv – to express their mistrust of politicians. Zelenskiy's victory is a referendum on the mistrust of former politicians," Oktysyuk added.

Critics highlight Zelenskiy's ties to exiled oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, who is accused of bank fraud and who owns the 1+1' TV channel that broadcasts his show.

Zelenskiy has pledged to continue Ukraine's pro-Western path, five years on from Russia's forceful seizure of Crimea and invasion of eastern Ukraine.

"I think that a more pragmatic model of cooperation with Russia will be installed, that an economic cooperation will gradually be reinstated. But the conflict will not be resolved. Over the past five years, there has been a very significant fracture. As soon as Zelenskiy tries to overcome it, he will face resistance from radicals, nationalists and other political opponents," Oktysyuk said.

World reaction
U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Zelenskiy Sunday to congratulate him on his victory. 

A statement from the White House said Trump reaffirmed the U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. The U.S. president expressed his commitment to work with Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian people to implement reforms needed to strengthen democracy, increase prosperity and root out corruption in the country.

Monday, France, Germany and the European Union also congratulated Zelenskiy on being elected president of Ukriane.

French President Emmanuel Macron's office said Monday that he spoke with Zelenskiy and restated his willingness to work with Ukraine, alongside Germany and Russia, to resolve 5-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her congratulatory message to Zelenskiy that she hopes the vote will help stabilize the troubled country. 

"The stabilization of Ukraine and a peaceful conflict resolution are as close to my heart as the implementation of central reforms of the judiciary, decentralization and the fight against corruption," Merkel's statement said.

In a joint letter to Zelenskiy, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk said that the newly elected president of Ukraine can "count on the EU's continued and steadfast support of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.''

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on his Facebook page that the election results in Ukraine showed "there is a chance to improve the relations with our country after all." Medvedev expressed hope that Zelenskiy would be "pragmatic and responsible'' addressing separatism in the east. 

Poroshenko is expected to hand over power next month, giving the comedian who played the president on TV a shot at the real thing. It is a big step into the political unknown and an indication of how desperate Ukrainians are for change.