Volodymyr Zelensky is a Jewish-Ukrainian comedian. He’s known for his role as a teacher on a popular television program called “Servant of the People.” The premise of the show is that Zelensky’s character improbably becomes the president of the country after a video of him ranting against government corruption goes viral. Obviously, the sitcom is just as fictitious as The Apprentice, the American program that depicted Donald Trump as a competent business executive and savvy judge of talent.
The two shows also share something else in common.
KIEV, Ukraine — The comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, according to official results with nearly all of the votes counted, making a comic actor with no experience in government or the military the commander in chief of a country that has been at war with Russian proxies for over five years.
With more than 95 percent of ballots cast on Sunday counted, Mr. Zelensky had won 73.17 percent of the vote, compared with just 24.5 percent for Petro O. Poroshenko, Ukraine’s incumbent president. Mr. Zelensky triumphed in every region, except for the area around the city of Lviv, a center of Ukrainian culture and nationalism in the west of the country.
Ukraine deserves a lot of credit for allowing Volodymyr Zelensky to run for president, and also for allowing him to win. Vladimir Putin would never allow something like this to happen in Russia. The result also defies the relentless propaganda out of Russia that depicts Ukraine as a hotbed of Nazism. Zelensky will be the first Jewish leader of Ukraine. The incumbent president was gracious in defeat.
Mr. Poroshenko conceded that that his presidency — which began in 2014 after street protests ousted Ukraine’s deeply corrupt, pro-Russian president, Viktor F. Yanukovych — was over.
“‘Never give up’ — I also hear that now,” Mr. Poroshenko said on Sunday night in Kiev. “But when I see the results of these exit polls, they are obvious and give reasons to call my opponent now and congratulate him.”
It appears that there will be an orderly transition of power, which is all the more remarkable because it will be taking place amidst a simmering civil war and armed conflict with a more powerful neighboring country. Zelensky highlighted this accomplishment in his election night remarks:
Speaking at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, moments after the scale of his apparent victory became clear, Mr. Zelensky took a jab at Russia and other former Soviet lands that have turned elections into empty rituals that merely confirm their authoritarian leaders’ continued rule.
“As long as I am not officially a president, I can say as a citizen of Ukraine to all countries of the post-Soviet Union: Look at us — everything is possible,” Mr. Zelensky said.
As for whether Putin will be happy with this result, you be the judge:
Zelensky supported the 2013–14 Euromaidan movement. During the War in Donbass, he actively supported the Ukrainian army. During his presidential campaign, Zelensky said that he would like Ukraine to become a member of the European Union and NATO, but that he wants Ukrainian voters to decide on the country’s membership of these two organisations in referendums. At the same time, he believed that the Ukrainian people had already chosen “eurointegration”.
Zelensky’s chief of staff Ivan Bakanov also said that Zelensky’s policy is supportive of membership of both the EU and NATO, and proposes holding referendums on membership. Zelensky’s electoral programme claimed that Ukrainian NATO membership is “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.” The program states that Ukraine should set the goal to apply for a NATO Membership Action Plan in 2024. The programme also states that Zelensky “will do everything to ensure” that Ukraine can apply for European Union membership in 2024. Two days before the second round, Zelensky stated that he wanted to build “a strong, powerful, free Ukraine, which is not the younger sister of Russia, which is not a corrupt partner of Europe, but our independent Ukraine.”
Nonetheless, President Trump has already called to congratulate Zelensky on his victory. They may not agree about key points, like Russian annexation of Crimea or the merits of NATO and the European Union, but perhaps they can bond over their shared experience of using a fictional television program to launch them into the presidency.