Mon, 26 Aug 2019

KYIV -- With vote counting coming to an end in Ukraine's presidential election, television comic and political newcomer Volodymyr Zelenskiy seems certain of a landslide victory over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in a strong rebuke of establishment politics in the face of endemic corruption, a weak economy, and a five-year-old conflict with Russia.

With over 99 percent of the ballots counted in the April 21 second-round vote, Zelenskiy had 73.2 percent, compared with just 24.4 percent for the 53-year-old billionaire businessman, mirroring exit polls. Turnout was just over 62 percent.

Speaking in Kyiv on April 22 to present the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) preliminary report on the election, OSCE Special Coordinator George Tsereteli said the election 'was competitive and held with respect for fundamental freedoms.' He added, however, that negative campaigning by both candidates made it difficult for voters to make informed decisions.

Overall, Tsereteli praised the transparency of the election process and lauded Poroshenko for accepting the result.

'The democratic and orderly transfer of power is a great achievement for the Ukrainian people,' Tsereteli said.

During the campaign, Zelenskiy described his candidacy as 'a simple man who has come to destroy this system,' in a reference to public perceptions that Ukraine's politics and society are mired in corruption and nepotism against the backdrop of a draining five-year war against Russia-backed separatists.

Poroshenko, who conceded soon after an early National Exit Poll was released, had cast himself as the candidate capable of blunting Russian aggression.

'I want to say that I am very grateful to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who just congratulated me on my victory,' Zelensky said at a press conference shortly after polls closed in the April 21 runoff. 'I thank him. He said that I can count on his help at any time. He acknowledged my victory and my team's.'

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on April 22 sent a joint letter of congratulations to Zelenskiy that praised Ukraine's 'strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law.'

'This is a major achievement in the complex political, economic, and security environment, against the backdrop of continuous challenges to Ukraine's territorial integrity,' the letter stated.

'As president of Ukraine, you can count on the EU's strong support to Ukraine's reform path' it continued. 'You can also count on the EU's continued and steadfast support of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt also congratulated the apparent election victor.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also congratulated Zelenskiy and confirmed that 'Ukraine is a valued NATO partner,' in a post on Twitter.

In the United States, the White House issued a statement saying that U.S. President Donald Trump had spoken with Zelenskiy by phone to congratulate him and to affirm 'the unwavering support of the United States for Urkaine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.'

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev wrote on Facebook that the election showed 'a clear demand for new approaches in solving Ukraine's problems' and said he sees 'chances for improving cooperation' between Russia and Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on April 22 that it was 'too early' to say whether Moscow would be able to work effectively with Zelenskiy.

'It will only be possible to judge based on real actions,' Peskov said when asked why Putin had not yet congratulated Zelenskiy.

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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