The Mystery of Vladimir Zelenksy - From TV president to real candidate | Eurasia Diary -

22 May, Wednesday

The Mystery of Vladimir Zelenksy - From TV president to real candidate

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This Sunday, April 21, Ukraine will elect its president for the seventh time since independence.  An unprecedented number of candidates threw their hats in the ring, but only two survived the March 31 first round to make it into the run-off: current president Petro Poroshenko (15.95% or 3 million votes) and comedian Vladimir Zelensky (30.24% or 5.7 million votes).

Most Ukranians know Zelensky from his comedy outfit Kvartal 95, which later developed into a production studio by the same name. Its shows are broadcast by popular oligarch-owned channels Inter and 1+1, not only in Ukraine but also in other post-Soviet countries.

Zelensky comes from the industrial city Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine and received his education as a lawyer. Yet he decided on a different career path, which proved to be a success: his comedy group earns an annual profit of around 10 million US dollars. 

Zelensky’s popularity has grown even further since 2015, when he became the star of the popular television series Servant of the People, where he plays the role of the President of Ukraine. In the series, Zelensky’s character is a high school history teacher who wins the presidential election after a viral video created by his pupils shows him ranting against government corruption in Ukraine. The feature film produced on the basis of the second season of the series became the most-watched movie in Ukraine in 2017, earning 24 million UAH ($800,000). 

Some analysts think that Servant of the People was meant to lay the groundwork for its star’s future presidential campaign. Indeed, the central theme of the series can be seen as a sort of ‘Ukrainian dream’, which was attractive to many people disappointed with the traditional political establishment.

Since 2017, when Zelensky and his team registered “Servant of the People” as a political party, there had been rumors that he might run for president. Already in 2017 Zelensky was polling at 4%; his support then grew to 8% towards the end of 2018 and skyrocketed after he announced on 1+1 TV New Year’s Eve show that he intended to run. By February 2019 he had already become the leader of public opinion polls, ahead of long-time politicians Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Nevertheless, despite the responsibilities incumbent upon a leading presidential candidate, Zelensky continued to tour the country with his show and did not interrupt film shooting. Nor did he bother to give interviews and explain his political views to the people.

Still, Zelensky’s potential victory raises a lot of questions — and produces uncertainty. While some believe that his presidency might be an opportunity for Ukraine, there seem to be a lot of risks, from Zelensky’s lack of political experience, to the absence of information about whom he would appoint, to his manipulative campaign, which produces contradictory messages and images rather than a clear vision of public policies. Sunday will show what Ukrainians really think of him.


Berlin Policy Journal

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