Kiev (AP) - The actor and political newcomer Volodymyr Selenskyj clearly won the runoff election for president in crisis-ridden Ukraine.
The pro-Western 41-year-old prevailed by a wide margin against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. The 53-year-old president conceded his defeat in Kiev. The counting of ballots dragged on. After initial results Selenskyj cut more than twice as strong as the incumbent. Predictions saw him at 73 percent, Poroshenko, however, only 25 percent of the vote. Some ballot papers were invalid.
The TV star announced that he would first take care of the war in eastern Ukraine. "We will continue the negotiations and go to the end to stop the fire," he said in Kiev. The most important task was to free his compatriots from captivity in Russia and eastern Ukraine.
Since 2014, government soldiers have been fighting against pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. About 13,000 people were killed according to UN data. The Minsk peace plan, which has been negotiated through German mediation, has been stuck for years. Selenskyj spoke in favor of quickly reviving the peace process.
The election is historic in many ways: with Selenskyj, a head of state without any government experience comes to office for the first time in the country between the EU and Russia. It would also be the highest score ever achieved by a president of independent Ukraine. Selenskyj, the youngest president of Ukrainian history, is aiming to join the EU like Poroshenko. A controversial NATO membership of Ukraine should decide a referendum.
On the other hand, Poroshenko, who was last received in Berlin by Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), suffered defeat after five years in office. He had led an anti-Russian election campaign. Poroshenko warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to subjugate the country. Selenskyj rejected allegations of being a Russian puppet. Many saw in the line Poroshenko a maneuver to distract from the serious domestic problems - such as poverty.
On election night Poroshenko congratulated the winner by phone. He will leave the office, but not the political stage, he said. He wanted to form a strong opposition with his party. "I will stay in politics and fight for Ukraine," said the outgoing president. The oligarch Poroshenko was the great hope of the EU and the US five years ago after the pro-European protests on the Maidan - the Independence Square.
In Moscow, the prominent Russian foreign policy leader Konstantin Kosachev spoke of a "crushing defeat" for Poroshenko. It is still too early to combine the victory with Selenskyj's hopes, he told the agency Interfax. But Russia wishes him that he could become an independent president of an independent country. The vote shows that people wanted to deal with their domestic problems, said the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Russian Federation Council. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow said that now there is a chance for a restart in Ukraine.
Celebrated in his homeland show star Selenskyj plays for years a president of the comedy series "Sluha Narodu" - in German: servant of the people. As in the series of TV station 1 + 1, in which a history teacher is surprisingly head of state, he now wants to destroy as a "simple man," as he says, the corrupt system in his home country. "I'll never fool you," he promised in the evening.
Critics accuse the comedian of being a populist with no real program for the future of the country. Selenskyj's closeness to the oligarch Igor Kolomoiski, who made his mood against Poroshenko with his TV channel 1 + 1, is also a recurrent theme.
The country torn between Ukrainian nationalists and Russia-friendly parts of the population is likely to be one of the most difficult tasks for the new Ukrainian president. Many people are hoping for more prosperity, especially rising wages and pensions, and declining living costs.
Selenskyj's victory had indeed been expected after surveys in recent weeks. The graduate lawyer had announced his switch to politics only on New Year's Eve. He led his campaign mainly in the social networks with pithy videos.
But it is unclear how he can meet the high expectations of the population. He relies on a named after his television program party. But this is not yet represented in the parliament. Selenskyj would be the first president without his own power base. Until taking office, he still has a few weeks time. He considers it possible that, in view of the unclear balance of power in the Supreme Rada, he prefers the general election scheduled for October.
In the run-up, sociologists had repeatedly talked about a protest against Poroshenko, who, among other things, has a confectionery empire. Selenskyj had also accused Poroshenko of becoming richer in the highest state office. By contrast, the country is still impoverished. Poroshenko was elected five years ago following the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who had fled to Russia, in the first ballot with almost 55 percent of the vote.
Elections 2019, Ukrainian
Reporters Without Borders to Ukraine
OSCE report on the situation before the election
Fact sheet of the EU on relations with Ukraine
Independent website on EU Association Agreements
EU on relations with Ukraine
EU on trade relations with Ukraine
Merchandise Trade Statistics of Ukraine
Foreign Office of Ukraine
Press portal of the OSCE
Message from the Electoral Commission in Kiev
Twitter by Petro Poroshenko
Twitter by Volodymyr Selenskyj