But, Zelenskiy’s inexperience makes Western officials and foreign investors wary. His campaign has relied heavily on social media and comedy gigs of jokes, sketches and song-and-dance routines that poke fun at his political rivals. Exit polls and early counting put 41-year-old Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a fictional president in a popular TV series, comfortably ahead of incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in the first round, though short of a majority.
Zelenskiy’s rise coincided with voters around the world upending the status quo, propelling anti-establishment forces such as U.S. President Donald Trump and Italy’s 5-Star movement to power.
But incumbent Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko sought to portray Mr Zelenskiy as unfit to represent Ukraine abroad, and warned about his ability to take on Russian President Vladimir Putin in international talks.
Mr Poroshenko said: ”Russia won’t be represented by Russian TV comedians, Maxim Galkin or Evgeniy Petrosyan, but actually, just so you know, Russia will be represented by Putin.”
He added: “Putin dreams of a soft, pliant, tender, giggling, inexperienced, weak, ideologically amorphous and politically undecided president of Ukraine.
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“Are we really going to give him that opportunity?”
Mr Zelenskiy is offering a fresh face to voters fed up with entrenched corruption in a country on the frontline of the West’s standoff with Russia.
Out of a crowded field of 39 candidates, none of the likely winners wants to move Ukraine back into Russia’s orbit.
Mr Zelenskiy said: ”I would like to say thank you to all the Ukrainians who did not vote just for fun.
“It is only the beginning, we will not relax.”
But, Poroshenko called the result a “severe lesson”, especially from younger voters and appealed for their support in the second round.
“You see changes in the country, but want them to be quicker, deeper and of higher quality. I have understood the motives behind your protest,” he said.
Zelenskiy secured 30.6 percent of votes, compared with Poroshenko’s 17.8 percent, according to an updated exit poll.