Ukraine polls open with comic poised to top presidential field

Polls have opened in Ukraine‘s hotly-contested presidential elections with political novice Volodymyr Zelensky poised to win over 38 other candidates, including President Petro Poroshenko and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Sunday’s vote is testing the war-torn country’s democracy for the first time since the so-called Revolution of Dignity brought Poroshenko in power in 2014.

The voting stations opened at 8am (06:00 GMT) and will close at 8pm (18:00 GMT).

The elections will be monitored by observers from 18 countries as well as 139 Ukrainian civil society organisations, according to Ukraine’s Central Election Commission (CEC).

An early count is expected on Monday. If none of the candidates secures 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two candidates will take place on April 21.

The latest surveys show Zelensky, a 41-year-old comic who is best known for playing a president in the political comedy, Servant of the People, leading the vote with 20.6 percent.

Tymoshenko was Ukraine’s prime minister twice in 2005 and 2007 [Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters]

He is followed in the opinion polls by Tymoshenko, a political heavyweight who served twice as prime minister under different presidents in 2005 and 2007, with about 13 percent.

Poroshenko, who is projected to come third with 12.9 percent, said last week he would accept the result of the vote, “whoever wins”.

Poroshenko, 53, who was elected with almost 55 percent of votes in 2014, seems to have failed to rally his electorate despite his efforts to be seen as a passionate fighter for the country’s territorial unity as well as the champion of Ukraine’s dream of integration with the European Union and NATO.

Over the last five years, he has reinforced the Ukrainian army and ratified the Association Agreement with the European Union, the document that enabled Ukrainians to trade with and travel to Europe without restrictions.

The incumbent president also secured the independence of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church from its Russian counterpart.

But he failed to rid the country of corruption or recover money stolen from Ukraine’s coffers before he came to power.

Poroshenko was elected with almost 55 percent of votes in 2014 [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

The elections are being held amid the war that has killed more than 13,000 since it broke out in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions between Moscow-backed rebels and Kiev five years ago.

The conflict followed Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 which in turn came after Ukraine ousted Moscow-backed leader Viktor Yanukovich earlier that year.

Several million of the approximately 35 million eligible voters are unable or unwilling to cast their ballots in the occupied territories.

Zelensky is best known for playing a president in the political comedy, Servant of the People [Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

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