Comedian Zelensky wins Ukrainian presidency

Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy reacts following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev. (Reuters)
Updated 22 April 2019
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Comedian Zelensky wins Ukrainian presidency

  • Petro Poroshenko tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag and national identity
  • Zelenskiy is a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies

KIEV: A comedian with no political experience won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, exit polls showed, dealing a stunning rebuke to the country’s political establishment.
Volodymyr Zelensky, whose only previous political role was playing the president in a TV show, trounced incumbent Petro Poroshenko by taking 73 percent of the vote, according to exit polls conducted by several think tanks.
It was an extraordinary outcome to a campaign that started as a joke but struck a chord with voters frustrated by poverty, corruption and a five-year war in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 13,000 lives.
The 41-year-old star of the TV series “Servant of the People” will now take the helm of a country of 45 million people beset by challenges and having run on the vaguest of political platforms.
“I will never let you down,” Zelensky told jubilant supporters at his Kiev campaign headquarters where he was showered with glittering confetti after the exit polls were released.
“While I am not formally president yet, as a citizen of Ukraine I can tell all post-Soviet countries: ‘Look at us! Everything is possible!’.”
Zelensky won in all regions of the country, defeating Poroshenko even in the west where he traditionally enjoyed strong support.
Poroshenko, 53, conceded defeat in a speech at his campaign headquarters.
He said the results were “clear” and enough reason to “call my opponent and congratulate him.”
“I will leave office but I want to firmly stress — I will not quit politics,” Poroshenko said.
Preliminary results were expected in several hours but the same exit polls were accurate in the first round of the election.
After taking the most votes in last month’s first-round vote, Zelensky had enjoyed a strong lead going into Sunday’s poll.
From Ukrainian-speaking regions in the west of the country to Russian-speaking territories in the war-torn east, many voters said they feared uncertainty but yearned for change.
“We’re tired of all the lies,” said Marta Semenyuk, 26, who cast her ballot for the comedian.
“I think it just cannot get any worse and I hope he’ll live up to his promises,” said Larisa, an 18-year-old student from the government-held eastern port city of Mariupol.
Zelensky’s victory opens a new chapter in the history of a country that has gone through two popular uprisings in the last 20 years and is mired in a conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the east.
His supporters say only a fresh face can clean up Ukraine’s politics and end the separatist conflict.
But others doubt the showman will be able to take on the country’s influential oligarchs, negotiate with the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and stand up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
“People have gone mad,” Viktoriya Olomutska, a 39-year-old Poroshenko supporter, said in Kiev. “Cinema and reality are two different things.”
Poroshenko had previously mocked his rival’s lack of political experience and argued he was unfit to be a wartime commander-in-chief.
The outgoing leader came to power after a 2014 pro-Western uprising ousted a Kremlin-backed regime, triggering Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.
His supporters credited him with rebuilding the army and securing an Orthodox Church independent of Russia.
But many feel the country’s ruling elite have forgotten the promises of the revolution.
The comic shunned traditional campaign rallies and instead performed comedy gigs and used social media to appeal to voters.
The Ukrainian president has strong powers over defense, security and foreign policy but needs backing from parliament to push through reforms.
Poroshenko’s faction has the most seats in the current legislature and new parliamentary polls are due in October.
The West has closely watched the race amid concern a new government might undo years of economic reforms.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called both Zelensky and Poroshenko on the eve of the run-off vote.


Portugal suspends visas for Iranians for 'security reasons'

Updated 16 July 2019
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Portugal suspends visas for Iranians for 'security reasons'

  • Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said Portugal does not play around with entry into its territory

LISBON: Portugal has suspended the issuance of entry visas for Iranian nationals for unspecified security reasons, Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.
Answering a question from a committee member on whether such a move had been taken, Santos Silva said during the televised meeting: “Yes, we suspended those for security reasons ... I will provide explanations later, but not publicly.”
“Portugal does not play around with entry into its territory,” he added, without disclosing when the decision was taken.
The chairman declared the meeting closed after about two hours without further off-camera testimony.
Joao Goncalves Pereira, the lawmaker from the conservative CDS-PP party who asked the question, told Reuters: “We received information that visas for Iranians had been suspended for two or three weeks, and we just wanted to confirm that.”
He would not say what was the source of that original information or whether any Iranian nationals had complained about the situation.
Foreign ministry officials had no immediate comment and nobody was available for comment in the Iranian embassy in Lisbon.