Volodymyr Zelensky was elected the next Ukrainian president on 22nd April, as his anti-establishment campaign won over 70% of the vote against tried-and-tested president Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky was officially inaugurated on the 20th May, and is now the official replacement of Poroshenko. Zelensky comes from an unconventional presidential background; he may have a law degree, but is also an influential comedian with 4.2 million followers on Instagram. His approach to politics has also been incomparable to past candidates, utilising comedy, social media and, most controversially, television channels owned by the unofficially exiled oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, to win votes. Even more surprisingly, his comedy show ‘Servant of the People’ has been running for three years and, somewhat prophetically, saw him star as a teacher who accidentally became president after a rant went viral on social media. Accordingly, his new political party, based around ideas such as “no promises, no disappointment”, has been named “Servant of the People.”
The election process was characterised by Zelensky’s presentation of his himself as “something new… a person with a human face”, as he described his presidency to the BBC. The ballots were cast in almost all of Ukraine – excluding Crimea, the peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 to widespread international disapproval. During the election, he positioned himself in opposition to Poroshenko, calling out the former president’s inability to deal with Ukraine’s economic situation, failure to raise living standards or stamp out corruption; he even ridiculed him as a confectionary billionaire in one of his sketches. At an influential televised debate at Kiev football stadium, Zelensky made his point in black-and-white, rather elevated, terms – “I’m a judgement on you… I’m the result of your mistakes.” At the same time, Zelensky is far from perfect. He admits to not having fixed political views, highlighted especially by his lack of clear and defined policies, in-depth interviews, as well as his intention to embark on only one term as Ukrainian leader.
Despite this, Zelensky is already making his stamp on Ukrainian politics with his more decided policies – working with the European Union and taking a stronger stance against Russia. Earlier in May, Zelensky sent a team of diplomats, headed by trusted former finance minister Oleksandr Danylyuk, aiming to alleviate worries about his inexperience and demonstrate his ability to tackle corruption. In turn, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, confirmed they are seeking a partnership with Ukraine “on its path and its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.” In addition, the Ukrainian president has taken a strong stance against Putin. He denied the Russian president’s claim that Ukraine and Russia should make a single nation due to their close ties, going on to rebuff Putin’s decree that Russian passports are available to parts of eastern Ukraine, and instead declaring “Russia must return the control of every inch of the Ukrainian side”.
He admits to not having fixed political views
Behind all his policies, Zelensky’s timely connections with exiled oligarch Kolomoisky, inexperience in politics and entertaining character leave a president surrounded by mystery. So far, he has faced a marginal fine for breaking election rules by disclosing his election vote to the press, found closed-door briefings with government officials a challenge and most recently, called a snap parliamentary election on the 21st May. He intends to bring the election forward from September, in the hope that his popularity can bring a change in ministers, most likely to gain more support in parliament. With these questionable connections, changeable policies and early challenges, President Zelensky’s term, at the moment, seems to be forecasting instability rather than constructive change.