Opinion polls suggest the comedian is on course to beat Petro Poroshenko in Sunday's presidential run-off.
Opinion polls suggest that comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy is on course to beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s presidential election run-off on Sunday.
The 41-year-old TV star won 30 percent of the vote in the first round, 15 points ahead of his rival.
Much about his policies, however, is unclear – which is perhaps one reason for his success. Zelenskiy represents a “new face” amid widespread disillusionment with Ukrainian politics.
He has admitted to having no strong political views. By surfing on an “anyone but Poroshenko” sentiment and being vague on his positions, he has been able to attract voters across the board.
The man with no previous political experience only entered the fray three months ago. He came to fame as the star of a TV series called “Servant of the People”, in which he plays a history teacher who becomes president of Ukraine.
During the election campaign he largely steered clear of politics, at least in a traditional sense: there were no rallies, few interviews, and people learned little of any detailed policies. Instead he concentrated on social media.
Here is what is known about Zelenskiy’s stance on key issues:
East v West
The candidate has pledged to keep Ukraine on a pro-Western course. He has expressed support for joining the European Union and NATO, calling for a referendum on entry to both.
Poroshenko has tried to cast Zelenskiy as subservient to Moscow, but his supporters say he is wary of Russia. He has spoken of being ready to negotiate with President Vladimir Putin with a view to recovering Russian-occupied territories, but it is not known how he intends to do this.
Conflict in eastern Ukraine
Zelenskiy supports Ukraine’s military against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbass region, where more than 13,000 people have died in the fighting.
However, he has spoken generally of being ready to negotiate with the Russian president. His chief of staff Ivan Bakanov has acknowledged that peace can only be achieved via diplomacy, backing sanctions against Moscow as part of the process.
The candidate has won support in the east of the country, partly by being ready to speak Russian as well as Ukrainian at a time when language rights are a sensitive issue.
There have been suggestions that Zelenskiy would take a hard line with the International Monetary Fund. However, as the Economist Intelligence Unit has pointed out, relations with the IMF are important and the candidate has promised to keep working with the international organisation and to pursue Western-backed reforms.
However, there is a lack of detail on where he stands on matters such as privatisation, healthcare, education and energy.
Zelenskiy has highlighted emigration as a major issue, with many young Ukrainians in particular having left to live and work in other countries such as Poland. But it is not known what he would do to halt the exodus.
It has been suggested that Zelenskiy might also seek to tackle some of Ukraine’s most powerful figures. His TV character became president followed a diatribe on social media against the country’s politics.
But fears have been expressed that a frontal assault on oligarchs may prompt the political elite to curb the president’s power.
His own links to Ihor Kolomoisky – an opponent of Petro Poroshenko – have been called into question. The billionaire is the owner of Channel 1+1, which runs the TV show starring Zelenskiy and has given him much favourable coverage.
The candidate has made the fight against corruption one of his key themes, with many critics saying the current president has not done enough to deal with it.
After the first round of the election, Zelenskiy issued several demands to Poroshenko. They included bringing in international experts to join a national anti-corruption agency, and measures to stop authorities abusing their power to put pressure on businesses.
Although he is favourite to win Sunday’s presidential vote, the key to Zelenskiy’s ability to govern lies in parliamentary elections due in October.