Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the Ukrainian election by a substantial margin on Sunday.
Exit polls showed Zelenskiy winning 73% of the vote, beating incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in the run-off elections.
Poroshenko quickly conceded defeat and congratulated comedian Zelenskiy on his landslide victory. He said the results were “clear” and a reason to “call my opponent and congratulate him.”
“I will leave office but I want to firmly stress — I will not quit politics,” he added.
Zelenskiy said in a speech: “We have accomplished this together.”
“All citizens of the post-Soviet countries, look at us! Everything is possible.”
Zelenskiy plays a fictional state leader on a television sitcom. His bid to lead the country of 45 million people was first dismissed as a joke, but his vague promises to reform the country were enough to win over voters fed up with the country’s endemic corruption, moribund economy, and ongoing conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
Poroshenko had launched a last-minute plea on Facebook, telling Ukrainians “a five-year presidential term is not a comedy that you can easily switch off if it is no longer funny.”
The exit polls were conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology and the Razumkov Center public opinion organization, which queried more than 13,000 voters at 300 polling places. It claims to be accurate to 3 percentage points.
Zelenskiy’s apparent victory puts the anti-establishment figure at the forefront of the West’s standoff with Russia, after its annexation of Crimea and its support for insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
The Russian foreign ministry said: “Exit polls show the citizens of Ukraine voted for change. The new leadership now must understand and realise the hopes of its electors. This of course applies to domestic as well as foreign affairs.”