Comedian, actor and now Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Courtesy of Flickr

Ukrainian comedian’s first two months as president

When comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky won 70% of the overall vote in the Ukrainian presidential elections last year, he took on the responsibility of the country’s struggling economy and the separatist-forces supported by Russia in the east. 

The comedian—whose only political experience comes from playing the president on a Ukrainian television show called Servant of the People—has been criticized for offering few specific details about how he will evoke the changes he promised during his campaign, according to The Guardian.

During his inauguration in May 2019, Zelensky called for parliamentary elections to take place in July instead of October. “I am dissolving the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament],” Zelensky said in his inauguration speech. “…People must come to power who will serve the public.”

In Ukraine, the president is the head of state but not the head of government, so while Zelensky can nominate individuals to ministry positions, these nominees must be confirmed by the Verkhovna Rada. Zelensky has struggled to dismiss previous ministers and appoint new ones since his inauguration in May, so the snap elections could potentially ease the difficulties he faces in appointing new officials, according to BBC. 

Preliminary results from the parliamentary elections reveal Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, named for the television show the president starred in, could win an absolute majority in the 450-seat parliament. The Guardian reported early polls showing the Servant of the People party finished with approximately 43% of the Verkhovna Rada, with only 70% of the votes counted.

“Our main priorities—and I repeat this for every Ukrainian—are to end the war, return our prisoners [from Russia] and defeat the corruption that persists in Ukraine,” Zelensky said from the party’s headquarters as preliminary results were announced. 

Zelensky, keeping true to his campaign promises to end Russian-Ukrainian conflict, has made one public prisoner exchange proposal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, offering to return a Russian-Ukrainian journalist in exchange for a Ukrainian filmmaker, who is currently in Russian custody. Zelensky called the proposed exchange a “goodwill gesture,” but Putin has yet to publicly respond to the proposal. The Independent reports some Russian officials have signaled the Russian government is not interested in the exchange. 

Ukrainian-Russian conflict has been an ongoing issue for several years, but it escalated in November 2018 when Russia captured several Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait. “I don’t want anyone to think this is fun and games,” former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told The Guardian when the vessels were first detained last November. “Ukraine is under threat of full-scale war with Russia.”

When Zelensky was elected as president, he made resolving tensions with Russia one of his main goals. Putin refused to congratulate Zelensky on winning the election, waiting for “the first successes in settling the internal conflict in southeastern Ukraine, and in normalizing Russian-Ukrainian relations,” according to BBC.

The two leaders have had at least one conversation over the phone to discuss how to proceed regarding the two countries’ conflict issues.