Can a comedian in Ukraine become a ‘servant of the people’?

    Volodomyr Zelensky might be a comedian but the first round of voting has shown that his candidacy is no joke.

    Ukraine went to vote on a list of 39 candidates and showed the most trust in two names who will go on to compete in the second round of voting: comedian Volodymyr Zelensky and the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko.

    The possibility of a Volodymyr Zelenky presidency is not an April Fool’s joke anymore. But the question on remains: can he be a real “servant of the people”?

    The short answer is yes. Yes, there is a chance for Zelensky to bring honesty to the state apparatus finally. However, the long answer depends on various analyses and especially on hope which he instilled to the Ukrainian voters.

    A real servant of the people – that’s been a Ukrainian dream for years. Civil servants and policymakers in Ukraine have been by many as corrupt officials who abuse their positions and out of touch with ordinary citizens.

    Those who voted for Zelensky feel that it is time to stop believing in the old guard of politics and pass the flag to the anti-establishment youth.

    There are a number of reasons for Zelensky’s popularity in the eyes of the electorate. First of all, he is a comedian and smiles a lot. It seems trivial but should not be underestimated in a country plagued by war, corruption and an unstable economy. He also leads a comedy troupe, the ‘Kvartal 95’, and used the popularity of their stand-up shows to gather voters together. Even though some of the shows were free, like the massive display in Dnipro Stadium with thousands of attendees, people were happy to watch Zelensky campaign. Spending a few minutes to promote Zelensky’s campaign during the Kvartal 95 show was a creative solution to unencumber the masses from the routinely aggressive and ordinary political rallies of establishment candidates.

    Secondly, people have already seen him as president. No, he’s never been president or held the Bulava – the ceremonial mace of power, however, he has played Vasyl Petrovych Holoborodko, a character in the popular TV show ‘Servant of the People’ where an ordinary history teacher is elected president after a video of him speaking out against the corrupt establishment goes viral. Zelensky’s character as an honest person who rejects presidential guards, the official residence and cars to continue his basic lifestyle resonates among Ukrainians. The people of Ukraine hold a belief that Zelensky in real life can portray the same honesty and finally bring transparency to Ukrainian politics. His TV commercials also reflected the notion of a “man of the people” with the slogan “I am ready!”.

    Zelensky is accused by many of lacking political experience. But I think that his inexperience gives him a huge edge and he was the only major candidate without past scandals.

    He has no gas deal or bribery scandal to his name, nor any prior convictions that would violate the Ukrainian people’s trust in him.

    He is accused of being a surrogate for the oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who owns the TV station where Kvartal 95 comedies are aired, but influential journalists like Dmitry Gordon have rubbished those sorts of claims. April 21, the next phase of the election, will show whether Ukrainians genuinely believe in Zelensky.

    The comedian is a realist on the Russian issue and believes that the question must be solved in Moscow, but there is no way to solve the problem while Putin is in the office. His pragmatism has softened his light appeal because just like other candidates he outlined problems without providing solutions.

    Where the Ukrainians believe and hope that his honesty can be enough for him to gather the will to tackle corruption, it is only possible if he assembles a stellar team to surround himself in office. He currently campaigns with an experienced team of advisors.

    Volodymyr Zelensky has a chance to seize the moment and become a legend in modern Ukrainian politics. Five years ago, Poroshenko was in the same situation, but he squandered his opportunity and could not fulfil his promises. Zelensky can still show honesty and the character to do the people’s bidding.

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