Comedian leads Ukraine presidential vote

Comedian leads Ukraine presidential vote

KIEV- The Associated Press
Comedian leads Ukraine presidential vote

Early results in Ukraine's presidential election show a comedian with no political experience maintaining his strong lead against the incumbent president in the first round, setting the stage for a runoff in three weeks.

With over 70 percent of the polling stations counted on April 1, Volodymyr Zelenskiy had 30 percent of March 31’s vote, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko was a distant second with just over 16 percent.

Ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko trailed behind with 13 percent. The results were in sync with a top exit poll.

The strong showing for the 41-year-old Zelenskiy reflects the public longing for a fresh leader who has no links to the corruption-ridden Ukrainian political elite and can offer a new approach to settling the grinding five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

"This is only the first step toward a great victory," Zelenskiy said after seeing the exit poll findings.

The top two candidates advance to a runoff on April 21.

Zelenskiy dismissed suggestions that he could pool forces with Tymoshenko to get the backing of her voters in the second round in exchange for forming a coalition following parliamentary elections in the fall.

"We aren't making any deals with anyone," he said. "We are young people. We don't want to see all the past in our future, the future of our country."

Like the character he plays in a TV sitcom, a schoolteacher turned president, Zelenskiy made fighting corruption a focus of his candidacy.