A Jewish comedian is the front-runner in Ukraine’s presidential vote
MARCH 13, 2019 7:07 AM
(JTA) — Ukraine’s presidential elections is shaping up to be a case of life imitating art.
The leading candidate in the March 31 vote is Volodymyr Zelensky, a Ukrainian-Jewish comedian who portrays a history teacher turned president in his hit television show “Servant of the People.”
Polls conducted throughout February give Zelensky 25 percent of the vote — a 10-point lead over incumbent Petro Poroshenko and political veteran Yulia Timoshenko.
On television, Zelensky’s unlikely presidential candidacy nonetheless carries him into office thanks to popular resentment to corruption and ineptitude of the government and political establishment.
Zelensky, 41, whom the local media already began dubbing “the Ukrainian Donald Trump,” is not president yet. But the resentment addressed in his show is not fictional.
In a poll last year, bribery and corruption ranked as the second-most pressing problem in Ukraine, being named by 41 percent of the 40,000 poll respondents. The most troubling issue was the territorial conflict with Russia.
Born in Kryvyi Rih, near Dnipro, to a Jewish family of scientists, Zelensky has not mentioned his Jewish identity in interviews before or during the campaign, which critics say is purposefully vague.
When a reporter asked him how he would deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Zelensky reverted to his comic roots, saying “I would speak to him at eye level.” It was a reference to he and Putin being at least three inches shorter than Poroshenko, a 6-footer.