Ukraine heads to polls in first round of presidential election

Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Volodymyr Zelenskiy

And in a made-for-TV twist, the plot of the series foreshadowed his quixotic political bid: Zelensky plays a down-and-out schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes President of Ukraine after becoming famous for an anti-corruption rant that goes viral on social media. "I have understood the motives behind your protest", he said after the exit poll.

Polling places opened on Sunday in Ukraine marking the start of the first round of the presidential election.

Mr Poroshenko, who said the elections had been fair and in line with global standards, sought to portray Mr Zelenskiy as unfit to represent Ukraine overseas, especially in taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin in worldwide talks.

Poroshenko said the projected results were a "harsh lesson" for him personally and for authorities as a whole. "It is a reason to work on our mistakes". Batkivshchyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko had 14.2% of the vote.

A woman walks out of a voting booth at a polling station during a presidential election in the village of Kosmach in Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Ukraine March 31, 2019.

41-year-old Zelenskiy has yet to spell out what he would do in power and one of his campaign slogans was: "No promises".

Despite concerns about his vague platform, supporters insist only a brand new face can clean up Ukraine's murky politics.

Some, including Poroshenko, have accused Zelensky of acting as a front for the interests of the owner of the channel that broadcasts the entertainer's shows, prominent Ukrainian-Jewish businessman Igor Kolomoysky, who also holds Israeli and Cypriot citizenship.

But political observers also say Zelensky is something of a blank slate, a complete newcomer to politics whose mastery of policy details is still rather scant.

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Campaign issues included endemic corruption in Ukraine, the struggling economy and a seemingly intractable conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country of 42 million people.

The 53-year-old leader said he would shut down the fighting, tackle graft and align the country with the West.

But five years on, the conflict has claimed some 13,000 lives and counting, while many feel Poroshenko has failed to live up to the promise of the revolution.

Tymoshenko, rose to global prominence as a face of the 2004 Orange Revolution.

The head-to-head battle between Zelensky and Poroshenko will pose a strong contrast to the crowded political field in the general campaign, which saw a total of 39 candidates vying for the office.

"I hope that this will be a victory for democracy", he told reporters after he cast his ballot at a polling station in Kiev's Marine and River Fleet College.

According to the information of the press center of the Central Election Commission, the data on the voter turnover as of 11:00 was submitted by 198 out of 199 territorial electoral districts (without taking into account the overseas territorial district).

According to a preliminary exit poll based on ballots cast by 6:00pm on Sunday (local time), two hours before voting closed, Mr Zelenskiy had secured 30.6 per cent of the votes compared to Mr Poroshenko's 17.8 per cent.

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