Visualize Martin Sheen, inspired by his part as President Jed Bartlet in “The West Wing,” tossing his hat into the 2020 U.S. presidential race. Or Julia Louis-Dreyfus, capitalizing on her part as Vice President Selina Mayer in “Veep,” joining a ticket with Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

Absurd, correct?

Effectively that is specifically what’s taking place in Ukraine.

In the very first round of voting for the Ukrainian presidency, comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who played a president in a well-known Ukrainian Television series, garnered the most significant share of votes – 30.24% – in a field of 39 candidates.

In the April 21 runoff, he’ll face incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, who received 15.95% of the very first round votes. A current poll has Zelenskiy ahead 61% to Poroshenko’s 24%.

As a scholar of post-Soviet politics, I see this election as an vital moment for the nation.

Zelenskiy’s candidacy raises some massive queries: Who is Zelenskiy and what can be anticipated from him? What could his election imply for Ukraine and its connection with Russia and the West? And does this candidate’s ascension inform us a thing about the rise of international populism?

From Netflix to the campaign trail

A lot of politicians have burnished their image on screen ahead of jumping into politics – consider actor Ronald Reagan, wrestler Jesse Ventura, comedian Al Franken and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. But their on-screen personas could diverge considerably from what voters have a tendency to appear for in a politician.

U.S. President Donald Trump did a thing distinctive: He leveraged his image as a decisive boss on “The Apprentice” to improve his image as a powerful leader.

Zelenskiy requires items 1 step additional.

In 2015, his production firm, Studio Krvartal 95, aired the provocative political series “The Servant of the Individuals,” which is now accessible on Netflix. In it, Zelensky plays a higher college history teacher, who, just after a student posts a viral video of him providing a passionate anti-corruption rant, wins the presidential election as a create-in candidate.

The series, which is now in its third season, chronicles the new president’s attempts to fight the deep-rooted corruption at all levels of Ukrainian society. Zelenskliy’s character stands up to the effective oligarchs, corrupt bureaucrats, members of the parliament, and even his personal loved ones members. He is portrayed as an earnestly truthful, albeit naïve, leader.

The image resonated with the Ukrainian public, which has turn out to be fed up with the seemingly in no way-ending political corruption in their everyday lives.

Zelneskiy’s political ambitions didn’t turn out to be apparent till the finish of 2018. Appropriate ahead of midnight on New Year’s Eve – the time typically reserved for the presidential vacation address – Zelneskiy created an announcement throughout a Kvartal vacation unique.

“Unlike our terrific politicians,” he mentioned, “I did not want to make empty promises. But now, just a handful of minutes ahead of the New Year, I can guarantee you a thing and I’ll do it correct away. Dear Ukrainians, I am going to run for the president of Ukraine.”

Zelneskiy’s accurate independence in doubt

In retrospect, his show served as a lengthy-operating campaign ad.

Zelneskiy’s writers have a reputation for sharp political commentary. They do not hide their disdain of Ukraine’s political class and how they’ve run the nation more than the previous 15 years. The acerbic jokes written into the show echo the frustrations of its viewers.

But will President Zelenskiy genuinely be as incorruptible as the character he plays on Television?

“The Servant of the People” airs on the Television channel 1+1, which is owned by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. Given that Zelenskiy’s announcement, the Television station has been noticeably pro-Zelenskiy in its news coverage.

In 2016, the Ukrainian government nationalized Kolomoisky’s PrivatBank, a selection that Kolomoisky would like to see overturned. Furthermore, there are reports of an FBI investigation of Kolomoisky’s company practices.

Some say that Zelenskiy is component of Kolomoisky’s tactic to humiliate the incumbent president and elevate his “puppet” to the presidency.

Though Zelenskiy claims that he remains neutral toward Kolomoisky, current reports recommend that Zelenskiy’s campaign has been in frequent communication with Kolomoisky, who is now in self-imposed exile and has had a properly-publicized spat with the incumbent, Poroshenko.

The Russia query

Then there’s Russia, a continuous supply of political tension in Ukraine. In 2014, the Russian Federation annexed Crimea, a lengthy-disputed territory amongst the two nations, by way of an illegal referendum. Comprehensive proof also shows Russia’s active involvement in the 5-year war amongst pro-Russian separatists and pro-government forces that is raging in Ukraine’s Donbass area, which borders Russia.

Ukraine’s incumbent president, Poroshenko, has positioned himself as the only candidate with a confirmed record of standing up to Russian aggression. Campaign billboards have appeared all through the nation featuring Poroshenko staring straight into Vladimir Putin’s eyes.

Zelenskiy states that ending the war is his prime priority and that negotiations with Russia are certainly required. But he also calls for the creation of Russian-speaking tv channels that would be directed toward the population of Donbass.

He claims that this would enable the nation to win the data war once again Russia propaganda. Nevertheless, the use of the Russian language in Ukraine is a divisive challenge. Given that 2014, the Ukrainian government has severely restricted Russian-language broadcasts. This was performed to protect against the spread of Russian propaganda and to solidify the status of Ukrainian as the country’s official language.

Zelenskiy’s accurate posture toward Russia remains unclear.

On the subject of the West, Zelenskiy says he supports Ukraine’s financial integration with Europe. But he believes the query of no matter if Ukraine really should join NATO really should be left to the voters by means of a referendum. It is a position that raises issues amongst pro-West figures in the nation, offered the current history of Russian meddling in Ukrainian politics and the disputed referendum in Crimea.

Moreover, the head of the Russian government-funded tv network RT, Dmitri Kiselyov, has spoken warmly of Zelenskiy, suggesting that becoming an actor shouldn’t be detrimental to his capacity to serve as a political leader. To prove his point, he cited former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s jump from actor to politician.

For these causes, some see in Zelenskiy a candidate who’s “dangerously pro-Russia.”

Will the show go on?

In current years, several academic research have documented the spread of populist authoritarian politics all more than the globe. The 2016 U.S. presidential election, the rise of the 5 Star Movement in Italy and Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil have all been cited as examples of movements that have stoked division, deployed bombastic rhetoric and spread viral memes to win more than voters.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy hosts a comedy show at a concert hall in Brovary, Ukraine, in March 2019. AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky

Zelenskiy could not seem to be as divisive. But like these other leaders, he is charismatic and eccentric. Likewise, he positions himself outdoors of the corrupt political establishment.

Social media has served as a medium to incubate and burnish the photos of these populist figures. Certainly, a great deal of Zelenskiy’s campaign has played out in cyberspace, whilst Zelenskiy continues to be involved with Kvartal 95’s comedic projects. He has however to formally debate Poroshenko.

In the meantime, the rest of the globe can only wait to see no matter if Ukrainian politics will embark on a new season, or if the Zelenskiy show is about to come to an finish.The Conversation

Lena Surzhko-Harned, Assistant Teaching Professor of Political Science, Pennsylvania State University

This write-up is republished from The Conversation below a Inventive Commons license. Study the original write-up.