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A Comedian Who Plays President of Ukraine on TV Might Actually Become President

Polls from Monday’s election in Ukraine show comedian Volodymyr Zelensky in a massive lead with over 30 percent of the vote. Zelensky has no political experience and is best known for playing a teacher who accidentally becomes president after going viral for ranting about government corruption in a popular TV show. Zelensky, who ran primarily […]

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  • Polls from Monday’s election in Ukraine show comedian Volodymyr Zelensky in a massive lead with over 30 percent of the vote.
  • Zelensky has no political experience and is best known for playing a teacher who accidentally becomes president after going viral for ranting about government corruption in a popular TV show.
  • Zelensky, who ran primarily on an anti-corruption platform, will now have a runoff election against incumbent President Petro Poroshenko on April 21.

Election in Ukraine

Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky is the front-runner to become the next president of Ukraine, according to polls from the country’s presidential election on Monday.

Zelensky, who is most famous for starring in a TV show where he plays a teacher who unintentionally becomes the president of Ukraine, has run an extremely popular presidential campaign in real life.

The election on Monday is the first of two parts of the presidential election, sort of like a primary. During the first election, Ukrainians vote for the top two candidates in a field of many. This year, Ukraine saw a record number of 39 contenders running for president.

With 92 percent of all votes counted, election officials announced that Zelensky leads the polls with 30 percent of the vote, while incumbent President Petro Poroshenko is far behind, with only about 16 percent of the vote.

The third-place candidate is former two-term Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is widely considered one of the most influential women in Ukraine, and currently holds about 13 percent of the vote.

While the polling is still not entirely finished, it seems almost certain Zelensky and Poroshenko will go head-to-head in the final runoff election three weeks from now, on April 21.

Zelensky’s Rise to Power

With Zelensky polling nearly twice as high as Poroshenko, many are wondering: who is Volodymyr Zelensky?

Zelensky is the star of a Ukranian TV show which translates to “Servant of the People.” In the show, he plays a schoolteacher who becomes president after a video of him ranting about corruption goes viral.

The similarities between his character on the show and his actual campaign are striking.

Both Zelensky and his character have absolutely no political experience, and both are extremely popular because they ran on anti-corruption campaigns.

Zelensky and his character are also both viewed as fresh new leaders who do not have ties to Ukraine’s political elite, and are popular with the younger population.

Zelensky is even part of a new political party that was created by the show’s producers and is literally named the Servant of the People Party.

However, Zelensky’s campaign has not been without controversy. In addition to criticisms that he has no political experience, some have claimed that he is just the surrogate for a wealthy oligarch named Ihor Kolomoisky.

Kolomoisky is a well-known rival of Poroshenko, who moved to Israel after he was involved in a multi-billion dollar banking scandal. Kolomoisky and Zelensky have been business partners, as Servant of the People is aired on Kolomoisky’s TV channel.

Zelensky even announced his candidacy on Kolomoisky’s TV channel.

Unsurprisingly, both men have denied any connections to Zelensky’s campaign.

Ukraine’s Political Turmoil

Poroshenko was first elected back in 2014, after Ukraine’s former Moscow-backed president was ousted as a result of the 2014 Ukranian Revolution, which also overthrew the Ukranian government.

The 2014 Ukrainian Revolution was followed by Russia’s infamous annexation of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine.

Many world leaders criticized Russia for annexing Crimea, saying it violated both international law and a series of agreements between Russia and Ukraine that protected land belonging to Ukraine.

As a result, Poroshenko campaigned and was elected on the promises of getting back control of Crimea, as well as fighting an uprising of Russian-backed separatists that took control over parts of Eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko has billed himself as a strong defender of Ukraine’s territory and a champion of Ukraine joining the EU and NATO, a move that is widely supported by Ukrainians.

However, he is currently failing with his people for two main reasons.

First, many Ukranian’s believe Poroshenko has not done enough to stop the pro-Russain separatists. Since 2014, Ukrainian government forces have fought a brutal war against the separatists which has killed more than 13,000 people in Eastern Ukraine and has reflected poorly on Poroshenko.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Second, and perhaps most significantly, Poroshenko has failed to crack down on government corruption, such as recovering money that had been stolen from the government before he came to power.

In addition to not cracking down on corruption, Poroshenko has also been accused of being complicit in it. Poroshenko himself is a wealthy oligarch, which has lead many to question his connections to other oligarchs.

His campaign also suffered significantly from a military corruption scandal involving some of his top associates.

What Next?

Much of Zelensky’s support comes from a general frustration with Poroshenko’s lack of efforts to crack down on corruption, as well as the deteriorating economic conditions which have made living standards even lower in Ukraine

Many believe that Zelensky will be a pro-Ukraine president who can offer new approaches to confront Russia and to address the war with the separatists in the East. He has also billed himself as a pro-market candidate who will work to join the EU and NATO.

While Zelinsky seems to be very popular and has received 30 percent of the vote so far, he will still need to reach over 50 percent in order to win the election.

According to polls held by the three main Ukrainian sociological institutes: “37-42 percent of Ukrainians are planning to vote for Zelenskiy in the second round while between 17-19 percent of respondents will vote for Poroshenko. 20 percent said they’ll yet to decide while 21-24 percent said they won’t vote.”

In general, Ukraine’s voting system is much more democratic than Russia’s. Despite the fact that it has troubles, Ukraines citizens are offered a real choice.

Though it is important to note that several million eligible voters were unable or unwilling to cast ballots in Crimea and in the areas of Eastern Ukraine that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

It will be interesting to see what the next few weeks will bring, as the Ukraine gears up for its April 21 election.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (Fox News) (Kyiv Post)

International

Trudeau and Liberals Secure Shallow Victory in Snap Elections

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The Prime Minister had hoped to secure a mandate for the Liberal Party and a clear legislative majority to move forward with COVID-19 recovery plans, but he will now face leading yet another minority government.


Two Elections in Two Years

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held onto power after Monday’s federal parliamentary election, but he will still lead a minority government now that his Liberal Party has again failed to secure a majority of seats.

The results mirror those of the country’s last election in 2019, and in the lead-up to Monday’s vote, many Canadians questioned why another parliamentary election was occurring so soon when the next scheduled elections would happen in another two years. The most basic answer is that Trudeau called for a snap election in August. However, reports on his reasoning vary.

Trudeau himself said he wanted a clear mandate from voters so he could move forward with efforts to lead Canada out of the pandemic and focus on recovery plans. Yet, for Conservatives and Canada’s smaller parties, this election was viewed as a blatant power-play by Trudeau to get more seats just two years after his Liberal party lost its majority.

Whatever the reason actually was, the snap-election was a gamble that doesn’t seem to have paid off. While some mail-in votes are still being counted, over 98% of the results are already in and they’ve proven to be a return to the status quo. The Liberals are gaining just one seat and the Conservatives are only losing two, while the minor parties in Canada are exchanging a few seats.

Possible Political Blunder

It’s likely that the call for a snap election was a miscalculation by Trudeau, who received high praise in polls when asked about his response to the COVID-19 pandemic; however, in polls that looked at his overall popularity, most voters said they have a dimmer view of Trudeau.

According to the Angus Reid Institute, a non-profit pollster out of British Columbia, Trudeau struggled to have a majority of voters approve of his tenure. In August, just after he called for snap election, his popularity plummeted further, with a majority of voters overtly disapproving of the Prime Minister.

As of election day, that number continued to rise.

Additionally, Trudeau’s calls for what many viewed as an unnecessary election in order to get a mandate on how to move forward against COVID-19 came off as tone-deaf since Canada is in the middle of dealing with rising Delta cases. This is an argument that the Conservatives picked up on, including leader Erin O’Toole, who called it “un-Canadian.”

There is also criticism over how Trudeau conducted his campaign. The Justin Trudeau of 2021 isn’t the same man who first gained power in 2015. Back then, Trudeau was somewhat of a Barak Obama-esque figure. He was a political underdog who ran on a platform of hopeful optimism over what could be achieved in Canada.

Fast forward to 2021, and Trudeau was less concerned about presenting his party’s hopes for the future and more concerned about sparking fears over what a Conservative government would do. His biggest fears seemed to have been the undoing of years of legislative and executive actions, including the reversal of a firearms ban.

In one rally earlier this month, Trudeau warned supporters that, “Mr. O’Toole won’t make sure the traveler sitting beside you and your kids on a train or a plane is vaccinated.”

“This is the moment for real leadership. Mr. O’Toole doesn’t lead — he misleads.”

But many of the things Trudeau attacked O’Toole and the Conservatives for are possibly no longer positions they hold. O’Toole recently took on the leadership of the Conservatives last year, and before the election, he published a 160-page document that sought to clarify his party’s positions and broaden their appeal.

One major reversal was support for a carbon tax, a traditionally Liberal Party platform. However, that manifesto seemingly wasn’t enough, as O’Toole later had to reverse course on a promise in the manifesto and clarify that the Conservatives wouldn’t actually overturn Trudeau’s ban on 1,500 sporting rifles, leading to some confusion among voters over his actual stance.

That being said, some of the major criticisms of O’Toole levied by Trudeau still stood up to scrutiny, such as his opposition to vaccine mandates or vaccine passports.

The Popular Vote Doesn’t Win Elections, Even in Canada

Another miscalculation that lead to the call for a snap election may have been a misread on how popular the Conservatives are. In 2019, the party won the popular vote, and Monday’s election seems to be another repeat. The Conservatives won just over 34% of the popular vote but only secured 35.8% of the seats in parliament. The Liberals received under 32% of the popular vote, but around 46% of parliament’s states. The disparity in the popular vote and how many seats a party actually receives has led to claims that the system is flawed and as unrepresentative as the United States’ Electoral College allegedly is.

Regardless of the representation disparity in Canada, many felt this snap election meant that Trudeau didn’t get the mandate he sought. Even so, Trudeau gave what he called a “victory speech” in Montreal, saying, “You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic.”

Trudeau will likely need to rely on the left-leaning New Democratic Party to secure enough seats to form a majority government, although there are concerns that such a government could fall, as minority governments are notoriously fragile.

Such a situation would mean that this snap election may prove to be a political pitfall for Trudeau.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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U.S. Will Ease Travel Restrictions for Vaccinated Foreign Passengers

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The move will allow Americans with family abroad to reunite with loved ones who they have been restricted from seeing since early 2020.


U.S. Changes Policy for Foreign Visiters

The White House has said it will lift travel restrictions starting in November for foreign visitors coming to the U.S. who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Along with proof of vaccination, White House COVID response coordinator Jeff Zients said Monday that noncitizens will also have to show a negative COVID test taken within three days of departure.

The announcement ends an 18-month ban on travel from more than 30 countries, including the UK and members of the EU. That ban has been a major source of tension with Europe because European and British officials lifted entry restrictions on people from the U.S. and other countries in June after vaccines became widely available. Up until now, the Biden administration hadn’t reciprocated.

Many experts found the policy hard to understand since some countries with high COVID rates were not on the restricted list while some that had the pandemic more under control were.

Tensions further escalated last month when the EU removed the U.S. from its safe travel list, though that was a nonbinding order that recommended EU nations to restrict U.S. travelers.

It’s also worth noting that the Biden Administration’s latest announcement came as the president prepared to meet face-to-face this week with world leaders at the United Nations.

The UN General Assembly is set to include European leaders who have voiced additional frustration over the administration’s handling of the pullout from Afghanistan. On top of that, France is enraged by a U.S. deal to sell nuclear submarines to Australia, which France said undercut its own agreement with that country.

Additional Changes

In addition to the changes regarding foreign travelers, the White House has said it will tighten rules for unvaccinated U.S. citizens returning home, saying they now need to test negative one day before departure and schedule another test for after their arrival.

In the coming weeks, the CDC will also be requiring airlines to collect and provide passenger information to aid contract tracing.

There will be a few exemptions to the vaccination requirements for foreign visitors, including ones for children not yet eligible to be vaccinated. Still, full details of the policy have not yet been released.

The changes have long been called for by airlines and others in the travel industry who are now cheering the news, especially ahead of the holiday season.

The move means Americans will likely see a boost in travel as the year comes to a close, but for many with family abroad, it also means they can finally reunite with loved ones who they’ve been restricted from seeing since early 2020.

See what others are saying:(The Washington Post)(Axios)(The Wall Street Journal)

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Apple and Google Remove Navalny Voting App as Russian Elections Kick-Off

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The decisions from Apple and Google, which followed weeks of pressure from the Kremlin, mark a continuation in the war between Western tech companies and authoritarian governments.


Voting App Removed From App Stores

Apple and Google removed a tactical voting app designed by allies of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny from their app stores Friday, bowing to pressure from the Kremlin the same day voting began for the country’s parliamentary elections.

The Smart Voting app aimed to direct opposition voters in each of the country’s 225 districts to select whichever candidate was most likely to defeat competitors from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.

Removal of the app comes as part of the Kremlin’s broader crackdown on the work and allies of Navalny, who was given a prison sentence of two and a half years in February for violating parole for a previous conviction widely believed to be politically motivated.

Russian authorities banned the app in June when the government outlawed Navalny’s movement as an extremist organization.

For weeks, the Russian censorship agency, Roskomnadzor, threatened to fine Apple and Google if they did not remove the app, arguing it was illegal and accusing the two of election interference.

People familiar with the matter told reporters that the tech companies complied with the request after Russian officials threatened to prosecute their employees based in the country.

Response and Backlash

Kremlin authorities welcomed the companies’ decision, which they painted as necessary legal compliance.

“They have met the lawful demands,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Friday. “This application is prohibited in the territory of our country. Both platforms received relevant notices and it seems they have made the decision consistent with the letter and the spirit of the law.”

Navalny’s allies and digital rights activists condemned Google and Apple for kowtowing to the demands of an authoritarian regime.

“Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” Ivan Zhdanov, a Navalny aide wrote on Twitter. “Russia’s authoritarian government and propaganda will be thrilled.”

Natalia Krapiva, a digital rights attorney with the Internet freedom group Access Now, told reporters that while it was clear Apple and Google “took this decision under pressure,” the tech companies still “owe the Russian people an explanation.”

Friday’s removals, she argued, have little precedent.

“This is really a new phenomenon to go after the app stores,” Krapiva noted.

Broader Crackdowns on Tech Companies

The move marks a continued escalation in the battle between authoritarian governments and American tech companies fighting to keep their services accessible.

In Russia, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok have faced throttling and fines in recent weeks for failing to remove calls for protests and other posts expressing dissent that the Kremlin claims are illegal.

In countries like India, Myanmar, and Turkey, authorities have increasingly pressured companies to censor political speech. Last year, Turkey passed a law that gives authorities more power to regulate social media companies. 

The Indian government is also currently in a standoff with Twitter over accusations the company has failed to comply with new internet regulations that experts say limit online speech and privacy.

Now, experts worry Google and Apple’s decision to remove Navalny’s app could encourage Russia and other authoritarian regimes to pressure tech companies by threatening to prosecute their employees.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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