- 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.
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.
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)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.