Last Sunday, the voters of Ukraine elected a comedian president

Ukrainian comic actor, showman and president Volodymyr Zelensky - Ukraine elected a comedian president - Charles Harris (Photo credit GENYA SAVILOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Volodymyr Zelenskiy won the election despite having zero experience of politics, aside from taking the role of president in a TV series.

We voters are quick to criticise politicians. But when you look at some of the recent election results around the world, you might start to wonder what on earth politicians think of us.

Politics would be so much easier without voters

In my satirical thriller novel The Breaking of Liam Glass, one of the characters, local politician Jamila Hasan, is sitting on a bench in the sunshine screwing up her courage to go canvassing, after a tense but, she hopes, successful live interview for BBC news. However she is unaware that her attempts at sounding like Winston Churchill may have sparked a potential riot.

Canvassing was the part of the job she liked least. Politics would be so much easier without voters.

Today’s voters were a disappointment. They never kept their promises. They said what they thought you wanted to hear. They told lies and shied away from the difficult decisions. Voters were only in it for themselves.

Potential rioters or no, Jamila’s particular cynicism might be justified. She’s been a loyal councillor and always toed the party line, but now that her seat is in danger, the local party leaders are too busy fighting for their own jobs to give her support.

Hearing that local teenager Liam Glass is in hospital, a victim of a stabbing, Jamila has decided that his case will help her save her seat by forging a personal campaign to stop knife crime. But she is about to make things much worse.

Cleaning the stable

Of course, it will escape no reader that Jamila’s words are exactly what many voters say about politicians.

With stories of corruption – or just plain ineptness – rife, is it a surprise that voters turn to someone who promises to sweep the stable clean?

It’s surely no coincidence that on TV Zelinkskiy played a fictional character, whose rant about corruption went viral and led to him becoming president.

I know many people who would have preferred Martin Sheen as the real US president after seeing him in The West Wing. Though I suspect Kevin Spacey would have a harder time.

In 2000, a Reuters’ poll found that almost double the number of Americans (89%) favourably rated fictional 24 president David Palmer (played by Dennis Haysbert) compared to the real president, Obama (46%).

And a recent letter to the Guardian newspaper suggested that Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen could hardly do a worse job than the current Tory party candidates for PM here in Britain. I suspect not entirely in jest.

Actors or politicians?

Of course, though many actors have become politicians it’s important to distinguish between a politician and an actor.

One is an empty-headed overpaid person with a large ego, who spouts lines written by someone else while trying to convince the audience that they are someone they aren’t.

While the other is a highly-trained much-loved hard-working professional, seen in movies and plays.

But perhaps, as Jamila shows, it’s too easy for us voters to become complacent in our criticisms – and that can be very dangerous.

The fantasy of the outsider?

Because the alternative to democratic politicians is always some rather nasty undemocratic politician, and that’s far less nice to live with. As many around the world already know.

Zelenskiy stood on a platform of almost no policies except dealing with endemic Ukrainian corruption. Helped by being entirely outside the political class.

But how outside is he really? Given that top Ukrainian oligarch Igor
Kolomoisky’s TV companies played what one newspaper called “a significant role” in his victory.

One question: is our hankering for outsiders a fantasy?

A second: is corruption one of those irregular verbs that everyone agrees needs to be eliminated – as long as that doesn’t apply to us?

A third: are we voters just as flawed? Just as quick to cut moral corners? Just as determined to avoid difficult decisions?

I can’t make up my mind.

Read more

Ukraine’s New President? A Comedian Whose Only Political Experience Is Playing Ukraine’s President

Fictional TV presidents more popular than Obama: Reuters-Ipsos poll