From comic to commander-in-chief

Unexpected win: Zelenskiy reacting to the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at his campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine. — Reuters

THE new president of Ukraine is a comedian. And that is not a joke.

On April 21, Volodymyr Zelenskiy defeated the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko with 73% of the votes in the second-round run-off election.

Zelenskiy, a 41-year old television comic, is the star of Servant of the People, a sitcom about a teacher who accidentally becomes president after an expletive-laden video of him ranting about political corruption in Ukraine goes viral on social media.

Last year, he registered Servant of the People as a political party.

The comedian’s victory as president is almost like life imitating art.

“Jokes about Ukraine’s newly-­elected president, Volodymyr Zelen­skiy, come easily.

“He is, after all, a comedian. At times his campaign seemed too frivolous to be consequential,” wrote the Economist in its report, A TV comedian turned politician wins a stunning victory in Ukraine.

“While Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent president, staged political rallies, Mr Zelenskiy could be found filming his popular TV show, Servant of the People. His public announcement that he was fighting the election was enough of an afterthought that he forgot to tell his wife about it.”

When news that a comedian had won the Ukraine presidency by a landslide was shared on my WhatsApp groups, many saw it is as a joke as they associated a comedian to a clown.

They didn’t know that Zelenskiy is trained as a lawyer. And he is a millionaire thanks to his production company. He is also an Instagram star with 4.2 million followers.

To me, top-rated comedians are intelligent.

“Comedians are smart. After all, you have to be if you’re going to dissect the complex landscapes of social discourse, contemporary culture and politics AND make people laugh while doing so,” Huffington Post in a report “26 Comedians Who Are (Probably) Smarter Than You”.

Malaysians like to call their comic-­prone politicians Mr Bean, a character in the British sitcom who can turn the most mundane situation into the stupidest.

Mr Bean was co-created by Ro­­wan Atkinson, who also plays the character.

Google “Atkinson” and “intelligence” and you’ll find out that he has a higher IQ than Einstein.

He is one smart cookie and he has a masters in Electrical Engi­neering.

“Perhaps, Mr Bean (Atkinson) should be the British Prime Minister so that he can get it out of its Brexit mess,” a German told me in Seoul during a media forum when we were discussing the new Ukraine president.

“Maybe that is what my country needs. Angela Merkel is seen is as effective but she is not affective,” he said, referring to the German Chancellor.

We then discussed young and dynamic world leaders like Cana­da’s Justin Trudeau, France’s Emma­nuel Macron and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern.

These leaders are not conventional. They are progressive, ambitious and young.

Perhaps Zelenskiy will be mentioned in the same sentence as these three leaders.

In Malaysia, I’ve met young MPs in the same mould of Trudeau, Macron and Ardern.

Unfortunately, they are not given the opportunity to shine as there is a quota (based on party seniority or party allocation) to be a member of the Cabinet.

Sadly, in Malaysia, there are politicians who become comedians when they are appointed ministers.

The list is quite comprehensive.

The public judge them by their public comment about flying cars and that there is no LGBT in Malaysia – and probably he’s right as they are all in the closet.

Even Datuk A. Kadir Jasin, the special media and communications adviser to the Prime Minister, wrote that it was time for the Pakatan Hara­pan government to weed out “clowns and comic characters” as its first year in governance approaches.

With the election of Ukraine’s president, a digital marketing firm, Nobleman Creations, suggested that it was plausible for a Malaysian celebrity to be a lawmaker or prime minister.

Based on their popularity on Google search, Nobleman Creations’ chief executive Na’im Brundage gave a list of five Malaysian celebs – Datuk Seri Siti Nurhaliza Tarudin (with more than 90,000 Google searches), Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor (Neelofa with 70,000), Yunalis Mat Zara’ai (Yuna with 60,000), Moham­mad Aiman Yusri (Aiman Tino with over 40,000) and Abdul Fattah Mohd Amin (Fattah Amin with 30,000).If you ask me, my choice of a Malaysian celebrity who could be a lawmaker is Malaysia’s top comedian Harith Iskandar.

I’ve met him a few times. He is funny and smart.

His jokes are sophisticated and he understands politics.

In terms of political jokes, Harith is like Lat – they are not politically divisive.

They can tell a joke or draw a cartoon that does not offend the fragile sensitivity of the Malaysian public divided by their political leaning.

So what say you, Harith for Prime Minister of Malaysia?

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