Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy leads Ukraine presidential election

Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes part in a press conference after the vote Credit: Emilio Morenatti/AP

Early results in Ukraine’s presidential election show a comedian with no political experience maintaining his strong lead against the incumbent president in the first round, setting the stage for a run-off in three weeks.

With just over half of the votes counted on Monday, Volodymyr Zelenskiy had 30.2% of the vote.

Incumbent president Petro Poroshenko was a distant second with about 16.6% and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko trailed behind with 13%.

The results were in line with a top exit poll, which showed Mr Zelenskiy with the highest number of votes, followed by incumbent Mr Poroshenko and Ms Tymoshenko in third position.

Ms Tymoshenko is running for president for the third time and is refuting the predictions of the exit polls.

On Sunday, Mr Zelenskiy made crowds laugh when he accidentally walked into the wrong stal,l as he voted in the presidential elections.

The 41-year-old comedian made a name for himself when a video of him portraying a school teacher who becomes president went viral.

The strong showing of Mr Zelenskiy reflects the public longing for a fresh leader who has no links to the corruption-ridden Ukrainian political elite.

They hope he can offer a new approach to settling the grinding conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukranians went to the polls on Sunday to choose from 39 candidates in the first presidential elections since 2014.

The people of Ukraine are hoping for a president who can guide the country of more than 42 million out of troubles including endemic corruption, a seemingly intractable war with Russian-backed separatists in the country’s east and a struggling economy.

However, despite the strong initial numbers of Mr Zelenskiy, it is predicted no candidate will win an outright majority in the first round.

Mr Zelenskiy waves to his supporters before casting his vote in the presidential election. Credit: AP

The election will go into a run-off vote on April 21, with the top two candidates.

Mr Zelenskiy is focused strongly on corruption, the theme of his TV series Servant Of The People, which became the name of his party.

He proposes a lifetime ban on holding public office for anyone convicted of corruption and calls for a tax amnesty under which someone holding hidden assets would declare them, be taxed at 5% and face no other measures.

Election officials start counting ballots in Kiev, Ukraine as voters went the polls. Credit: AP

Mr Zelenskiy also calls for direct negotiation with Russia on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's Central Election Commission (CEC) has announced the final voter figures on March 31, saying 63.48% of voters went to the polls.

The figure is higher than voter turnout in the 2014 presidential election, which stood at 60.29%.