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Ukraine election: What a TV box set may tell us about the future

The likely winner of Sunday's presidential election in Ukraine hasn't run a conventional campaign, so reporters have been looking for clues about the future in a TV drama in which he plays the leading role.

There aren't many jobs where you can put your feet up and work your way through a TV box set without feeling the slightest bit guilty. But here in Ukraine, putting in the hours in front of the screen has become one way of trying to understand what has been at times been a baffling election.

"How far through it are you?" has become a familiar refrain, muttered between journalists on the fringe of campaign events.

The required viewing is a political satire called Servant of the People, and getting fully across it takes real commitment. The show - think The West Wing, with jokes - has just entered its third series, and there are nearly 50 episodes.

Watching it is one way of trying to get to grips with the meteoric rise of Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and actor who stars as the Ukrainian president in Servant of the People. He's also a candidate to be the real president of Ukraine and has a political party - also called Servant of the People.

Confused? Well the blurring of fiction and fact doesn't seem to bother Ukrainians, in fact it appears to have brought clarity. All the polls suggest that Zelensky - a 41-year-old Monty Python fan - is going to defeat the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, and easily win Sunday's presidential election run-off.

Zelensky has effectively run an "anti-campaign". He's avoided political rallies and speeches, and instead continued performing slapstick routines with his comedy group. There's been very little in the way of policy or ideas, apart from a promise to be new and different. Serious interviews have been few and far between, and there haven't been many press conferences either.

So the minutiae of the often farcical episodes of Servant of the People have been elevated, and dissected - sometimes by quite serious publications - for clues as to what might lie ahead in a Zelensky presidency.

How much, for example, should we read into the fictional president's showdown with the International Monetary Fund? Some are worried that Zelensky might turn out to be a populist and seek to go back on the IMF's strict conditions for loans.

And then there's a sequence where Zelensky's character pulls out machine guns and shoots all of the MPs in parliament. Maybe that's an encouraging sign that he's going to be tough on political corruption?

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