Ukraine’s president has undergone drug and alcohol tests demanded by a comedian who is challenging him in a runoff election this month – passing both, according to preliminary results.
Petro Poroshenko, 53, submitted to the tests at a clinic at Kiev’s Olympic stadium in front of cameras yesterday, giving blood, hair and urine samples to four laboratories.
A doctor declared that no alcohol or psychoactive substances were found, but added that a full analysis of the president’s tests would take up to three days.
Meanwhile, his challenger Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who plays a teacher-turned-president on a popular television show, took a blood test at a private clinic.
He also passed, but a copy of the results he posted was dated to Tuesday, before he had even called on Mr Poroshenko to undergo testing. The clinic later said an employee had mistakenly entered the wrong date on the form.
The barrage of testing arose from a war of words after Mr Zelenskiy won 30 per cent of the vote in the Ukrainian presidential election on Sunday, trouncing Mr Poroshenko, who had 16 per cent, and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with 13 per cent.
Since no candidate won a majority, Mr Zelenskiy and Mr Poroshenko will face each other in a second round on April 21. The victor will lead a country that last year became the poorest in Europe and continues to wage a simmering conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the east.
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Even before the first-round results were fully counted, the president challenged the comedian to a debate, calling him a “marionette” of the oligarch who owns the television channel his show is on.
Mr Zelenskiy accepted the challenge on Wednesday but demanded that the debate happen at Kiev’s main stadium, which holds more than 70,000 spectators.
“The candidates must pass a medical examination and prove to the people that there are no alcoholics or drug addicts among them. The country needs a healthy president,” he added, telling Mr Poroshenko that he had 24 hours to answer.
In response, the incumbent said he would support legislation to mandate drug and alcohol testing of presidential candidates and accused the comedian of trying to dodge the debate by setting onerous preconditions.
Mr Poroshenko’s campaign headquarters later called on Mr Zelenskiy to also submit hair samples, claiming that his test had been done by a doctor who previously appeared in a television show with the candidate.
Former heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko, whose brother Vitaly is the mayor of Kiev, jumped into the fight on Facebook, arguing that neither candidate’s “doping control” results could be trusted. He said he had requested tests by world anti-doping agency and “hoped the presidential candidates will not refuse”.
The debate has been set for April 19. Mr Poroshenko is expected to try to exploit the political naivete of Mr Zelenskiy, who released only a vague programme and shunned policy discussions in favour of a national tour with his comedy troupe in the lead-up to the vote.
But nearly half of Ukrainians polled have said they would not vote under any circumstances for the current president, who is known as the “chocolate king” and did not fulfill promises to sell off his candy business after he was elected in 2014.
Reforms have mostly stalled after protests ousted a pro-Russian president that year, and Mr Poroshenko has been linked to several corruption scandals.
Meanwhile, the campaign of Mr Zelenskiy, who was found last week to own a 15-room villa in an Italian resort frequented by Russian oligarchs, said he was not required to publish his 2018 income declaration before the runoff vote.
As an elected official, Mr Poroshenko was already required to declare his 2018 income.