Ukraine election: early results indicate big win for president's party
Ukraine’s comedian-turned-president is on course for full domination of the country’s political scene after early results from Sunday’s parliamentary elections indicated his newly founded Servant of the People party would win a majority of seats.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political neophyte whose only previous experience was playing the president in a television sitcom also called Servant of the People, won presidential elections in April and called for early parliamentary elections soon after his inauguration.
With nearly half the votes counted on Monday, Servant of the People was projected to win 42% of the vote. Combined with a strong showing in single-mandate districts, Zelenskiy was on course to win an absolute majority in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. If confirmed, it would be the first time in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history that a single party commands an outright majority.
Four other parties were set to clear the 5% threshold required for getting into parliament through the party list seats. The pro-Russian businessman Viktor Medvedchuk, who visited Vladimir Putin in Moscow days before the election, came second in the vote with 13%, gaining the majority of his support from the Russian-speaking east of the country.
The party of former president Petro Poroshenko, who was trounced by Zelenskiy in the presidential elections, came third, while parties led by veteran politician Yulia Tymoshenko and the country’s best-known rock star, Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, were also set to gain seats.
Prior to the vote there had been suggestions that Servant of the People could form a coalition with Vakarchuk’s Voice party, given that both parties ran on a platform of reforms and political changes. With an absolute majority, that will not be necessary.
Speaking on Sunday night at his campaign headquarters, Zelenskiy said his main priorities were “to end the war, return our prisoners and defeat the corruption that persists in Ukraine”. He said he wanted a “new face and a specialist in the economy” to become the next prime minister.
Zelenskiy’s popularity has come amid widespread disillusionment with politics in Ukraine, five years after the Maidan revolution brought a change of the political guard. Most Ukrainians were disappointed with Poroshenko’s tenure, believing he did not do enough to tackle entrenched corruption and the grip over politics of powerful oligarchs.
Poroshenko’s time in office was made more difficult by Russia’s backing for a separatist movement in east Ukraine. The separatist territories, funded and armed by Russia, are not under the control of Kyiv and the war has cost more than 13,000 lives.
Now, Zelenskiy will face the same challenges, and could see his popularity fall fast if he does not make progress. He has already faced questions about his closeness to controversial oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy, who returned to Ukraine from exile shortly after Zelenskiy’s victory.
In the east, occasional fighting continues, and four Ukrainian soldiers were killed by sniper fire and mine blasts over the weekend. Zelenskiy has used the language of compromise and dialogue, discarding Poroshenko’s more divisive nationalist rhetoric, but how much progress he can make will depend in part upon the will of the Kremlin. Zelenskiy held his first telephone conversation with Putin recently, but the two have yet to meet.