Voters Sweep Away Old Parties in Ukraine Election Clearing Way for Zelenskiy’s Peace Push
Ukraine's new president has a stong majority and a clear mandate — no excuses if he doesn't make a strong push for an end to civil war he promised
Comedian-turned President Volodymyr Zelenskiy won a crushing victory in Ukraine’s parliamentary ballot, capitalizing on pledges to crack down on corruption, fix the economy and end the conflict with Russian-backed separatists.
Zelenskiy’s party rode a wave of public anger over the lack of progress flushing dirty officials from state institutions. His Servant of the People party — named after the television show that propelled him to fame — unexpectedly clinched a full majority in the assembly for the first time in the country’s history, according to almost final results published on Monday.
Like the main character of his show, a teacher who’s thrust into the position of head of state, Zelenskiy had no political experience before scoring a landslide win in April’s presidential vote. Since then, support for his party has tripled after he vowed to sweep out a political establishment that has failed to convincingly bring progress to the country of 42 million people since it ousted a Kremlin-backed leader five years ago.
“We will not let Ukrainians down,” Zelenskiy, 41, said after declaring victory. “For us, the main things are to end the war, to secure the return of prisoners and to win the fight against corruption.”
Ukrainian government bonds extended a rally on Monday, nearing the strongest levels since a debt restructuring in 2015. The nation’s GDP warrants rose to a record as investors anticipated faster economic growth will lead to pay-offs as soon as 2021.Servant of the people won 43% of the vote for party lists, which make up half of parliament’s mandates, the Electoral Commission said, with 89% counted. The party also took at least 110 individual mandates in first-past-the-post races, to secure a majority of at least 226 seats in the assembly.
On Sunday, Zelenskiy invited the two-month-old Holos party led by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the country’s most popular rock singer, to join him in coalition talks. Holos got 6% on the party lists.
Voters punished more traditional parties, including that of former President Petro Poroshenko and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who both got 8.2%. More than two thirds of the vote went to forces that support closer ties with the European Union and NATO.
And in a surprise, wealthy businessmen including billionaire Kostyantyn Zhevago and Ihor Kononenko were set to lose their places in the single-seat constituencies contested by oligarchs, sports stars, and showbiz celebrities. Such a showing may remove a potential obstacle to Zelenskiy’s promise to overhaul Ukraine.. The full results are expected later this week.
Zelenskiy said that, for the post of prime minister, he wanted to appoint a “professional economist” respected in Ukraine and in the West who hasn’t held that job or led a party. That fits the description of former Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk, who has expressed interest, and former Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius.
After the outgoing parliament blocked Zelenskiy’s efforts to pass anti-corruption laws, the president has rejected the idea of a tie-up with Poroshenko’s party. Support for political forces sympathetic to Russia was 12.9%, slightly more than five years ago. For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two countries will mend ties despite the conflict.
Some concerns remain over how effective Zelenskiy will be. Most candidates in Servant of the People are political neophytes and some of his appointments, as well as business links to billionaire Igor Kolomoisky, whose television channel airs his shows, have drawn criticism that he won’t be able to escape the orbit of the all-powerful oligarchs.
Zelenskiy has pledged to revoke automatic immunity from prosecution for lawmakers and to step up anti-corruption efforts after the previous administration adopted laws only under intense pressure from voters and foreign creditors.
He has also promised to renew cooperation with the International Monetary Fund. The Washington-based lender repeatedly held back financial assistance from Poroshenko’s administration due to its slow progress in pushing measures through the assembly, known as the Rada, to restructure the economy and fight graft.
“I see the political will, but there are many obstacles,” said Balazs Jarabik, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Much will depend how Zelenskiy and his team can manage the state and the Rada differently than Poroshenko did.”