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21 Jul, 2019 17:05

Ukraine’s Zelensky gains parliamentary faction in snap election

Ukraine’s Zelensky gains parliamentary faction in snap election

The newly formed party of Volodymyr Zelensky gained the majority of votes in Ukraine’s parliament elections, while ultra-nationalist parties failed to pass threshold. The president still has to find coalition partners.

Zelensky is a professional comedian who entered politics last year to successfully defeat his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, in April in a crushing landslide victory with over 70 percent of the vote.

His ability to enact his policies, however, has been undermined by a lack of representation in the parliament, where allies of Poroshenko have held a ruling majority and defeated Zelensky’s numerous attempts to sack senior officials loyal to the previous president. His response was to call a snap election in his inauguration speech in May.


Sunday’s vote proved a reasonable success for the new head of state. His party, called ‘Servant of the People’ after a TV show in which he played a fictional Ukrainian president, scored almost 44 percent of the vote, according to the national exit poll.

Yet without a majority of seats, his faction will need an ally to form a ruling coalition.

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Among the 21 other parties that took part, at least three are slated to overcome the five percent threshold and win seats in the parliament: the ‘Opposition Platform – For Life’ of former Vice President Yuri Boyko, Poroshenko’s ‘European Solidarity’, and ‘Fatherland’, which is led by the mercurial veteran politician Yulia Tymoshenko.


The election was a disappointment for nationalist parties. Poroshenko’s party was the only one employing nationalistic rhetoric that made it into the parliament. It gained a mere nine percent of the vote, according to the national exit poll. None of the other nationalist and far-right parties, like the ‘Radical Party’ or the All-Ukrainian Union ‘Svoboda’, managed to clear the threshold needed to enter the Verkhovna Rada.

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‘Holos’, a party created by singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk shortly before the election, which is perceived by many as a possible coalition partner for Zelensky, also made it to the parliament, according to the preliminary results. 

The vote also showed that Ukrainians have grown weary of the elections as the turnout amounted to just slightly more than 50 percent, according to the nation’s central election committee. While relatively high, it was still significantly lower than in both rounds of the presidential election, which was around 60 percent. As was the case in April, several million Ukrainian citizens living in Russia were barred from voting since the Ukrainian authorities once again chose not to open the polling stations there.

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The president has already said that his party’s victory would finally allow him to move forward with his legislative initiatives.  He listed putting an end to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the exchange of prisoners of war among the priorities of his party.

Before the elections he did manage to achieve some progress, for example, by curbing the violence in the rebel-held eastern Ukraine. A ceasefire was announced between Kiev’s forces and those of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR) on election day.

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But overall, resistance from the uncooperative parliament served as a comfortable excuse for Zelensky and his people, who spent three months delivering contradictory statements on their future policies, issuing demands for rapid change to lower-level officials, and bickering with Poroshenko’s old guard.

Zelensky will need to prove he is not influenced by oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, whose TV channel aired the president’s comedy show and who had a brutal fight with Poroshenko over the now-nationalized PrivatBank. There are a number of high-profile criminal cases that were allegedly kept quiet under Poroshenko and which the new government is expected to look into.

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The new ceasefire with the rebels will need to be protected as well. Several have collapsed since the armed conflict began five years ago, when nationalist-aligned politicians took power in the country in a coup and attempted to quash by force dissent in the historically Russia-friendly eastern part of the country.

Despite promising to negotiate peace, the new president rejected direct talks with rebel leaders, insisting that they are nothing more than Russian proxies, despite Moscow’s assurances to the contrary. If that’s an indicator of his future policies, it’s hard to see how peaceful resolution of the conflict may come under the new president, regardless of how much support he has in the parliament.

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