Zelensky party heads for absolute majority in Ukraine

Zelensky party heads for absolute majority in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Ukrainian Reform conference in Toronto, Ontario, on July 2, 2019. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP)

Ukraine's comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky is set to control an absolute majority in parliament, ushering in a generational shift in the ex-Soviet country's political arena.

The 41-year-old became Ukraine's youngest ever post-Soviet leader when he took office two months ago and has promised to stamp out corruption and end a separatist war.

His newly created Servant of the People party -- named after a sitcom in which he played a president -- took around 42 percent of the weekend vote, with 50 percent of votes counted.

Media projections on Monday showed this puts the party on track to pick up more than half of the parliament's 450 seats, the best showing by any party in Ukraine's post-1991 history.

The result is the culmination of a stunning turnaround in Ukrainian politics and will bring a host of newcomers into the parliament and the government.

One of the many young and politically inexperienced future lawmakers that will enter parliament is Zhan Beleniuk, a 28-year-old Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots.

Four other parties -- including one openly supported by the Kremlin -- passed the five percent threshold to enter the assembly, the results showed.

At 49.8 per cent, the turnout was the lowest of any election in Ukraine's post-independence history.

It was initially thought Zelensky would have to form a coalition.

The president had indicated a preference for another new political force, the Golos (Voice) party of rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk.

The singer's party, also packed with young professionals like Zelensky's, made it to parliament with six per cent of the vote, according to the latest results.

Servant of the People party chief Dmitry Razumkov said Monday that the party was "open for dialogue" with forces that share a similar "basic vision for our country."

Speaking shortly after exit polls were released Sunday, Zelensky said his primary goals were to bring peace and tackle corruption.

"Our main priorities -- and I repeat this for every Ukrainian -- are to end the war, return our prisoners and defeat the corruption that persists in Ukraine," he said at his party's election headquarters.

He also said he was looking for a "new face and a specialist in the economy" to become the next prime minister.

Ukraine's new government will face a long list of challenges in a country heavily dependent on foreign aid and scarred by years of war with Russia-backed separatists. The conflict has killed 13,000 in five years.

After more than a decade's absence, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Viktor Medvedchuk, will return to the Ukrainian parliament.

His pro-Moscow party Opposition Platform - For Life came second in the vote with 12.8 percent.

The Russian leader is godfather to Medvedchuk's daughter.

Medvedchuk told AFP that peace in eastern Ukraine can only happen "with Russia's help" and that restoring relations with Moscow is "vital" for Kiev.

Former president Petro Poroshenko's European Solidarity Party and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party Batkivshyna (Fatherland) also entered parliament with 8.6 and 8 percent of the vote respectively, results showed.

Analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk said that while it may appear that all power is in Zelensky's hands, he faces tough opposition from both Poroshenko and Medvedchuk.

"He will be in a difficult situation. They will create serious problems for him," he said.

The comedian's victory in April was seen as a rejection of the country's traditional elite for failing to end the separatist conflict, revive the economy or tackle widespread corruption.

Faced with a hostile parliament after his win, Zelensky quickly called a snap election and vowed to bring in a new generation of politicians to lead the country.

Twenty-six seats in Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, will be left empty as they represent Crimea, annexed by Russia, or territories controlled by separatists.

Sporadic fighting continues along the frontlines, with four Ukrainian soldiers killed by sniper fire and mine blasts since Friday.


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