Zelenskiy's Party Set For Big Victory As Voters Approve Reform Agenda
By Christopher Miller July 21, 2019
KYIV -- The party of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is set for a big win in snap parliamentary elections, exit polls show, as voters threw their support behind the former comic's pro-western reform agenda.
His Servant of the People is on track to win 43.9 percent of the July 21 vote for party lists, according to exit polls as of 6 p.m. local time. Voting ended at 8 p.m with nearly 50 percent turnout. Official preliminary results are due July 22.
"This is not only great trust; this is also a great responsibility, especially for me and our team. We will not betray Ukrainians," Zelenskiy told supporters at his headquarters shortly after the polls closed.
The strong result for Servant of the People, which was formed just a few months ago, underscores Ukrainians desire for a break with established politicians and parties that have failed to improve living standard enough. It also gives Zelenskiy - who won the presidency in April in a landslide victory - more power in choosing outsiders to occupy key government positions.
"The bottom line is that Zelenskiy - between the presidential and the rada elections - has put himself in a position for serious reform if that is what he chooses to do," John Herbst, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine during street protests known as the Orange Revolution, told RFE/RL after the exit polls.
Zelenskiy told supporters at his party's election headquarters that one of his main priorities will be "to defeat the corruption that continues to persist in Ukraine." Graft has for years stifled economic growth in the former Soviet state, which traditionally ranks among the most corrupt European nations.
Earlier in the day, Zelenskiy said he wanted parliament to choose a "professional economist" to head the government.
"I would very much like this to be an absolutely independent person who has never been a prime minister, a speaker or a leader of any [parliamentary] faction," Zelenskiy said.
The president called new parliamentary three months ahead of its originally scheduled date because the outgoing parliament is dominated by his opponents, hampering his capacity to enact reforms.
However, the exit polls indicate he will likely need to form a coalition with another party to achieve a majority in parliament and easily pass legislation.
Zelenskiy has already offered to start negotiations with Holos, a start-up party with a similar reform agenda as Servant of the People. Holos was one of five parties that the exit poll said received at least 5 percent of the vote to pass the minimum threshold for legislative seats.
Slava Vakarchuk, the Ukrainian music star who founded Holos, told RFE/RL that he would be willing to form a coalition with Servant of the People.
"Our intention is to make an impact," Vakarchuk said after voting in Kyiv. "If you are in a coalition, you have much more power, many more possibilities to influence and to change things."
Vakarchuk said Ukrainians have been "disappointed" with the country's development over the years and that a new parliament is needed to move the country forward.
"It is not enough to change only the president. We need to change the Rada in order to make real changes," he said.
Opposition Platform, a political party pushing for better ties with Russia, was on track to receive 11.5 percent of the vote while European Solidarity, which is allied with former President Petro Poroshenko, is set to get 8.9 percent.
Fatherland, the party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was next at 7.6 percent of the vote followed by Holos with 6.3 percent.
Under Ukrainian law, half of the seats are distributed according to lists generated by the parties; the other half are distributed to simple-majority winners in districts where there is only a single-member constituency. Exit polls for the single mandates were still not available.
Ukraine's parliament comprises 450 seats. However, only 424 are up for grabs after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and war in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions saw the loss of several voting districts.
The results are "big win for pro-Western, pro-reform parties," said Timothy Ash, a London-based economist focused on emerging economies. A coalition with Holos will be "good for reform and continuity."
Herbst, who saw first hand how Ukraine's first pro-western president Viktor Yushchenko failed to deliver on pro-western policies and fighting corruption, was quick to caution that not all members of Zelenskiy's party are as reform-minded as the president appears to be.
And questions still remain about how willing Zelenskiy is to break from the oligarch-and-backroom-deals tradition of politicking in Ukraine.
Zelenskiy's ties to one of the country's wealthiest men, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, has worried reformers and some Western supporters. Zelenskiy's chief of staff previously worked as Kolomoyskiy's lawyer.
However, Herbst said Zelenskiy's choice of reformers to fill crucial positions at the State Customs Service and Ukroboronoprom, the military conglomerate, bodes well for fighting corruption.
And the coalition with Holos could "make up" for any deficiencies resulting from non-reformists inside Servant of the People, he said.
With reporting by Mike Eckel and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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