Five Key Takeaways From Ukraine's Parliamentary Vote
By Christopher Miller July 21, 2019
KYIV -- Ukrainian voters have spoken -- yet again -- and their message is loud and clear: they want change.
Three months to the day after comedian-turned-President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's landslide election victory upended Ukrainian politics, his political party continued the trend, appearing to score another decisive win in the country's snap parliamentary poll on July 21.
Pledging to crack down on corruption, fix the struggling economy, and end the Russia-backed separatist conflict in the country's east, Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party -- named after the television series that catapulted him to fame -- is on track to win 44 percent of the national vote, according to the exit poll published just after voting concluded.
The poll was released as the Central Election Commission reported that 50 percent of ballots in party-list voting had been calculated. Final official results, which will include single-mandate constituencies, will be published later in the week, though no dramatic changes are expected.
Here are five takeaways from the vote.
A Big Mandate For Key Reforms
With single-mandate district results still coming in, it's too early to know exactly how many seats Servant of the People will occupy in the new parliament. Roughly one-half of the Verkhovna Rada is elected on party lists. The rest are elected in 199 individual local races, which are not reflected in the national exit polls.
But it's clear that Servant of the People is likely to have won a great amount of control and a big mandate for its reformist agenda. That would also mean a mandate for other key priorities, which Zelenskiy listed as "ending the war, returning Ukrainians held captive [in Russia], and defeating corruption."
Aivaras Abromavicius, a former minister of economy and trade and a Zelenskiy supporter, described the win to RFE/RL as "about as good as it gets."
"A victory for reform -- close to three-quarters of voters backed pro-Western, pro-reform parties," London-based analyst Timothy Ash wrote in a note to investors immediately after the first results.
Among the first bills to be debated, Zelenskiy said, will be those looking to lift lawmakers' immunity from prosecution and outlining a procedure for impeachment of a president.
Begin The Coalition Horse Trading
As big as the victory was, Zelenskiy's party looks to have fallen just short of the majority needed to control parliament outright.
"Their objective to take all the power didn't materialize," said Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "They will have to make compromises."
But that's "good for Ukraine's democracy," he added.
"We will have to work with other factions in the parliament because our goal is to pass some drastic reforms, some which require constitutional changes, which can only be passed by two-thirds of parliament," Svyatoslav Yurash, a Euromaidan activist who at just 23 years old may be the youngest Ukrainian ever to win a parliament seat, told RFE/RL.
Speaking at his party's headquarters after the results were announced, Zelenskiy invited the Holos party led by rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk to discuss forming a coalition.
Holos got 6.3 percent of votes, according to the exit poll.
Even with a coalition government, experts say Zelenskiy could have a relatively easy time getting his choice for prime minister and other key cabinet positions approved.
Biggest Turnover Of The Legislature In History
More than 60 percent of the seats in the new parliament will likely be filled by novice politicians like Yurash.
The lists for both Zelenskiy's party and Holos were each filled with newcomers, a requirement set out by both in order to ensure new, "politically clean" people -- as Vakarchuk told RFE/RL -- were elected.
Kateryna Zarembo, of the Kyiv-based New Europe Center, said a Servant of the People victory combined with the Holos result likely marks the "biggest turnover" of lawmakers in the history of the country's parliament.
That could mean fresh ideas and new ways of legislating inside the halls of the notoriously corrupt parliament, which polls show to be among the country's least trusted institutions.
Establishment Parties Fading But Not Gone
Voters angry with establishment parties showed the extent of their discontent.
The European Solidarity party of former President Petro Poroshenko and the Fatherland bloc of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko got 8.9 percent and 7.6 percent of votes, respectively, according to the exit poll.
While some analysts believe Tymoshenko's party could become a coalition partner, they say Poroshenko's seems destined to be among the opposition.
"He prolonged his political life with a decent result compared to where he was polling a month ago. But I don't expect anything from him except resistance," Jarabik said.
At the same time, Zarembo said, "having some old-school people [in parliament] is a good thing." Experienced lawmakers know legislating in a way many of the newcomers do not.
Warnings About The Rise Of Pro-Russian Parties Overblown
Despite warnings from some politicians about the return of pro-Russian parties, only the Opposition Platform -- For Life performed well enough to win seats in parliament, getting 11.5 percent, according to the exit poll.
That's only slightly more than a similar pro-Russian party got in 2014 and less than some pre-election polls predicted. The Russia-friendly Opposition Bloc received a projected 3.3 percent in the July 21 balloting.
A vast majority of votes for both parties came from their base in the war-torn east of the country.
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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