On Sunday July 21, Ukraine held a snap parliamentary election that is expected to strengthen President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s hold onto power, allowing him to address Ukraine’s weak economy and its military conflict with Russia-led separatists.
Zelenskiy, a comedian who played a fictional teacher-turned-president on a television series, had no political experience prior to his landslide victory in the April presidential elections. After his win, Zelenskiy faced a cabinet and lawmakers mostly loyal to his predecessor Petro Poroshenko. According to the Wall Street Journal, he dissolved the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, on his second day in office and scheduled an early vote for July 21. Parliamentary elections have been set for October. This decision was supported by the majority of Ukrainians who witnessed the previous parliament riddled with corruption. Before its termination, the Verkhovna Rada had an approval rating of 4%. The new government will need to address tensions with Russia over its 2014 annexation of the Crimea and its involvement in separatist conflict within the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, as well as implementing reforms to improve the unstable economy.
On Sunday, Zelenskiy ruled out an alliance with parties that were previously in power. The President stated, “Honestly, we don’t see a coalition with anyone from the old leadership.” According to Reuters, Zelenskiy has not publicly designated a Prime Minister but has indicated a desire for a professional economist, expressing that he “would like him to be an absolutely independent person, who has never been neither a prime minister nor a speaker or a leader of any faction.” Zelenskiy stated that he would decide on coalition options once the results are announced.
A 40-year-old Kiev teacher Vitaly Solomakha, told Reuters that he had cast his ballot for the Servant of the People party “in order to give a man who got 74 percent of [presidential] votes a chance to bring to life everything he promised.” Other voters are skeptical, noting the lack of political experience in his team. “Zelenskiy says we will fire all of those who are not professional. But I don’t see professional people [in his team]. They are showmen and should perform on a stage,” said 63-year-old Vladimir Lantukh, a Poroshenko supporter.
The President’s Servant of the People party has been leading in opinion polls for the vote, and exit polls from Sunday seem to point to a commanding lead. The Russian-friendly Opposition Platform, Poroshenko’s party, and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party come in second, third and fourth place. Zeleinskiy’s recent rise to power as president has led to nontraditional shifts in the country’s government. Although he has not had previous political experience, his desire for reforms seem to be in line with the desires of Ukrainians who are discontent with political corruption. For example, he has discussed an aid-for-reforms program with the International Monetary Fund to stabilize the economy and has also promised measures such as stripping lawmakers of immunity from prosecution. His everyman image has appealed to many, allowing for the country to unify in support of his decisions.
On one hand, these developments in Ukraine are hopeful for a move out of political turmoil into stability. It shows the importance of democracy in giving citizens a voice, and the promises for anti-corruption measures should allow for greater transparency within the government. The shift toward Western over Russian support is also encouraging for the country. On the other hand, however, Zelenskiy’s rapid rise to power is alarming and hints at the dangers of sensationalism. Political unrest provides a unique environment for radical ideas to spread, and emotional appeals could overshadow the logic of voters. However, as many citizens are in support of Zelenskiy and his party, there seems to be an overall upward trend for the future of Ukraine.
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