By Cristina Maza
Ukraine’s comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelenskiy won a historic mandate to push through reforms after his newly formed party, Servant of the People, won an absolute majority in parliamentary elections on Sunday.
National exit polls showed that Servant of the People—named after the television series that Zelenskiy starred in—had won 43.9 percent of the vote on Sunday. Experts say that Zelenskiy’s overwhelming victory demonstrates that voters are tired of the old guard of politicians, who are widely viewed as corrupt and ineffective.
“This spring an inexperienced comedian trounced a war-time president by a nearly three to one margin. Yesterday’s results signal that the spring presidential elections weren’t a fluke; Ukrainians want change and are willing to gamble on inexperience,” Melinda Haring, an expert on Ukraine with the Washington D.C.-based Atlantic Council, told Newsweek.
“Many questions about the new president remain. While he’s been president for two months, his first real day begins when the new parliament opens. So far, Zelenskiy talks a big game – he lashes out at corrupt local administrators, says exactly what the business community wants to hear, and bested Putin in their first dustup – but he hasn’t been able to do much. The old parliament stymied him continually,” Haring added.
Zelenskiy, 41, won the presidential elections in April with a full 73 percent of votes. He immediately called a snap parliamentary election to capitalize on his victory and form a parliament that he could work with to implement his ambitious agenda. He will now be able to pick a Prime Minister and other cabinet members.
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has 424 seats that were up for grabs in Sunday’s race. A little over half of those are given to candidates running on official party lists and the remainder are given to candidates running in single-mandate districts, allowing citizens to vote for party members and local representative simultaneously. Servant of the People was expected to perform better in the party lists, but ultimately won over half of the seats in both groups.
“Clearly the Ukrainian people continue to support President Zelenskiy and his reform agenda, as reflected by the extremely high percentage of votes for his political party in these elections,” said Stephen Nix, Eurasia director for the International Republican Institute, which sent a delegation to monitor the elections.
Ukraine’s powerful neighbor Russia, which has supported an armed insurgency in eastern Ukraine for over five years, continues to loom large in the election. On Sunday, the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life became the second largest party in Ukraine’s parliament with 11.5 percent of the vote.
One of the party’s leaders, Viktor Medvedchuk, is godfather to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s daughter and travels frequently to Moscow. Experts told Newsweek that Medvechuk is operating as a proxy for Putin within Ukrainian politics. He proposed a peace plan for Ukraine that some experts claimed was treasonous, and his policy proposals, which he broadcasts through a small handful of television stations that he owns, appear to be broadly aligned with Putin’s.
He also recently met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, allegedly to discuss a prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia.