President Zelenskiy Clinches Political Sweep In Ukraine Election

KYIV, Ukraine -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy dominated Ukraine’s parliamentary ballot, capitalizing on pledges to crack down on corruption, fix the economy and end the conflict with Russian-backed separatists.

Zelenskiy’s party rode a wave of public anger over the lack of progress flushing dirty officials from state institutions.

His Servant of the People party -- named after the television show that propelled him to fame -- won a record 44% of the vote, according to an exit poll published after balloting ended Sunday.

Like the main character of his show, a teacher who's thrust into the position of head of state, Zelenskiy had no political experience before scoring a landslide win in April’s presidential vote.

Since then, support for his party has tripled after he vowed to sweep out a political establishment that has failed to convincingly bring progress to the country of 42 million people since it ousted a Kremlin-backed leader five years ago.

“We will not let Ukrainians down,” Zelenskiy, 41, said after declaring victory.

“For us, the main things are to end the war, to secure the return of prisoners and to win the fight against corruption.”

Zelenskiy invited the two-month-old Holos party led by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the country’s most popular rock singer, to join him in coalition talks.

Holos got 6.3%, according to the exit poll, which covered results for the party lists that will fill half of the assembly’s 450 seats.

“People voted for changes and we are glad to be part of those changes,” Vakarchuk said.

“Our red lines are very clear: We won’t speak to those who are against a course toward Europe, it’s key that the law is the same for everyone, and third is a free economy without oligarchs -- the authorities should be accountable to the people.”

Voters punished more traditional parties, including that of former President Petro Poroshenko and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who got 8.9% and 7.6%, according to the survey by three polling agencies.

More than two thirds of the vote went to forces that support closer ties with the European Union and NATO.

The former Soviet republic also cast ballots for individual candidates -- some backed by parties, some independent -- in single-seat constituencies that are being contested by oligarchs, sports stars, and showbiz celebrities, potentially complicating Zelenskiy’s promise to overhaul Ukraine.

Partial results are expected starting early on Monday, with full data to be released later this week.

“The way Zelenskiy has behaved in recent month inspires trust,” 39-year-old Oleksiy Voitsekhivskyi, a doctor in Kiev, said after voting.

“I have only bad words to describe how the old parliament worked. That’s why I want new faces to adopt anti-corruption laws so that finally corrupt people will be in jail.”

Zelenskiy said that, for the post of prime minister, he wanted to appoint a “professional economist” respected in Ukraine and in the West who hasn’t held that job or led a party.

That fits the description of former Finance Minister Oleksandr Danylyuk, who has expressed interest, and former Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius.

After the outgoing parliament blocked Zelenskiy’s efforts to pass anti-corruption laws, the president has rejected the idea of a tie-up with Poroshenko’s party.

Support for political forces sympathetic to Russia was 11.5%, slightly more than five years ago.

For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the two countries will mend ties despite the conflict, according to the transcript of a June 19 interview with American film director Oliver Stone. 

“Rapprochement is inevitable,” Putin said.

Some concerns remain over how successful Zelenskiy will be in affecting change.

Most candidates in Servant of the People are political neophytes and some of his appointments, as well as business links to billionaire Igor Kolomoisky, whose television channel airs his shows, have drawn criticism that he won’t be able to escape the orbit of the all-powerful oligarchs.

Zelenskiy has pledged to revoke automatic immunity from prosecution for lawmakers and to step up anti-corruption efforts after the previous administration adopted laws only under intense pressure from voters and foreign creditors.

He has also promised to renew cooperation with the International Monetary Fund.

The Washington-based lender repeatedly held back financial assistance from Poroshenko’s administration due to its failure to push measures through the assembly, known as the Rada, to restructure the economy and fight graft.

“I see the political will, but there are many obstacles,” said Balazs Jarabik, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“Much will depend how Zelenskiy and his team can manage the state and the Rada differently than Poroshenko did.”

Source: Bloomberg