1 June 2020

Monday, 10:38



A critical period for the Zelensky government



The victory of Servant of the People party in the early parliamentary elections in Ukraine was not a surprise, because almost everyone knew who would be the winner. A real surprise was when the party swayed an absolute majority of seats in the parliament for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine. According to the party leader, Dmitry Razumkov, "this is a new revolution, but this time a peaceful one." Now the question is how the success of President Vladimir Zelensky and the party led by Viktor Medvedchuk and Svyatoslav Vakarchuk in the parliament changes the political picture in the country.

225 of 450 seats in the parliament (Verkhovna Rada) were elected through party lists, and 199 by majority districts. The final turnout was 49.87%, which is a relatively good result for summer time, with five political blocs entering the new parliament. As expected, Servant of the People party of President Vladimir Zelensky became the winner of elections with 43.14% (253 seats of the votes versus 226 of votes established by the Constitution). Opposition Platform - For Life (OPFL), led by Yuriy Boyko and Viktor Medvedchuk and considered a pro-Russian party, took the second place  (13.02%, 44 places), followed by Yulia Timoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (8.18%, 25 places), European Solidarity of the former president Petr Poroshenko (8.12%, 25 places) and the liberal and pro-European Voice Party led by the leader of the Okean Elzy music band Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (5.84%, 20 seats). Representatives of other parties and self-promoted candidates took the rest of the seats (58) in the parliament.

The results of voting by regions draw a very precise picture of the preferences of voters. Servants of the People won everywhere, except for Kiev-controlled parts of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, where Opposition Platform - For Life (OPFL) became the leader of elections. OPFL took the second place in Sumy, Kharkiv, Poltava, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa regions. At the same time, Zelensky's party lost to the Voice party in Lvov. The elections campaign of 2019 became a complete failure for such well-known Ukrainian politicians as Oleg Lyashko (Radical Party), Anatoly Gritsenko (Freedom and Civic Position), Vladimir Groysman, Andrey Sadovoy (Self-Help), oligarch Rinat Akhmetov (Opposition bloc). All of them received about 3% or less votes. In principle, the outcome of the vote is disappointing for the main old-timers of the Ukrainian politics, who nevertheless entered the parliament - Tymoshenko and Poroshenko. Political scientists, journalists and bloggers explain this result with the tiredness of the people. Too much negativity is associated with their names, their links with corruption scandals are too strong; people believed in these individuals, that nevertheless justified their trust. As a result, voters gave preference to young leaders with courage, good reputation and readiness to take decisive actions, even without the required political and economic experience. But this does not mean that the 'elders' of Ukrainian political arena will give up so easily, although their voice will be definitely not decisive.

In fact, that is why the new president of Ukraine announced early elections, explaining his decision to dissolve the parliament with a high level of distrust of Ukrainians to the current deputies. But the main reason was that the old parliamentary staff did not allow him to work - none of the bills issued by the president was adopted by parliamentarians. They simply ignored them because the necessary number of votes could not be obtained. Mr. Zelensky is dependent on the decisions of deputies, and therefore the loyal parliament was critically important. Now Rada will support any presidential initiatives, from the composition of the government to constitutional changes. According to Dmitry Razumkov, the first bills submitted for ratification will concern issues such as the lifting of parliamentary immunity and the work of parliament (regulations, revocation of mandates, etc.). Meanwhile, as soon as it became clear that the allies were critically, but not strategically, unimportant to the winning party for the establishment of the government, the nomination of new Ukrainian prime minister became the main intrigue of Ukrainian political life. President Zelensky did not voice the names of reviewed candidates, but he clearly set the desired abilities and qualities of the future head of the government: a professional economist without a political past, who had never held any government posts before. People expect a lot from President Zelensky, as most Ukrainians hope that the new government will help them to stop being one of the poorest countries in Europe. Therefore, the identity of the new prime minister will play a key role in this process.

In addition, one of the most important issues for Kiev is further relations with Russia. This is important both for economic and ideological reasons. Despite the events of recent years, Russia and Ukraine still enjoy close economic relations, where Kiev is, of course, in a more dependent position, since the Kremlin has serious economic tools of pressure on its neighbours. For example, the issue of the transit of Russian natural gas may arise again, as the existing contract expires at the end of this year. As for the situation in the southeast, Ukrainian parliament will have to deal with the expiring law on the special status of Donbass. According to opinion polls, a cease-fire in the south-east of the country and the return of prisoners of war are the absolute priority for 88 and 84% of Ukrainians, respectively. Whether the new Ukrainian authorities can resolve controversial issues with Moscow is a question that cannot be answered because there are too many conflicting factors. On July 21, an indefinite cease-fire was announced in the Donbass. In mid-July, the new Ukrainian president initiated a telephone conversation with President Putin. On the other hand, there are no concrete positive changes or hopes for a breakthrough in the negotiation process. Moreover, on July 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the simplification of rules for obtaining Russian citizenship by all residents of Donbass, including refugees. Kiev immediately stated that this contradicted the Minsk agreements, which are focused on the gradual reintegration of uncontrolled territories into Ukraine. At the same time, the Secretary General of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Alexander Danilyuk, reported on the elaboration of anti-Russian sanctions - Kiev intends to complicate the process of issuing Russian passports to Donbas residents.

There are many talks about affiliations of Opposition Platform - For Life with the Kremlin, which is considered a pro-Russian party. It openly supports the restoration of political and economic ties with Moscow, lifting the blockade of Donbass, as well as the adoption of laws on language, education, lustration, etc. The first number on the party list is the former Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine during the presidency of Viktor Yanukovich, Yuriy Boyko. Another party official is Viktor Medvedchuk who is very close to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and has been a vital link between Kiev and Moscow, even in the most difficult times of intergovernmental relations. Both Boyko and Medvedchuk openly met in Moscow with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and the head of Gazprom Alexey Miller several days before the elections. On July 18, Viktor Medvedchuk arrived to St. Petersburg, where he held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is therefore interesting to know about the role that President Zelensky assigns to Medvedchuk, if possible.

Apparently, Zelensky, who has now all the components of trouble-free rule, is going to face a critical period, a real challenge. Now he bears full responsibility for everything taking place in the country. The people will associate with him and his team all the unpopular decisions that will inevitably come out on the Donbas issue or during the budget discussions in autumn. Internal contradictions within Servant of the People may become another threat for the president. For example, the clash of interests of oligarchs Igor Kolomoisky and Viktor Pinchuk, as well as the incumbent Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov. Therefore, it is possible that the ruling party will nevertheless go for an alliance in order to distribute responsibility and reduce the tension within the team. The most likely ally of the Servant of the People is the Voice bloc led by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, who, according to the Ukrainian media, is also supported by Pinchuk.

“This is not just about trust. This is a great responsibility for me personally and for my team,” Zelensky said on the first results of parliamentary elections. Now his team is given a free hand to run things as they deem reasonable, and new stars will definitely appear on the political horizon of Ukraine. But Vladimir Zelensky has yet to understand that it is much easier to win one or even two fights than follow his line systematically to win the battle. Speaking in television terms, Servant of the People has released a brilliant pilot series, and now it is time for long, difficult and very expensive shots of the project to keep the bar of audience sympathies high.