Ukrainians started to vote in a snap parliamentary election on Sunday that could consolidate the power of new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and hand the novice politician a stronger mandate for driving change in the war-scarred nation.
A comedian with no prior policymaking experience, Zelenskiy caused a political earthquake by winning a landslide presidential election victory in April. He cast himself as an everyman outsider who would tackle corruption and raise living standards in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People Party has consistently led the opinion polls for the parliamentary vote but might fall short of a majority.
At present, the 41-year-old leader shares power with a Cabinet and lawmakers who are mostly loyal to his predecessor.
Whoever wins the election will inherit a country at the center of the West’s standoff with Moscow following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine‘s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its role in a separatist conflict in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people in the past five years.
The new government will also need to implement reforms agreed with international donors in order to secure billions of dollars of new loans to keep the economy stable. Zelenskiy announced a snap election on the day he was inaugurated in May.
“By calling an early election, the new president hoped to keep the momentum of his presidential victory going. He is backed in this attempt by a majority of Ukrainians who view Parliament as inherently corrupt and have given Mr Zelenskiy a mandate to ‘clean up’ the political class,” said Agnese Ortolani of the Economist Intelligence Unit.
“We expect Mr. Zelenskiy to be given a broad mandate from the Ukrainian people to move forward with the set of ambitious reforms that he laid out in the first weeks of his presidency.”
Beyond his everyman image, Zelenskiy has faced scrutiny over his business connections to one of Ukraine‘s most powerful tycoons, Ihor Kolomoisky.
Kolomoisky has fought a protracted legal battle with the state over control of Ukraine‘s largest lender, PrivatBank, which was nationalized against his wishes in 2016.
Zelenskiy insists he is not beholden to Kolomoisky and will not take his side. A rollback of PrivatBank’s nationalization would likely lead to foreign creditors freezing aid.