Ukraine gets youngest ever PM as political novices pack parliament

President Zelenskiy urges new deputies to make history with sweeping reform agenda

Prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk addressing Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday. Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo

Prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk addressing Ukraine’s parliament on Thursday. Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo

 

Lawyer Oleksiy Honcharuk has become Ukraine’s youngest ever prime minister as political newcomers poured into the nation’s parliament and its president urged them to make history by fulfilling long-frustrated hopes of reform.

Mr Honcharuk (35) was approved as premier on Thursday by 290 of the 424 deputies in Ukraine’s parliament, where president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party has an outright majority after dominating July’s elections.

All of Servant of the People’s 254 deputies are serving in parliament for the first time, as are most of those from the smaller Holos party led by rock singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, and Mr Zelenskiy told them all to seize their opportunity.

“It is already clear that this parliament will go down in history. The question is – how?” said Mr Zelenskiy, who was a popular comedian before becoming president in a landslide election victory in April.

“You have every chance of going down in the textbooks as the parliament that did something incredible, that implemented everything that hadn’t been done in the previous 28 years,” he told deputies.

“Or, God forbid, you’ll go down in history as the parliament that only lasted for one year. In fact, this is your probation period,” he said, making clear he would call snap elections if reforms were stymied yet again.

Mr Zelenskiy (41) said deputies should send “fewer text messages and [make] more laws” in parliament, and attend more often than predecessors notorious for showing up “only when there was a buffet during a special session”.

Daunting agenda

He laid out a daunting agenda for deputies, by calling on them to pass laws to crush corruption, overhaul the justice system, liberalise the economy, attract foreign investors and modernise infrastructure, education and healthcare.

“And the most important thing is to strengthen our national security and defence, end the war in Donbas and return Crimea, which has been annexed by the Russian Federation,” he added.

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France are expected to meet in the coming weeks in a bid to relaunch efforts to end a grinding five-year war in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people.

“This government is facing the task of accelerating economic growth. We need to grow, but to grow not by 2-3 per cent but by a minimum of 5-7 per cent,” said Mr Honcharuk, who served as deputy head of Mr Zelenskiy’s administration.

“The basis for these changes should be co-operation with our international partners and creditors. So in a few weeks an IMF mission will come to Kiev and we will hold talks with them on a new three- to four-year programme of co-operation with Ukraine.”

Deputies also backed Mr Zelenskiy’s former campaign manager Ivan Bakanov to become chief of the powerful SBU security service and made Servant of the People leader Dmytro Razumkov the new speaker of parliament.

Interior minister Arsen Avakov was expected to retain his post, in a move denounced by NGOs that accuse him of presiding over major police failures and corruption and having links to far-right groups.