The Irish Times view on Ukraine’s election: rocking the establishment

President and his Servant of the People party have won unprecedented mandate for change

Ukrainians gave president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Servant of the People party an unprecedented mandate for change in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

Ukrainians gave president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Servant of the People party an unprecedented mandate for change in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

 

Ukrainians gave president Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his Servant of the People party an unprecedented mandate for change in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Zelenskiy shook the pantheon of Ukrainian politics by crushing incumbent Petro Poroshenko in April’s presidential vote, and now the erstwhile comedian’s party has rocked the country’s establishment to its foundations.

Candidates for Servant of the People – named after a TV show in which Zelenskiy plays a hapless schoolteacher who becomes president – not only secured a historic parliamentary majority but also ousted many long-time power-brokers in major cities. Even in constituencies that these figures have treated like personal fiefdoms, using money and influence to buy loyalty, Ukrainians changed deeply ingrained voting habits and backed political novices from Servant of the People. Wealthy and powerful in their own right, these middlemen formed the channels through which Ukraine’s politicians made deals and swapped favours with its super-rich oligarchs, and by driving them from parliament Servant of the People sent shockwaves through a corrupt and sclerotic system.

It is now up to the president and his party’s deputies – almost all of whom are completely new to politics – to fulfil promises that were also the demands of the Maidan protests: end oligarchic rule and endemic graft, and entrench the rule of law.

Zelenskiy says he wants his government to be full of experts and led by a prime minister who is “an economic guru with authority in Ukraine and in the West”. His cabinet must be strong enough to enact potentially unpopular reforms, attract vital foreign investment and work with western lenders that have backed Ukraine through Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a five-year war with Moscow-led separatists.

Servant of the People’s success also gives Zelenskiy a solid base from which to negotiate an end to the conflict – while delivering an unequivocal message to Russia that its former ally has no intention of changing its pro-western course.

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