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Ukraine elections latest: Volodymyr Zelensky projected historical outright majority in new parliament

One party government had been considered very unlikely

Oliver Carroll
Monday 22 July 2019 18:19 BST

Volodymyr Zelensky’s habit of defying odds has continued, with Ukrainian election authorities projecting an outright majority for the president’s Servant of the People party in Sunday’s general election.

With 79.15 per cent of votes counted, Mr Zelensky party was on course for a total of 253 seats in parliament, comfortably beyond the 226 needed to form a government.

The projected result, which concentrates executive and legislative powers in the hands of the former comedian, is a first for modern Ukraine. It means Mr Zelensky now has full control of his coalition and cabinet of ministers, and will be able to pick a prime minister of his own choosing.

“Welcome to the new reality,” said Tatyana Slipachuk, Ukraine’s top election official, when briefing journalists on the sensational results.

Exit polls had indicated the former showman had performed well, and would at least be able to form a coalition with like-minded partners. On Sunday evening, the smart money was on a showbiz political pact with a new party fronted by musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, one of five parties to make past the 5 per cent voting threshold and into parliament.

But once counting began, it became clear Mr Zelensky’s party had disproportionally benefited from Ukraine’s mixed voting system, outperforming all other parties in first-past-the-post constituencies. Candidates running on the presidential ticket swept home across the country. There were especially strong performances in the centre and east.

With the votes to do most government business, there was no apparent need for Mr Zelensky to reach out to Mr Vakarchuk and the 20 projected deputies in his fraction. But some suggested the maverick president might all the same look to form a coalition of progressive unity. One possible advantage of such a move is that it would inch the president nearer to a two-thirds majority required for constitutional changes.

On Monday, Dmytro Razumkov, leader of the victorious fraction, suggested Mr Zelensky was minded to go it alone: ”We will co-operate with political forces who share our views and outlook for the country. But for the moment there is no need to talk about a coalition. Our results aren’t bad at all.”

Those results completed a spectacular reset in Ukrainian politics — one that began with the former comedian’s unexpected landslide in April. The new parliament will be unrecognisable to the one that went before it, with more than three quarters of deputies being elected for the first time. Many political dynasties, some of whom has invested big in re-election, were toppled in the process, as traditional voting patterns collapsed.

“Money is no longer a guarantee of victory,” wrote the popular blogger Denis Kazansky. “This was simply a massacre.”

Mr Zelensky’s victory also brings its own problems. Managing expectation will be difficult, but a potentially larger problem is managing egos and unchecked power. The overwhelming nature of the win sets up the prospect of a fundamental change in the way Ukraine is governed: moving the country from a system of balanced, competing oligarchy to something different, but as yet unclear.

Dealing with that will require serious statebuilding, says Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Unfortunately for Ukraine’s rookie president, there are no off-the-shelf models to choose from. Instead Mr Zelensky will have to come up with an entirely “Ukrainian solution.”

“We know the road to EU integration is closed, and it’s also clear there can be no geopolitical return to Russia,” Mr Jarabik said. “Between those poles, Zelensky is going to have to come up with his own script. And we don’t yet know if he is up to it.”

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