Ukrainians Vote in Snap Election Set to Give President Parliamentary Majority

Newly elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the election three months ahead of schedule because the parliament was dominated by his opponents

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a press conference in Kiev, July 8, 2019.
AFP

Ukrainians are voting in an early parliamentary election in which the new party of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is set to take the largest share of votes.

Polls ahead of Sunday's balloting showed Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party getting support from a little more than half of those who intended to vote. But only 225 of the 424 seats to be filled in the Verkhovna Rada parliament are being chosen by party list; the rest are single-mandate seats, whose distribution could differ from nationwide sentiment.

Zelenskiy, who took office in May, called the election three months ahead of schedule because the parliament was dominated by his opponents. He is seeking a majority that would support his promised fight against Ukraine's endemic corruption and for other reforms.

>> Read more: Ukraine's new leader Volodymyr Zelensky has one clear advantage | Analysis 

His "Servant of the People" party — named after the television comedy in which he played a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president — is supported by 52 percent of the Ukrainians who intend to vote, according to a survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology.

A party led by one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's closest associates, tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, is polling in second place with about 10 percent, followed by the European Solidarity party of former President Petro Poroshenko, whom Zelenskiy defeated in a landslide in the country's spring presidential election.

Zelenskiy's party intends to continue a pro-Western course toward joining the European Union and NATO, combining this with economic reforms and an intensified fight against endemic corruption.

"With Zelenskiy, a new political team should come into politics that will continue the reforms that Poroshenko spoke about beautifully but did not do," said 35-year-old lawyer Viktor Shumeiko at a polling station in Kiev.

Medvedchuk says Ukraine's proper course is to improve its relations with Russia, which plummeted after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for Russia-backed separatists fighting government troops in a war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

Dmitry Rushailo, a 57-year-old doctor voting in Kiev, agreed.

"The Kremlin will stop the war if Medvedchuk comes into power," he said. "Half the country speaks Russian, but neither the old or new authorities listen to us. Why should we have the EU and NATO if the war doesn't stop and we become poorer?"

Medvedchuk proposes that Ukraine grant autonomy to rebel areas in the east and offer amnesty to the separatists. He said Ukraine could get a 25 percent discount on natural gas imports from Russia if it takes steps that satisfy the Kremlin.

Since Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk's daughter, his statements likely reflect Kremlin thinking. Medvedchuk and the Russian leader met Thursday in St. Petersburg.

Dmytro Razumkov, head of Zelenskiy's party, said it is ready to negotiate with Russia on mechanisms for conflict resolution and seeks peace in the east "but not at any cost."

"What Medvedchuk says is not a strategy for returning territories, not a strategy for ending the war," he said.