No place for jokes: Ukraine and Zelenski

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KIEV – As expected the comedian Volodymyr Zelenski will soon become the new president of Ukraine. But for many, even within the country, the president-elect remains a mystery because it is still unclear where he will lead the Slavic State and if he will manage to fulfill his electoral promises.

Zelenski won the election with an astonishing result – 73% of the votes – and defeated by a wide margin his opponent Petro Poroshenko, the outgoing president, who obtained less than 25% of the votes. The elections counted a participation of 62% of the census, a relatively low percentage.

The new president obtained the majority of the votes in all the regions of the country, except in the region of Lviv-Western Ukraine-where Poroshenko obtained 62%.

To a large extent, Zelenski’s success throughout the country was determined by his artistic career. In particular, for the role he played in the series ‘Servidor del Pueblo’. Zelenski represented school teacher Vasili Holoborodko, who unexpectedly wins the elections and becomes president.

By coincidence or not, both Holoborodko and Zelenski himself obtained 73% of the votes in their respective elections. After winning the elections the protagonist launched a purge against the embezzlers, but it is still unclear if the new royal president will emulate the character of the fiction.

The first steps

“No one knows which direction his country is going to lead, not even Zelenski himself knows, and he insinuated that he is going to listen to the wishes of the voters, so what do the voters want? They want the fight against corruption to start, to lower the rates and that reconciliation is achieved in Donbas,” Ukrainian political analyst Mikhail Pogrebinski said.

At the end of last November, the key donors of Ukraine – the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – noted the ineffectiveness of the Ukrainian authorities in their fight against corruption. This problem is also noticeable from the outside.

In his congratulations to Zelenski, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that his country hopes to continue cooperating with Ukraine and called on the president-elect to continue the reforms, especially in the fight against corruption.

The dissatisfaction of the population with the rise in the rates of public services served as a punishment for the outgoing President Petro Poroshenko and resulted in his defeat in the presidential elections. To prevent Zelenski’s approval rating from falling after its inauguration, the new leader of the country has to develop a clear strategy in terms of economic policy.

Donbass and Crimea are also part of the politician’s agenda. Zelenski hopes to restore the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine, but apparently ignores the fact that the Crimeans sealed their fate in the 2014 referendum when the peninsula became part of the Russian Federation.

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So it is difficult to understand how he plans to enter into dialogue with Russia if he does not accept reality. On the other hand, recognizing Crimea as part of Russia would be a true political suicide and that’s why its rhetoric is no surprise. In any case, time will tell everything.

The president-elect promised to resolve the conflict in Donbas through diplomatic channels and avoid resorting to a military solution. Zelenski even claims to be willing to negotiate, but for now his conditions are unknown. Anyway, in one of his interviews, he said he would be willing to find a solution that suits them all.

“He announced that he would consider his main task to be the return of Ukrainian citizens imprisoned by Russia,” said Pogrebinski.

Especially the Ukrainian sailors detained by the Russian authorities when they tried to pass under the Crimean bridge on November 25, 2018.

Then the president of Russia dismissed the incident as a provocation that was linked to the low approval rating of the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. Apparently the new leader will have to solve the consequences of the numerous errors that his predecessor has committed.

Another big problem for Zelesnki is the struggle for power that does not end with the presidential elections. The new president will have to consolidate his Government through the Verkhovna Rada – the Ukrainian Parliament.
For now his party, which bears the same name as the serial he played, Server of the People, does not have enough support. Only 26% of voters are ready to vote for this political group. And that is not enough to form a Government.

“It is true that he does not have his own faction in the Supreme Rada, in this situation he can only dissolve Parliament, but from my point of view he would not dare to do it because he does not seem to be a determined person capable of dissolving the Verkhovna Rada in an instant,” said Mikhail Pogrebinski.

In other words, you will have to ally yourself with one of the parties. Unfortunately for him, he does not have many options and will effectively have to choose between the so-called pro-Russian faction Opposition Block and the parties led by the former presidential hopefuls, Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

The first already congratulated Zelenski for the victory and declared himself ready to help him as long as he acts in the interests of the country.

For the interviewee, he may try to sign an alliance with some faction of Parliament. But for now there are no signs that he is able to reach an agreement with the others.

“The relations [between the president and the Rada] will be difficult, during which time [between its inauguration and the parliamentary elections in October] it will seek the possibility of approving its bills when trying to win the support of the existing factions,” he said.

Surely, he continued, Zelenski is going to prepare for the parliamentary elections. But it seems unlikely that his party will achieve the necessary number of seats to dominate the Ukrainian political scene. It is to be expected that the parliamentarians are going to stick their heads in Zelenski’s presidency and his mandate could end badly, both for the country and for himself.

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