Post-election Ukraine

11 m.   |  2019-09-03

 “Servant of the People” takes power

O n July 21, during the snap parliamentary elections in Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party won by receiving over 57% of the proportional and majoritarian mandates. This was essentially the continuation of presidential elections in April. The need for maintaining confidence among the public, not being represented in the Verkhovna Rada, as well as not having control over the Government were the main reasons, which “made” Zelensky revert to snap elections. The president justified this action with the extremely low public support for Parliament, which was about 4%. This was done by taking the non-attendance of the coalition in Parliament as a legal basis.

The decision made by the president would face resistance from parliamentarians’: the “National Front” party made a statement on quitting the ruling coalition. According to the country’s legislation, when a party exits the coalition, the Rada should form a new coalition within the next 30 days. The President could dissolve the Rada by May 27 and no later than six months before the end of the deputies’ duties officially expire (Nov. 27, 2019). Hence, Zelensky’s order on dissolving the Verkhovna Rada on May 21 wasn’t expressly endorsed by the parliamentarians: 64 MPs appealed to the Supreme Court with the petition of recognizing the President’s order illegal and invalid.

 The launch of the pre-election campaign was somehow in favor of the “Servant of the People” party under contradictory conditions and shorter deadlines for the elections. The issue was that Zelensky got 73% of votes and the Rada’s attempts to discredit his work could have further increased public discontent against the parliamentarian powers.  The Supreme Court refused to open a lawsuit against the president, mentioning that the examination of the case is within the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court.

Based on the Ukraine’s Constitution, the Verkhovna Rada consists of 450 MPs. The Rada’s elections are held by a mixed electoral system, that is, by majoritarian and proportional constituencies (225 of the MPs). However, 424 MPs were elected as a result of the last elections as voting wasn’t cast in the Crimea, Sevastopol and in the East of Ukraine.

According to the data by the Central Electoral Commission, 49.8% of Ukrainians participated in the voting, which has been the lowest voter turnout within the entire history of Rada’s elections. Actually, participation results in parliamentary elections in Ukraine has always been lower than the presidential election. In addition, about 16% of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea’s population didn’t vote.

The “Servant of the People” party had an obvious advantage during the whole period of election campaign and some experts even predict a formation of constitutional majority in Parliament.

Main results of the pre-election polls conducted by various organizations: Figure 1 [1]

Even though, the “Servant of the People” got the majority of seats in both the proportional and majoritarian constituencies, it failed to form a constitutional majority. According to the latest data published by the Central Electoral Commission, 5 political powers could overcome the 5% threshold in the proportional system and receive seats in the Verkhovna Rada.

The votes received by political forces, who were elected to Parliament through proportional system. Figure 2:

On August 3, CEC announced the results of elections in multi-mandate constituencies. According to the data and preliminary calculation of the majority, the below-mentioned political parties will receive the following proportion votes in the Verkhovna Rada:

Distribution of seats in the 9th convocation of the Verkhovna Rada
 Table 1.

Taking into account the results of the social survey and the campaign process, the high seats of the “Servant of the People” party were predicted in the proportional electoral system. The result recorded by Zelesky’s party in the majoritarian electoral system was a bit of a surprise: this electoral system is known as a playing card for oligarchic circles and a means of falsifying and using administrative resources. Furthermore, most of the majoritarian candidates nominated by the “Servant of the People” party weren’t famous figures. It proves that the “Servant of the People” party enjoys a great popularity because of the president’s personality. Generally, the majority of the 9th convocation of the Verkhovna Rada will be in Parliament for the first time, and many of them do not have any political experience. The same can be said of the newly formed Government.

However, quite discredited political forces will go on to be involved in politics for the next five years, such as Pyotr Poroshenko’s “European Solidarity” and Yulia Timoshenko’s “Batkivshchina” (or Fatherland) political parties. These parties have a stressed Western orientation and promise to ensure Ukraine’s membership to NATO and to the EU and see Eastern Ukraine’s conflict resolution in a way of “returning all the lands”. Poroshenko’s party, in fact, calls the former policy towards Russia correct and suggests promoting the sanctions practice. On the other hand, besides the “Minsk” and “Normandy” formats, the party led by Timoshenko suggests negotiating in “Budapest +” format, involving the US and the UK in the current format. Hence, it is not by chance, that the residents from the western and central parts of the country support the “European solidarity” and “Batkivshchina” parties. These forces also enjoy popularity mostly among older age groups.

In the same logic, it is not a surprise that the “Opposition Platform - for life” political party, which stands out for its pro-Russian concepts, is mostly supported by the people living in Eastern Ukraine. The pro-Russian force has a considerable large support at this stage, about 13.05%. Large number of citizens are in favor of significant changes in relations with Russia. Yuri Boyko, one of the party’s founders and leaders, topped the voter list of the “Opposition Platform”. Victor Medvedchuk, another leader of the party, known as a strict pro-Russian figure, has personal and friendly close ties with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

During the pre-election period, they offered to reach the conflict’s resolution by means of dialogue and compromise: to restore Ukraine’s multi-vector foreign policy, as well as the trade and economic relations with Russia and other CIS countries. 

The fact of “Voice” political party’s appearance in Parliament is quite interesting. Political party founded by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, vocalist of “Ocean Elzy” group, in 2019 could leave behind political forces and figures having years of experience in politics. It is described by a fact, that the public was tired of the ruling elite and was even ready to trust the “inexperienced” rather than see the same figures in power again. “Voice” is often associated with the “Servant of the People” and some people associate the party with the name of George Soros. “The return of all the Ukraine‘s lands” by strengthening the international pressure towards Russia, as well as ensuring Ukraine’s membership to EU and NATO is one of the priorities of “Voice’s” foreign policy.

Referring to the “Servant of the People” the party’s approach to foreign policy issues during the pre-election period were quite restrained. There weren’t any references touching upon the relations with Russia in the pre-election program. From the speeches made during the campaign, however, it becomes clear that the conflict resolution and relations with Russia are among the party’s priorities. The next important priority is of course the cooperation expansion with NATO and EU. It’s noteworthy that the “Servant of the People” party, which won the elections got more support in the Southern and Central parts of the country and enjoys democracy, especially among the youth.

Many of these approaches are somehow balanced by the “Opposition Platform”. Nevertheless, strategies of parties on various domestic issues are quite different, and the relations between them let us think that the institutional opposition is rather week and fragmentized.

Based on the Constitution of Ukraine, it is necessary to form a parliamentary coalition within the 30 days from the first day of the newly elected Verkhovna Rada for the approval of the Prime Minister and the Government. It should consist of at least 225 MPs that is half of the parliamentary list plus one MP. “The Servant of the People” will have 254 MPs in the Verkhovna Rada, which means that the President’s party doesn’t need to form a coalition with another political force. Though, it is not excluded, that the “Servant of the People” will go into a coalition Government with “Voice” and “Batkivshchina” political parties. Before the elections, the winning force hadn’t excluded this possibility, and on the day of elections Vladimir Zelensky invited Svyatoslav Vakarchuk to have discussion on a coalition. Both “Voice” and “Batkivshchina” have announced the willingness in forming a coalition for many times. It is very important for the ruling power to form a coalition in the Rada, especially in the case of discussions, which require the consent of the constitutional majority (300 voices). On the other hand, the parliamentary coalition will give Zelensky’s team an opportunity to somehow share the political responsibility with other forces, taking into account the fact that the majority of the MPs in the new Parliament almost do not have any political experience.

Referring to the executive power the name of Vladislav Rashkov is most frequently mentioned among the new Prime Minister’s candidates of Ukraine. He is the former deputy head of the National Bank of Ukraine, representative of the International Monetary Fund. The option of Stanislav Vakarchuk as Prime Minister will also be discussed in the case of forming a coalition in Parliament. Yulia Timoshenko who has been actively supporting Zelensky since the second stage of the presidential election, is also likely to run for the Prime Minister’s post, however she is unlikely to win. Moreover, being a parliamentarian-presidential country, the President closely cooperates with the Parliament in forming the Government in Ukraine. Based on the legislation, the President nominates the Prime Minister’s candidacy to the Rada and latter approves it. In case of the ministers’ appointment, the Rada should approve the candidates proposed by Prime Minister.  

Hence, being a majority in the Verkhovna Rada and forming its own Government, President Zelensky has all the institutional capacities to act freely and have an impact on legislative and other reforms. In fact, all power in the country is concentrated in the hands of the President and the “Servant of the People” party. Currently, the ruling power has all the levers to bring its pre-election projects to life.  Considering the people’s exaggerated expectations from the new authorities, it will be quite difficult for the “Servant of the People” to meet their expectations. Therefore, in the first months, during the post-election period, there might be a potentially possible decline in the “Servant of the People” party’s rating. It is most likely that Zelensky will first of all refer to the issues mentioned in the pre-election program, which are the most important for society. It may include in its policy the continuing tension in the east of the country, problems of the ruling system, struggle against corruption and the oligarchy system. To maintain the rating among the public, it is important for the “Servant of the People” to restore the image of discredited Parliament.

Therefore, we can say, that the formation of a new “revolutionary” power is completed with the victory of Zelensky’s “Servant of the People” party. Ukraine, actually, steps into a new stage, where reforms promised during the 2013-2014 revolution that mostly failed, should be brought back to life. 

 [1] “Rating” sociological group,

SOCIS – Center for Social Research,

UCI, SM – “Social Monitoring” Center,

Rating - “Rating” sociological group,

Rating for IRI - “Rating” sociological group, International Republican Institute