Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy was yesterday sworn in as the country’s new president, promised to stop the war in the country’s east against Russian-backed separatists and immediately disbanded parliament, which he has branded as a group only interested in self-enrichment.
Even before he disbanded the Supreme Rada, which had been one of his campaign promises, Zelenskiy had upended the traditions of Ukrainian politics.
He ditched the idea of a traditional motorcade to his inauguration, walking to the parliament through a park packed with people. Flanked by four bodyguards, he was giving high-fives to some spectators and even stopped to take a selfie with one of them.
In a ceremony in parliament, the 41-year-old became Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president by placing his hand on a copy of the constitution and the Bible and pledging to “protect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
Before he dissolved parliament, Zelenskiy asked the Supreme Rada to adopt a bill against illegal enrichment and support his motions to fire the defense minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and the prosecutor general.
All of them are allies of former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who lost the presidential election in a landslide to the comedian with no previous political experience.
“It’s not everything you can do, but it’s fine for a start,” he told the Rada. “You’ll have two months for that.”
In a feisty speech after his inauguration, Zelenskiy also told the Rada that his main goal for the presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years.
“We didn’t start this war but it is up to us to end it,” he said.
“I’m ready to do everything so that our heroes don’t die there,” he said. “I’m ready to lose my popularly and, if necessary, I’m ready to lose my post so that we have peace.”
The separatist authorities have indicated that they could be ready to negotiate with Zelenskiy.
Zelenskiy garnered 73 percent of the vote in last month’s presidential election in a victory that reflected Ukrainians’ exhaustion with politics-as-usual. For years, he has played the Ukrainian president in a popular television show.
The new president wrapped up his speech at parliament by referring to his career as a comedian.
“Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh,” he said with a smile. “In the next five years I will do everything so that Ukrainians don’t cry.”
His party, named Servant of the People after his popular television show, has no representation in the legislature, but leads polls before a scheduled vote in October.
His move to call an early ballot — as early as summer — is going to be tricky as the current ruling parties staged a tactical move last week to cling to power.
“There will be serious legal debates about the terms of parliament’s dissolution,” Yuriy Yakymenko, an analyst at the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kiev, said by telephone. “This situation will be resolved by the courts.”
In related news, the government could begin talks on a new or revised program with the IMF after the snap parliamentary election, an adviser to Zelenskiy was quoted as saying by Interfax Ukraine.
“I suppose that in June-August the negotiation process will start on either opening a new program or revising the old program,” Oleg Ustenko said.
The IMF supports Ukraine with a US$3.9 billion agreement conditional on the country passing reforms.
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