Mon, Jul 22, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Ukrainian leader seeks backing in vote

PRO-WESTERN:Comedian-turned-Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy called the election three months ahead of schedule to clear parliament of his political opponents

AP, KIEV

Ukrainians were yesterday voting in an early parliamentary election in which the new party of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was set to take the largest share of votes.

Polls ahead of balloting showed Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party getting support from a little more th an half of those who intended to vote.

Zelenskiy, who took office in May, called the election three months ahead of its scheduled date because 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.

His Servant of the People party — named after the TV comedy in which he played a teacher who unexpectedly becomes president — was 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, was polling in second place with about 10 percent, followed by the European Solidarity party of former Ukrainian 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 EU and NATO, combining this with a package of economic reforms.

“The position of the Ukrainian people is movement in the direction of Europe and it will be wrong to reconsider,” party leader Dmytro Razumkov told reporters.

The party said it would focus on reviving anti-corruption reforms that stalled under Poroshenko.

Razumkov said this could be a watershed for Ukraine, bringing in a new political culture of lawmakers interested in reforms rather than using political power for money.

“There are new people who today have completely different basic values than the representatives of the old political elites,” Razumkov said.

In contrast, Medvedchuk said Ukraine’s proper course is to improve its relations with Russia, which plummeted after the latter’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for separatists fighting government troops in a civil war that has killed more than 13,000 people.

“If we do not restore economic pragmatic relations with Russia ... then we have no chance to overcome the economic crisis, which continues and is being aggravated,” Medvedchuk told reporters.

He proposed that Ukraine grant autonomy to rebel areas in 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.

As Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk’s daughter, his statements likely reflect Kremlin thinking.

Medvedchuk and Putin met on Thursday in St Petersburg.

“We will work with any political force, including your political force, to restore relations between Russia and Ukraine,” Putin said.

Razumkov said Zelenskiy’s party is ready to negotiate with Russia on mechanisms for conflict resolution and seeks peace in the east, “but not at any cost.”

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