One-Party Majority: Just Another Victory for Zelenskyy
BY MYKHAILO MINAKOV
Ukraine’s snap parliamentary elections on July 21 yielded another sensational result in the country’s super-election year. In an unprecedented victory, President Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party took 254 of 450 seats, a ballot-box result that amounts to a stable one-party majority in the Verkhovna Rada. Just as in the presidential elections this spring, Zelenskyy and his party won a majority of votes in all but one oblast, Lviv.
Other parties met with much more humble results. The pro-Russia party Opposition Platform, led by Yuriy Boyko and Viktor Medvedchuk, won forty-three seats. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s and prime minister Dmitry Medvedev’s public support for this party did not translate into success.
Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party and Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party won twenty-six and twenty-five seats respectively. The old “Orange” parties lost quite a bit of ground in Ukraine.
The Voice (Golos) party, led by rock singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, barely crossed the 5 percent threshold. Seen as a youth wing of Poroshenko’s group, Voice brings twenty MPs into parliament and is expected by many to try to form a coalition with the dominant party.
Another fifty-seven MPs will enter the Rada as winners of single-mandate districts. Most of them will want to join a coalition with the president’s party, but party leaders have already warned that they will be very selective in whom they form alliances with.
The remaining twenty-six seats in the Verkhovna Rada will remain empty because their voting constituencies live in the non-controlled territories of Donbas and Crimea.
I offer the following three takeaways from Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.
1. Both the presidential and the parliamentary election results signal a radical generational change in Ukraine’s political class. The results show that established and experienced politicians no longer enjoy the support of the vast majority of voters. Not only do the new political leaders have much greater support than the previous administration, that support is spread equally across the country.
Zelenskyy won the presidential race with over 73 percent of the votes. His party received 43 percent of the votes for parliament. Together with the winners of the single-mandate districts, the party will form a stable majority in the Rada. In addition, Sviatoslav Vakarchuk and his team will bring in twenty new, young parliamentarians. In total, “young” (defined not only by age but also by their very recent entrance into politics) parliamentarians will hold more than 300 seats in the new Rada.
The older political generation (defined by the ideological cleavage of the 2004 Orange Revolution) is today represented by the Opposition Platform, Poroshenko’s European Solidarity, and Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna. Together, these parties managed to send only around 100 MPs to parliament.
New power elites are rising in Ukraine. These individuals and their political leanings will likely define the country’s future for the next ten to fifteen years, just as their predecessors did. The old cleavage, based on geopolitical orientation and ethnolinguistic policies, is fading. Today’s political fault line seems to lie in the choice between waging peace or war.
2. With a new cabinet in place and majority support in the Rada, the temporary obstruction of President Zelenskyy’s agenda by the bureaucracy and parliament will likely come to a swift end. Ukraine should once again enjoy normal executive discipline in forming and enacting policy.
Majority support in the Rada also means that most of the reforms announced by the new president are likely to advance. Since many of reforms promised by candidate Zelenskyy can only be implemented after some changes are made to Ukraine’s constitution, however, the role of the opposition parties will remain significant. To change the constitution, Zelenskyy will need partners in parliament. If only for this reason, the potential for arbitrary one-party rule will be limited.
A one-party majority in the Rada will test the Ukrainian political system. Ukraine could actually benefit from the current situation: a cabinet and a president supported by a stable majority in the Rada can be efficient in enacting reforms, but the opposition’s participation remains essential if lasting constitutional reform is to succeed.
Whether the new parliamentary majority will respect the opposition will become clearer once the parliamentary committees get their new leaders. In 2014, the ruling coalition put all committees under its control, and thus failed to respect the opposition’s concerns. Hopefully, this parliament will draw some lessons from the post-Maidan developments and will be more balanced, inclusive, and committed to the national dialogue.
3. With his electoral wins, Zelenskyy is well positioned to address the major concerns of Ukrainian voters: achieving peace in the East, tackling corruption vigorously, and increasing household incomes.
With respect to the pursuit of peace, Zelenskyy is currently testing his ability to craft a cease-fire agreement on the line of contact that will hold. On July 21 a “permanent” cease-fire went into effect. Unlike many previous cease-fire agreements, this one appears stable for the moment. Though the stipulated “silence” on the line of contact has been broken several times, with tragic results, every day it gets stronger and stronger.
The new ruling group has also signaled its commitment to fighting corruption. Right after the parliamentary elections, President Zelenskyy announced that his candidate for general prosecutor was Ruslan Ryaboshapka, a dedicated and experienced lawyer who has proven his ability to fight corruption and make the necessary hard choices.
It is too early to know whether inclusive economic growth is a priority for Zelenskyy’s team. Here the choice of prime minister will be decisive. However, it will be several days to weeks before Zelenskyy announces his choices for the cabinet.
In these several ways, the parliamentary elections of July 21 continue the trend of deep change of Ukrainian politics and buoy hopes for the country’s future.
About the Author
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange. Read more