Ukrainian Voters Upend Their Parliament

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 111

Voldymyr Zelenskyy delivers remarks at the headquarters of his political party, Servant of the People (Source: AFP)

On July 21, Ukrainians went to the polls for the third time this year to vote for a new parliament in snap elections. According to the preliminary results, President Voldymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People (SoP) party received 43.16 percent of ballots cast, giving it 124 mandates in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada. This will be combined with the 130 seats the faction also won in single-member districts, thus resulting in an absolute majority, which requires at least 226 votes (, July 21).

Furthermore, those candidates who ran without any party affiliation are likely to join the ruling coalition. And if other parties, such as Holos (“Voice”—20 seats) of Svyatoslav Vakarchuk or Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivchina (“Fatherland”—26) decide to join SoP, together they might be able to organize a supermajority of at least 300 members of parliament. With a supermajority, the ruling coalition would be empowered to single-handedly change the Constitution, vote to impeach the president (though improbable, since he is currently of the same party) or overcome his veto. At this point, an SoP-Golos coalition looks most likely based on Vakarchuk’s own stated readiness for such talks (, July 21).

Whether or not SoP pursues a supermajority, its parliamentarians will be able to single-handedly form a government, pass most laws, appoint judges to the Constitutional Court, as well as adopt various other important decisions. Already, SoP legislators have introduced resolutions to lift the immunity of the president, parliamentarians and judges, and they proposed a bill on robust economic reforms and anti-corruption initiatives (, July 31).

Due to the lack of experience or political background of most SoP members, last week the newly elected lawmakers started an intensive one-week course, provided by the Kyiv School of Economics, to equip them with basic knowledge in economics, public service and administration (, July 30).

On the other side of the aisle, the pro-Russian Opposition Platform–For Life (of Yuriy Boykoand Viktor Medvedchuk, a close ally of Vladimir Putin) finished second (13.05 percent), obtaining 43 parliamentary seats in total. Their ideologically closest rival, the Opposition Bloc party, which mostly consists of members of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s now-defunct Party of Regions, did not overcome the electoral threshold (5 percent), receiving only 3.03 of the vote (, July 21). Nevertheless, members of the Opposition Bloc still maintain substantial influence, particularly via their financial and media sources, which will enable them to significantly affect Ukrainian domestic politics in the future. One of the latter party’s key sponsors is Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in Ukraine, with an estimated $6 billion in various assets (, March 3).

Although the Central Election Commission of Ukraine (CEC) denied the registration of pro-Russian video blogger Anatoly Shariy based on residency requirements (see EDM, July 18), his party still attracted 2.23 percent of the vote—too low to enter the Verkhovna Rada, but enough to make it eligible for state funding.

Another influential figure remains Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who will also seek to secure his position in the next government. Last week (July 30), on his Facebook page, he harshly lashed out at former president Petro Poroshenko, blaming him for enormous corruption and accusing him of lying to the Ukrainian people. At the same time, he wished Zelenskyy’s team good luck and expressed his readiness to assist them in the future (, July 30). Given Avakov’s role (as head of police and internal security forces) in having guaranteed the smooth running of the elections, which were recognized as free and transparent, he may try to use this as leverage to preserve his current position as interior minister.

Interestingly, despite the ongoing military conflict in Donbas and the war’s predictable radicalizing effect on some more nationalistic segments of Ukrainian society, none of the far-right parties that campaigned will make it into the next parliament. Svoboda (“Freedom”) had declared an electoral alliance with Right Sector and National Corps (Interfax, June 10). But even jointly, these three far-right factions only managed to win 2.15 percent of the vote.

In the 2014 parliamentary elections, Svoboda and Right Sector also failed to overcome the electoral threshold (, October 26, 2014); however, each party’s voter base—veterans groups and Ukrainian nationalists, etc.—still could point to some ideologically aligned deputies in the Verkhovna Rada. This time, the more absolute vacuum of representation of these groups in power could spark more intense actions in the streets, where nationalist and radical groups still enjoy influence and the ability to mobilize their grassroots. For instance, over the last few years, National Corps organized dozens of rallies throughout Ukraine to denounce the Minsk Two ceasefire agreement, which, among other provisions, provides amnesty for Moscow-backed separatists in occupied Donbas (Deutsche Welle—Ukrainian service, March 23).

The elections were also a disappointment for the Ukrainian “siloviki,” including former head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) Ihor Smeshko and former defense minister AnatoliyHritsenko. Their parties, Strength and Honor and Civic Position, received 3.82 and 1.04 percent, respectively. Both party heads performed better in the March 2019 presidential elections, garnering 6.91 percent and 6.04 percent, in the first round. But they could not repeat those results this time.

The election outcome has, indeed, vastly upended the makeup of the national legislature. Four of the top five parties that won the elections in 2014 did not make it into the new parliament. Among them are People’s Front (22.14 percent in 2014; did not run in 2019), Self-Reliance (11 percent; 0.62 percent), Opposition Bloc (9.43 percent; 3.03 percent) and the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko (7.45 percent; 4.01 percent). Additionally, a number of long-time political “heavy hitters” did not enter the new Rada, including Ukrainian entrepreneur and billionaire KonstantynZhevago, close friend of Poroshenko’s and first deputy chair of his Solidarity Bloc IhorKononenko, former prime minister (2014–2016) and People’s Front party leader Arseniy Yatseniyuk, the chairperson of the Committee on National Security and Defense SerhiyPashinsky, and others (, July 23). As a result, at least some of these outsiders may now seek opportunities to return to power by extra-political means, such as disrupting the new parliament and its leadership.

It remains to be seen whether the new outsiders’ collective desire to take back the reins of power may compel them to cooperate or otherwise form novel situational alliances. Either way, the incoming legislative and executive branch leaderships can expect harsh criticism and attacks originating from private media, financial sources, street protests, and so on. And likewise, Ukraine’s oligarchs will not stand aside in the competition to influence the “new faces” in the Rada and government.