Ukraine's comedian-turned-president seeks parliamentary majority via rock star coalition

Alec Luhn
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party is expected to win up to half of the vote - Ukrainian Presidential Press Off

Comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelenskiy will try to take control of Ukraine's parliament in a snap election on Sunday to begin enacting his programme of sweeping anti-corruption reforms. 

Mr Zelenskiy called the early vote as soon as he was elected in a landslide in April, essentially moving up the planned election by three months in an attempt to turn his initial popularity into a viable power base.

Despite the new president's mandate, a recalcitrant old-guard parliament have refused to approve his ministerial appointments or take action on his reform initiatives.

Mr Zelenskiy's new Servant of the People party, named after the hit television show in which he played a teacher who becomes president, is expected to win 40 to 50 per cent of the vote on Sunday. None of the party's candidates have previously served in parliament, meaning the lawmaking body is set to receive a major influx of young blood. 

In a sign of his intentions to shake up the existing system, Mr Zelenskiy, who has openly clashed with the foreign minister appointed by his predecessor, fired 11 ambassadors on Friday.

Last week he called Vladimir Putin, whose government backs breakaway republics in a simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine, to begin discussing a possible prisoner exchange.

Besides continuing Ukraine's bid to join the European Union and Nato, Servant of the People is pledging to cancel MPs' immunity from prosecution, ban proxy voting in parliament and introduce prison sentences for illegal enrichment. Mr Zelenskiy will also be looking to display his independence from Ihor Kolomoisky, the notorious oligarch who owns the television channel that aired his shows. 

Servant of the People is hardly guaranteed a majority, however, as 199 of the 424 seats will be filled not by party list but rather first-past-the-post races that could be dominated by local political players.

A pro-Russian opposition party led by Viktor Medvechuk, who counts Vladimir Putin as a friend and godfather to his daughter, is polling in second place. Its calls to grant amnesty to Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and autonomy to the areas they control are extremely divisive after more than five years of war and 10,000 killed. 

Former President Petro Poroshenko's European Solidarity and former PM Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland faction are also fielding candidates. Even rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk has thrown his hat into the race as head of Holos, another new party that is refusing to put current MPs on its list.

Rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk served in Ukraine's parliament once before, quitting after a year Credit: Ukrinform/Barcroft

Although Holos is only polling to get 8 to 10 per cent of the vote, it could become a kingmaker as the most likely coalition partner for Mr Zelenskiy's party. Holos candidate Yaroslav Yurchyshyn told the Telegraph that it was already holding talks with Servant of the People.

While a popular musician would seem like a natural fit for a TV comedian, Mr Yurchyshyn said the two parties also shared a commitment to reform. 

“We're not talking about rock star or comedian, we're talking about someone who can be part of a new type of political leadership without any connection to oligarchs without any connection to pro-Russian forces, without any connection with the past,” he said. “We need an example for our society, for our people, that can rebuild trust in the political system.”