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Ukraine president calls snap elections at swearing-in

May 20, 2019

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has moved to disband parliament after being sworn in as the new president of Ukraine. The political novice is under pressure to deliver much-needed reforms after unseating incumbent Petro Poroshenko.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy takes the oath of office
Image: Reuters/V. Ogirenko

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic with no political experience, announced the dissolution of parliament in his inaugural speech as the president of Ukraine on Monday.

By disbanding the chamber and calling early elections, the new head of state is hoping to win the support he needs to tackle a raft of challenges, including a struggling economy and the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. 

What happened during the ceremony:

  • Zelenskiy announced he would disband parliament and call snap polls.
  • He said his first task was to end the separatist conflict in the country's east near the border with Russia.
  • "I'm ready to do everything so that our heroes don't die there," he said. "I'm ready to lose my popularity and, if necessary, I'm ready to lose my post so that we have peace."
  • He added that dialogue with Russia could only happen after the return of Ukrainian territory and prisoners of war.
  • Zelenskiy called on lawmakers to adopt bills that would strip them of immunity and ban illegal enrichment.
  • He also asked them to support motions to fire the defense minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and the Prosecutor General — all of them allies of former President Petro Poroshenko.
  • The president ended his speech by referring to his career in comedy: "Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh ... In the next five years I will do everything so that Ukrainians don't cry."
  • He broke with tradition and headed to the swearing-in ceremony on foot, high-fiving and taking selfies with supporters along the way. 

Read moreUkraine votes for fresh start with comedian

Volodymyr Zelenskiy poses with members of the crowd
Ukraine's new president stops to take selfies with fans in the crowdImage: Getty Images/B. Hoffman

Who is Zelenskiy? Zelenskiy is best known for playing a fictional president on the popular television show "Servant of the People." Now he's also playing that role in real life, after a landslide victory against incumbent Petro Poroshenko in last month's runoff election. Some critics claimed his run was backed by controversial Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoysky, whose channel broadcasts his shows. But Zelenskiy has denied having any political connection to the businessman.

Read moreUkraine: Zelenskiy outshined Poroshenko on way to victory

What are his policies? During the campaign, Zelenskiy broadly sought to capitalize on voter disillusionment by framing himself as an alternative to the political establishment. He has so far provided few details about his policies, what he plans to do in office, or who he will appoint to key posts. However, he has said he wants to tackle corruption and keep Kyiv on the pro-Western course it has chartered under Poroshenko. He has also pledged to push Russian President Vladimir Putin to end Moscow's occupation of Ukrainian territory.

A president without experience

Challenges ahead: The young president is under pressure to rein in the wealthy oligarchs who wield significant influence in Ukraine, tackle widespread corruption and a stagnant economy. Many voters also expect him to stand up to Putin and end a draining five-year conflict against Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine's east.  DW's correspondent in Kyiv, Nick Connolly, said there were "colossal expectations from ordinary Ukrainians" that Zelenskiy would be able to "change Ukraine and allow it, after 20-30 years of independence, to really make good on its potential."

Problems in parliament: Zelenskiy begins his term in office without a parliamentary majority, a fact that will make it difficult for him to pass reforms. His party currently has no seats. Dissolving parliament and calling snap elections ahead of the scheduled date in October could boost support in a chamber currently dominated by Poroshenko allies. Lawmakers have attempted to block these plans — last week, the governing coalition collapsed after a group of MPs from the People's Front pulled out.

The Long Arm of the Kremlin

nm/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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