Ukrainian new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy gestures during his inauguration ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, May 20, 2019. Television star Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been sworn in as Ukraine's next president after he beat the incumbent at the polls last month. The ceremony was held at Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on Monday morning. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
KIEV, May 20: Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sought to capitalize on his huge popularity, dissolving the country’s parliament Monday minutes after he was sworn in as president.
Zelenskiy, who won 73% of the vote last month in his landslide victory, slammed parliament as a hot-bed of self-enrichment, and promised to stop the war in the east against Russian-backed separatists.
The president’s bold move to dissolve the Supreme Rada followed the failure of a majority of lawmakers to use parliamentary ruses to hamper Zelenskiy’s plans.
Zelenskiy’s victory reflected Ukrainians’ exhaustion with widespread corruption and the country’s political elite. Even before he disbanded parliament, which had been one of his campaign promises, the 41-year-old Zelenskiy upended other Ukrainian political traditions on inauguration day.
He ditched the idea of a traditional motorcade to his inauguration, walking to the parliament Kiev through a park packed with people. Flanked by four bodyguards, the beaming president-elect gave high-fives to some spectators, even stopping to take a selfie with one of them.
After he was sworn in but before he moved to dissolve parliament, Zelenskiy asked the Supreme Rada to adopt a bill against illegal enrichment and support his motions to fire the country’s defense minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and the Prosecutor General. All of them are allies of former President Petro Poroshenko, who lost the election to the comedian with no previous political experience but who played the Ukrainian president on a popular TV show for years.
In a feisty speech after his inauguration, Zelenskiy told the Rada that his main goal for the presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years in a conflict that has left at least 13,000 dead.
“I’m ready to do everything so that our heroes don’t die there,” he said. “It wasn’t us who started that war. But we need to be the one to finish it.”
As ministers and lawmakers listened with dismay, Zelenskiy urged everyone in the cabinet to resign, asking them to “free the spot for people who will think about the future generations, not about the future elections.”
Defense Ministry Stepan Poltorak promptly published his letter of resignation on Facebook.
Zelenskiy is hoping to ride the wave of his electoral success to get his supporters into parliament.
Many lawmakers viewed Zelenskiy’s inauguration with apprehension. Political factions allied with Poroshenko and his party have been maneuvering for weeks, even collapsing the ruling coalition.
Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kiev-based think-tank Penta, said Zelenskiy’s announcement shows “political will for radical change.”
“The legally dubious decision to disband parliament will certainly be contested in court but Zelenskiy has shown that it is going to be him who will lay down the agenda and that he will dominate the political landscape.”
A representative of the Ukrainian Election Commission told the Ukrainian media that if a snap election is called, no court ruling can cancel it.
In a bid to deprive Zelenskiy of the opportunity to call an early election, a faction in the Rada announced its departure from the ruling coalition last week, technically collapsing Poroshenko’s government. The parliament’s rules envisage that it cannot be disbanded within 30 days following the announcement of a collapse of the ruling coalition.
Zelenskiy’s supporters argued, however, that the motion was legally void because the coalition had long ceased to exist and that the Constitution, unlike the Rada regulations, does not contain such a rule.
The new president wrapped up his speech at parliament by referring to his career as a comedian.
“Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh,” he said with a smile. “In the next five years I will do everything, Ukrainians, so that you don’t cry.”