Parliamentary vote positions Ukraine for next wave of change

Said Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky during the election campaign that made him president last May: “No promises, so no disappointments.”

It was a daring, even cynical thing for a politician to say, but then he’s not a politician.

Zelensky is a television comedian who really doesn’t have much in the way of policies yet – but he does represent a fresh start for Ukraine, and that’s what voters wanted.

After two non-violent popular revolutions in 2004 and 2014 that promised change, twice the country ended up back in the hands of the same old corrupt post-Soviet oligarchs.

Zelensky didn’t need to make promises. He just needed to be different.

He hasn’t actually done much since he got elected, but that’s because he doesn’t have a majority in the Rada (parliament).

In fact, he doesn’t have anybody in the Rada, because his party, Servant of the People, was only formed last year.

So his first priority had to be a fresh election for a new parliament.

It’s happening Sunday.

Nobody expects Zelensky to get the astounding 73 per cent victory that he got in the presidential election, but the public has become a good deal more positive about the future since his election.

An opinion poll last week showed that optimism was up from 39 per cent late last year to 71 per cent now.

If Zelensky’s party doesn’t win an absolute majority in the Rada, it will at least get between 45 and 48 per cent of the vote.

Then he just has to pick a coalition partner from among four smaller parties that will get 10 per cent or less.

The likeliest would be Holos, the new party founded by rock-star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk.

Yes, I know. Two showbiz figures, complete novices in politics, trying to run a country of 44 million people (which, by the way, is in a proxy war with Russia).

What could possibly go wrong?

But if you are ready for generational turnover, as Ukrainian voters obviously are, then by definition, the politicians you back will be younger people – Zelensky is 41, and Vakarchuk is 44 – with little experience in politics.

They do have experience in other walks of life, though. Zelensky grew up in the mostly Russian-speaking steel town of Krivoi Rog in the Ukrainian rustbelt, and managed to get a law degree before becoming a comedian and building a successful TV production company.

Vakarchuk is not just a singer. He also has a doctorate in theoretical physics – and after the Orange Revolution of 2004-05, he actually sat as a deputy in the Rada for a short time before quitting in disgust at the corruption and infighting.

Most of the members of the new Rada will also be tyros. Vakarchuk’s party is so dedicated to changing the way things are done that it is not letting any member of the current parliament run on its list.

Zelensky’s parliamentary list is more varied: about one-third reformers, one-third people with personal or business ties to Zelensky – and one-third people with ties to Ihor Kolomoisky.

This is when the red lights start flashing, because Kolomoisky is a major oligarch who owns the TV channel that has been broadcasting Zelensky’s show, Servant of the People, for the past three years.

Servant of the People has a heart-warming plot in which Zelensky plays a high school teacher who is suddenly elevated to the presidency by the voters after his rant about the appalling state of Ukrainian politics, secretly taped by one of his students, goes viral.

Now Zelensky leads a real political party with that name, and he is living out the same miracle. Or is he just following a cunning strategy that he and Kolomoisky settled on around four years ago?

What did Kolomoisky stand to get out of it?

Well, he was self-exiled in Israel because of a huge business and legal dispute with Petro Poroshenko, another oligarch who was president at the time and might send him to jail.

Kolomoisky could only go home if Poroshenko lost the next election.

But why would Zelensky play along with that? He was already very successful, and he could probably have sold that TV series to some other outlet.

Did he just want to be president? And if so, did he really plan to do Kolomoisky’s bidding once he got the job?

Thinking too hard about this can drive you crazy. For example, Zelensky has just appointed Andriy Bohdan, once Kolomoisky’s lawyer, to the key job of head of administration in the president’s office. That’s pretty suspicious.

However, Bohdan has also served as lawyer to almost every other oligarch in the country, and he probably knows where all the bodies are buried.

That would be very useful if Zelensky really plans to go after them all, which he must do if he really intends to change the way the country is run. You can argue it both ways with equal plausibility.

Right or wrong, however, most Ukrainians currently believe that Zelensky is the real thing – and actually, so do I.

Of course, I have been wrong a couple of times in the past.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

Just Posted

Woman killed in collision west of Rocky Mountain House

A 42-year-old woman is dead after a two-vehicle collision in Clearwater County… Continue reading

Rough camper “tree house” found hidden in Red Deer woods

“This took a bit of work,” says man who discovered it

Central Alberta has one less peacekeeper with death of Nobel Prize-winning vet

The late Wayne Coubrough and Wayne Bevis helped diffuse tensions in the Middle East

TC Energy applauds Nebraska court victory over opponents of Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — One of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL… Continue reading

Tribunal rules Edmonton pharmacist harmed integrity of profession

EDMONTON — An Edmonton pharmacist has been found guilty of unprofessional conduct… Continue reading

WATCH: Trailer stolen from Red Deer deli

A Red Deer business has contacted police after a trailer was stolen… Continue reading

Your community calendar

Thursday The Red Deer and District Garden Club hosts its annual Flower… Continue reading

Alberta loses extra-innings thriller at men’s baseball nationals

Alberta came up just short in their second game at the Baseball… Continue reading

G7 leaders should step up own climate plans to help the Amazon, Greenpeace says

OTTAWA — Some Canadian environment groups are urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau… Continue reading

Third-party buys billboard to promote Bernier’s anti-mass immigration stance

OTTAWA — Billboards with Maxime Bernier’s face and a slogan advocating against… Continue reading

Ottawa ready to pass law forcing CN to restore rusting Quebec Bridge

Ottawa says its ready to take ownership of the aging Quebec Bridge… Continue reading

TC Energy applauds Nebraska court victory over opponents of Keystone XL pipeline

CALGARY — One of the last major hurdles for the Keystone XL… Continue reading

‘Our bigger enemy’: Trump escalates attack on Fed chief

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump launched a furious and highly personal attack… Continue reading

Ontario shipyard accuses feds of unfairly stacking deck in Davie’s favour

OTTAWA — An Ontario shipyard is accusing the federal government of trying… Continue reading

Most Read