Former Ukrainian comedian promises to end war in east and to tackle corruption during presidency
|National Post 20 May 2019 at 18:25|
Ukraine’s new president dismissed parliament and called a snap election just moments after being sworn into office yesterday (Monday).
Volodymyr Zelensky, whose Servant of the People party has no representation in the current parliament, also used his inaugural address to promise an end to the war in the east of the country and asked MPs to fire several key officials including the defence minister.
“All my life I tried to do all I could so that Ukrainians laughed,” Mr Zelensky, a television comedian, told MPs during a ceremony in the parliament in Kiev. “Now I will do all I can so that Ukrainians at least do not cry any more.”
Mr Zelensky, 41, won the presidency last month with a landslide run-off victory against Petro Poroshenko, the incumbent, who had been in power since 2014.
He had no prior political experience, and he was mostly known for his role in Servant of the People, a television comedy in which he played a schoolteacher who accidentally becomes president of Ukraine after ranting against corruption. He named his party after the TV show.
All my life I tried to do all I could so that Ukrainians laughed. Now I will do all I can so that Ukrainians at least do not cry any more
Critics say he has given few specific details about his plans for the presidency and have questioned his links to Ihor Kolomoisky, a billionaire oligarch who had fallen out with the previous government. Yesterday he dispensed with the traditional motorcade and arrived at the parliament building on foot, stopping to pose for selfies and high-fiving his cheering supporters who gathered outside.
Inside, he delivered a punchy and at times confrontational speech in which he said his priority would be ending the war, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives since Russia sent troops across the border to support a separatist uprising in 2014.
“I’m ready to do everything so that our heroes don’t die there,” he said. “I’m ready to lose my popularly and, if necessary, I’m ready to lose my post so that we have peace,” he said. He said he would begin by demanding that Russia release Ukrainian prisoners.
When one MP heckled him for switching from Ukrainian into Russian in an appeal to residents in the east, he snapped back: “Thank you for continuing to divide our people.”
He also spoke against a culture of corruption among government officials, saying politicians themselves had created “the opportunities to bribe, steal and pluck the resources”. He suggested that MPs should lift their own right to immunity from prosecution and demanded the dismissal of the defence minister, the head of the security service, and the prosecutor general.
The next elections for the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s single-house parliament, were scheduled to take place in October. Mr Zelensky said they would be brought forward to July.
The move appears designed to help his party win a majority of seats before the surge of popularity on which he rode to office dissipates.
In a symbolic move Volodymyr Groysman, the current prime minister, said he would resign on Wednesday, inviting Mr Zelenskiy to take full responsibility for the country. If parliament accepts his resignation, he will remain as a caretaker prime minister until the snap election.
Russian media reported that no officials from Moscow were invited to the ceremony.
The Kremlin said Vladimir Putin would not congratulate Mr Zelensky on his electoral victory until there was progress in ending the war.
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