Golden hour of Ukrainian democracy: Rise of ‘people’s servant’

If Zelensky wants to open a new chapter in Ukrainian history, he should try to completely eradicate the old establishment and put together a team of younger people with no past careers tainted with political scandals

Turan Gafarli   | 13.05.2019
Golden hour of Ukrainian democracy: Rise of ‘people’s servant’

The writer is an Assistant Researcher at TRT World Research Centre.


Volodymyr Zelensky is not a fictional president in a comedy show anymore. The night of April 21 showed to the world that the people of Ukraine can say “no” to someone they do not approve of anymore and open a way to the young and promising generation.

President-elect of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, formerly an actor and a comedian, got the support of over 12 million Ukrainians, which means almost 73 % of all ballots [1], and interestingly, more than his fictional TV president Vasily Goloborodko. Incumbent President Poroshenko lost in all regions but Lviv in the west of the country. This situation is understandable considering the visa-free regime with the Schengen zone achieved under the Poroshenko government, from which the cities on the Polish border of the country benefitted most.

The election night of the second and decisive round showed us how media and TV can be more important than casual campaign methods. Rather than having monologues in front of thousands, Zelensky chose to make visits to numerous cities where he spoke to random citizens, used his comedy team to give free concerts, and most important of all, he let his TV show to do the job for him. People watched him as a fictional president for the last time in his very popular TV series “Servant of the People” just before the election, where the show ended with images of a prosperous futuristic Ukraine able to pay all of its foreign debt.

Now, it is time for Zelensky to be the real servant of the people. He promised to shake the establishment, decrease corruption and create a free and fair society, and most importantly, deal with the war with Russia. Therefore, one of the first pledges of Zelensky was on the war in the east and he stated that he would try to bring back war prisoners and captured soldiers while also continuing to abide by the Normandy and Minsk peace processes [2].

Some analysts argue that his pledge to continue along existing peace process paths will put him at loggerheads with the Ukrainian nationalists. A number of nationalists such as Volodymyr Viatrovych, the head of the “Ukrainian Institute of National Memory”, are already protesting against Zelensky’s victory with a picture of Germans doing the Nazi salute with a caption “Majority is not a proof of righteousness” [3]. It is no secret that there are still Ukrainians who believe Zelensky is pro-Russian and did not display enough patriotism during the election campaign.

Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko stated that the Ukrainians wanted a radical change again and called Zelensky’s success the “Electoral Maidan” [4]. It was not a secret that Poroshenko’s popularity was in constant decrease and hit the bottom just a month before the elections. Maybe it would be good for him to analyze the popular support as Yushchenko did back in 2010 and not run for the second term.

Famous journalist Dmitriy Gordon also shared his views on Zelensky’s victory and said that it is time for the children of independent Ukraine [5], born in the late or post-Soviet period, to rule the country and accelerate the process for integration with the West. The old communist-autocratic mindset within the bureaucratic establishments of the post-Soviet countries is indeed a part of the problem and a barrier in front of social development, which Zelensky also touched on in his victory speech. He had a message to the peoples of the post-Soviet space from Ukraine: “Look at us, everything is possible!”[6]

Moscow and Washington also reacted to the election night. While President Trump congratulated Zelensky on the phone, Dmitriy Medvedev chose to write on Twitter and Facebook [7]. Some commentators said that Medvedev’s advice to Ukraine to be “honest” in order to have better relations with Russia requires first and foremost that Russians get out of the Ukrainian soil and respect the territorial integrity of its neighbor.

Zelensky has little time to act now because of a simple reason. Even though his official inauguration will take place in early July, the people of Ukraine are eager to see immediate reforms. He has already implied, for example, that he would not work with Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko [8]. As it was positively regarded by his followers, Zelensky also stated that Poroshenko offered him his experience and help which he considers valuable. If Zelensky wants to open a new chapter in Ukrainian history, he should try to completely eradicate the old establishment, not excepting Poroshenko himself, and put together a team of younger people with no past careers tainted with political scandals.

However, the president-elect of Ukraine will not enjoy an all-inclusive license to do as he pleases. The parliament, Verkhovna Rada, is often a scene of brawls because of presidential bills and it is difficult to work with a house full of opposition members. Zelensky also knows the majority of the Parliament belongs to the Poroshenko Bloc and can block his amendments. Therefore, it will be a wise move if he calls an early parliamentary election originally slated to take place late this year.

Now, the old comedian and new leader of Ukraine holds a strong mandate which can give his party “Sluga Naroda – The Servant of the People” a clear majority in the parliamentary elections as well.

Zelensky has five years ahead of him and if he remains committed to his pledge, it will be his only term and he will not run again. Thus, it seems that we will either see monuments erected for Zelensky in Ukraine after his term or another humiliating punishment by Ukrainians for a possible continuation of corruption, low standards of life and instability.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.


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