75% of Ukraine’s parliament renewed as Zelenskyy’s party dominates the majoritarian vote

Counting ballots at a constituency in Kyiv Oblast. Photo: Olena Makarenko 

Politics

Editor’s Note

The new Ukrainian Parliament goes green, just like the corporate colors of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s party Servant of the People. The party won the snap parliamentary elections on 21 July by a landslide receiving 43.16% of votes (124 seats) by the party-list voting. Additionally, the new party received 130 seats at the single-mandate (majoritarian) constituencies, making the “Servants” the first party in the history of independent Ukraine to form a single-party majority. 75% of the newly-elected MPs have never been deputies before. This means that for the first time in decades, many seemingly immortal representatives of the corrupt elite will no longer be MPs. But it also means that the “new blood” of Ukrainian politics who became deputies after the Euromaidan revolution has been replaced by seemingly miscellaneous figures propelled by the Zelenskyy brand.

The result again explains why comic-turned-president Zelenskyy, who earlier won the presidential race by a landslide, needed the early parliamentary elections, which he announced in his inauguration speech on 20 May. The wave of his immense popularity might subside by the end of October when regular parliamentary elections were scheduled according to the law. But now his party alone is capable to form a coalition in the Verkhovna Rada (Parliament).

The first thing which drew attention after Servant of the People unveiled their list of candidates running for parliament was the vast number of people totally unknown to the public. However, there are even more such unknowns who are now MPs from the single-mandate, or majoritarian, constituencies, which make up half of the seats in the Verkhovna Rada. Most of them ran from the Servant of the People party.

In general, the majoritarian component of Ukraine’s election system is a relic of Ukraine’s history. The fighting for such seats has always been wild and tough and included bribing voters, abusing administrative resources, and other dirty technologies for getting votes unfairly. According to the new Election Code adopted just a few weeks ago, the majoritarian system will soon be phased out. But the parliamentary elections on 21 July still used it, and the candidates actively used all these electoral unfair technologies.

Surprisingly, this time, the old-style dirty technologies did not help the majoritarian candidates from the old elites, many of whom resembled feudal lords. This year, the key to success was different.

The new “majoritarians”

Billboard of Zelenskyy’s party stating “Let’s do them in again! 21 July.” As it did not name the party, it was not considered as campaign materials and was allowed to stay on the streets on the day of silence before the elections. Photo: opora.org

According to Ukrainian legislation, half (225) of the MPs should be elected from the single-mandate constituencies. But due to the Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas, this year there were only 199 such candidates. 124 of them are from Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People. 

The election showed that Ukrainian voters cared little for the professional qualities – and even the names – of the candidates. All that mattered was the Zelenskyy brand. 

At some constituencies, candidates unknown to the public won over candidates who were MPs year after year, those who had lots of coverage, who had a strong pre-election campaign, who were relying on dirty technologies, and those who were familiar to voters by serving as MPs or authorities.

In capital Kyiv, Servant of the People candidates were victorious in all the constituencies with no exceptions. Oleksandr Yurchenko who campaigned in one of the Kyiv districts is a good example of how defining belonging to the party of the president was. He made many unsuccessful attempts to enter politics. According to the CHESNO movement, in 2014 he tried to get into the Kyiv City Council from Svoboda party, but failed. In the 2015 elections to the Kyiv Council, he also failed, but that time he campaigned from another party, UKROP. Between the two elections, he was a member of the initiative group of one of Kyiv districts from the Self-Reliance (Samopomich) party. Only now belonging to the Servant of the People party brought him visible success.

Among other future Servant of the People MPs is wedding photographer Serhiy Shtepa and wedding presenter Ihor Kryvosheiev. Overall, 17 future MPs in the party were unemployed. Seven of them were among those who won the single-mandate constituencies.

Along with unknown candidates, some TV stars also rode into parliament from single-member constituencies on the wave of Servant of the People’s campaigning.

For example, Yuriy Koriavchenkov, a famous actor of Zelenskyy’s Kvartal 95 studio, won in a constituency of the president’s hometown, Kryvyi Rih. Servant of the People representatives won at two other constituencies in the city as well. One is Olena Kryvoruchkina, who works as an Associate Professor at the Department of Economics and Education in a Kyiv university was unfamiliar for the voters. According to media, she is a godmother of Koriavchenkov’s child and his wife’s friend. Volodymyr Zakharchenko, the third Zelenskyy’s winner in Kryvyi Rih, was in charge of security in Zelenskyy’s headquarters in Kryvyi Rih during the presidential elections. According to media, he also has connections to Koriavchenkov as a cousin of the actor’s mother. Koriavchenkov denies this information.

Iryna Borzova, a daughter of the head of one of Kvartal 95 studio projects, owns a business in occupied Crimea and is the wife of the deputy head of the State Administration of Affairs, becomes another Zelenskyy’s legislator winning a single-mandate constituency in Vinnytsia. As well as four more of Zelenskyy’s ex-colleagues from Kvartal 95 also became MPs thanks to being placed on the party list.

Servant of the People MPs also include three journalists of the 1+1 TV channel owned by oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi, where Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People show was produced, and Kvartal 95 is featured frequently. They also campaigned at single-mandate constituencies and won. Among them was Oleksandr Dubynskyi, the host of the program Groshi (Money) which is presented as an investigative one. However, other media accuse the program of bias and call Dubynskyi a servant of Kolomoyskyi’s interests. A part of his so-called investigations were directed against then-president Petro Poroshenko. Eventually, Dubynskyi won over Poroshenko’s old crony and right hand in parliament, Ihor Kononenko. The politician was a subject of a number of investigations related to corruption schemes and was called as one of the most influential people in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Oleksandra Matviychuk, human rights activist, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties NGO, drew attention to another detail. The program of the Servant of the People party foresaw the mechanism of replacing MPs, meaning that the MPs that vote contrary to the party line could be replaced by other members, who even might not have taken part in the elections at all, which will “destroy parliamentarism in the bud,” according to her.

If Servant of the People implements this provision of its program, Matviychuk says, it would mean that 43% of Ukrainian voters voted for a candy wrapper – which is actually the case, according to her.

The region which Zelenskyy’s party lost

The constituency #105 in near the frontline town Shchastia, Luhansk Oblast. The standoff between two successors of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych’s regime was so intense that votes had to be recounted. Photo: the National Police.

The Servant of the People party won most of Ukrainian oblasts, save for Lviv Oblast which voted for Holos and the Donbas – Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, where pro-Russian party Opposition Platform For Life took the lead in both the proportional and majority components of the election.

In these two oblasts, all the old dirty technologies played a key role. For example, in May, Luhansk Oblast voters were given handouts of sugar in exchange their personal data. The names of the benefactors were written on the sugar packages. All of them were related to Serhiy Shakhov, an MP who campaigned this year as well.

“Today Shakhov [with his associates] has four out of six mandates in Luhansk Oblast. He lays up claim for the role of new Yefremov [Oleksandr Yefremov, ex-head of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions faction in parliament], he consistently seeks to take under control the entire Luhansk Oblast. He practically has everything for it, own organized criminal group, own law enforcement forces and authorities, high ranking lobbyists and, on top of that, the ability to think strategically and act consistently,” Konstantyn Reutskyi, Vostok SOS volunteer who campaigned at one of Luhansk oblast constituencies and lost, wrote on Facebook.

Servant of the People was not number one in the traditional pro-Russian Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts

Self-nominated candidates are the second-largest group among the majoritarian candidates, after Servant of the People. However, being self-nominated is not necessarily the same as being independent. Over 30 acting MPs are among them.

“The majority of these MPs are known as ‘buttons pushers’ [those who vote for absent colleagues during the parliamentary sessions, so-called ‘piano voting’], voter bribers who provide free goods and services at the single-mandate constituencies during the work in the parliament through their charity foundations or assistants. There are subjects of the anti-corruption investigations as well,” Oksana Stavniychuk, parliamentary analyst of the CHESNO movement said.

There are MPs from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the People’s Front of Arseniy Yatseniuk who campaigned as self-nominated candidates to distance themselves from the parties with a spoiled reputation.

The MPs we won’t miss 

Corrupt MPs who didn’t make it into the new parliament. Collage by the Anti-Corruption Center

Three quarters of the MPs in the new parliament are new faces – most of the current MPs will leave. They include both those with whom society was fed up and those who were considered progressive reformers and on whom many hopes were placed.

The first group consists of corrupts like the abovementioned Ihor Kononenko, a crony of ex-president Petro Poroshenko. Another Poroshenko comrade who did not pass is Oleksandr Hranovskyi – he was considered the overlooker of the controversial judicial reform. As well, the new parliament will not include anti-corruption investigations subjects Boryslav Rozenblat and Maksim Poliakov, the scandalous Odesa politician Serhiy Kivalov who supported the dictatorial leanings of Viktor Yanukovych, displaced in the Euromaidan revolution, and others. According to the Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC), 75-80% of the most notorious MPs involved in corruption schemes did not make it to the new parliament.

The MPs we will miss – and the new new faces

Apart from the corrupt old guard, the new Verkhovna Rada will no longer feature the new faces who came to politics after the Euromaidan revolution – those who were considered reformers and who will be missed. Among them are MPs with a background in journalism and advocated a pro-European path for the country – Mustafa Nayem, Serhiy Leshchenko, and Svitlana Zalishchuk. Nayem decided not to campaign at all, Zalishchuk lost to a self-nominated candidate who in fact represents the old guard of Yanukovych-era politicians, Leshchenko was defeated by a Servant of the People candidate. Another

The new parliament will miss the group of reformers within the Self-Reliance party.

In 2014, they were considered the fresh blood of Ukrainian politics. There was no single current or ex-MP in the list. Its most famous personality was Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi, who, however, was not represented in parliament as he chose the 50th place on the list for himself. Self-Reliance brought together ex-journalists, reformers, volunteer soldiers, IT specialists, businessmen, and people from Sadovyi’s inner circle. By 2019, the party lost its rating due to controversies, compromises, and inner quarrels, gaining the support of only 0.5% of voters in the parliamentary elections. Still, there are Self-Reliance MPs who will be missed in the new Ukrainian parliament. Among them are Yehor Soboliev who until 2017 headed the Corruption Prevention Committee and Olena Sotnyk, who was responsible for Euro-integration policy. For the 2019 elections she ran not with Self-Reliance, but Strength and Honor (Syla i Chest) party of Igor Smeshko which also did not pass the 5% threshold. Hanna Hopko, first on Samopomich’s list (she was however excluded in 2015), who headed the Rada’s foreign policy committee, is yet another reformer who will be missed – she did not run for elections in 2019.

Only one Self-Reliance candidate managed to get into the new parliament.

However, the new parliament will also have changemakers. The youngest MP of the new Verkhovna Rada will be Sviatoslav Yurash. The 23-year-old founded Euromaidan’s international press center, was among the founders of EuromaidanPR, provided communication support for BABYLON 13, the group of documentary professionals who voluntarily filmed the events of the Euromaidan revolution and later the war in Donbas. Also Yurash received a third-degree Order “For Merits” for his  activities during the Revolution of Dignity. As well, Anastasiya Krasnosilska worked as an advocacy expert of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre and who Euromaidan Press had consulted numerous times during the creation of the Anti-Corruption Court in Ukraine, will become an MP. Both Yurash and Krasnosilska will enter parliament within the Servant of the People party lists.

Yana Zinkevych, a famous volunteer who heads the medical battalion Hospitaliers and who since 2014 personally saved more than 200 soldiers at the frontline will enter parliament within the ranks of Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party.

A major part of the Voice (Holos) party led by rockstar Sviatoslav Vakarchuk is made up of civil society representatives already working in the reforms field. The party got 20 MPs.

Although Ukraine is filled with rumors about Voice forming a coalition with Servant of the People, Andriy Mahera, a former member of the CEC, explained that a party which gets over 226 votes can’t legally form a coalition with other parties and will instead be the coalition on its own. Therefore, it appears that the Servant of the People will be unilaterally pulling the strings in the Rada in the next years – with the decisions, or the MPs making them, still remaining a big unknown.

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