Ukraine’s parliament elects Zelenskyy loyalist as speaker: possible outcomes

New Head of Parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk (left) and former head Dmytro Razumkov (right) during parliamentary session. Source of image: Dmytro Razumkov's Facebook page 

Ukrainian politics

Editor’s Note

On 8 October, the Ukrainian parliament elected a new Speaker of Verkhovna Rada. The consequences of this for parliamentary work and independence are not yet clear. The fact, however, is that former Speaker Dmytro Razumkov criticized President Zelenskyy several times, especially in the last months, and gave ample room for discussion.

The newly elected Ruslan Stefanchuk, who, like Razumkov, is an MP from Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, not only obediently favored all of Zelenskyy’s decisions but also disregarded parliamentary procedures.

Razumkov tried to balance in the parliament

On 7 October, Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, voted to dismiss Dmytro Razumkov from the office of the Chairman of Verkhovna Rada. He moderated parliamentary sessions since 2019 when Zelenskyy won the presidential elections. Razumkov was a member of the presidential team from the very beginning and an MP from the presidential Servant of the People party.

On 8 October, parliament voted for Ruslan Stefanchuk, first deputy head, to become the Chairman of the Parliament, replacing Razumkov.

Stefanchuk is considered more loyal to Zelenskyy, contrary to Razumkov who criticized Zelenskyy several times and tried to balance in the parliament, giving the opposition full opportunities to speak and propose amendments. This not only delayed some presidential drafts but also allowed the opposition more publicity and opportunities to successfully promote amendments.

In his farewell speech, Razymkov said parliament should remain a safeguard against authoritarianism, as it always was in Ukraine. He once again criticized president Zelenskyy and his parliamentary majority:

My principles have not changed, my values are the same as they were… All this time I have been trying to make sure that most of the promises we made to society [in 2019 during the election campaign] are fulfilled. That the different quality of policy offered to the country has become really different. Not with good names and slogans, which often hide the wrong things, but with constructive work…

Since 2019, a lot has changed in the team that became the government and with which I came to the Parliament: the principles of democracy and the power of the people have become the principle of majority power. The principle of the rule of law has been changed to political expediency. The right to one’s own position and freedom of speech has been replaced by the principle ‘The one who is not with us is against us.’ The principle ‘There is one law for all’ became the principle ‘Friends receive everything, enemies receive the law.’ And the principle that offshore companies are a shame for authorities has become the principle of ‘no problem, every entrepreneur has them.’

During any storm, parliament must remain the safeguard it has always been in our history and the place of balance. This depends on each of you… Otherwise it would be a way to losing democracy, to usurping power and the loss of parliamentarism.”

In the last months, Razumkov criticized Zelenskyy for not fulfilling his election promises. A recent example is when Razumkov highlighted during an interview that Zelenskyy promised during elections to campaign only for one presidential term of five years but recently started to speak that “if there is the will of people” he will campaign a second time.

На зображенні може бути: 3 людини, люди стоять та у приміщенні

In 2019, Deputy speaker Stefanchuk raised a chair for Speaker Razumkov when it fell during a session. In 2021 netizens started resharing the image albeit with the other caption: “Stefanchuk is taking the chair away from Razumkov.” Photo by Yan Dobronosov

Razumkov is not the first case of a split within the president’s team

Zelenskyy’s presidency has already seen many similar cases when top members of the presidential team, with whom he campaigned during elections, were dismissed after even minor disagreements. This was the fate of Zelenskyy’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (2019) Oleksandr Danyliuk, Prosecutor General (2019-2020) Ruslan Riaboshapka after he refused to sign proceedings against former president Poroshenko, Prime Minister (2019-2020) Oleksiy Honcharuk and the entire government.

Parliament dismisses Prosecutor General Riaboshapka for “lack of results,” opponents see political grounds

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Razumkov was the last among top politicians of Zelenskyy’s team, who stayed in the office since the very beginning in 2019.

Consolidation of power?

This policy of dismissals may originate from Zelenskyy’s desire to consolidate power and fully control his parliamentary majority, although Zelenskyy himself denies it.

Such cautions were voiced by the opposition, namely Poroshenko’s European Solidarity, as well as a number of experts on Ukraine such as Mattia Nelles or economist Anders Åslund.

Zelenskyy’s competitor?

Last year, Ukrainian media featured reports portraying Razumkov as the main competitor to Zelenskyy. Indeed, Razumkov unexpectedly came in second after Zelenskyy in the rating of most trusted politicians, ahead of Poroshenko.

Regarding his presidential ambition, to run in the next elections, Razumkov hinted that this may be possible:

“The presidential elections have not started yet. But earlier it was said that no one from the chairmans of the Verkhovna Rada has ever became president. This pawl was removed today.”

The new Chairman of Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk

261 MPs, with the required minimum of 226, voted to appoint Ruslan Stefanchuk as the new Speaker, with the strongest support coming from the presidential party Servant of the People.

Stefanchuk was the main ideologist in Zelenskyy’s team when they were running for elections. Previously he used to work as a private lawyer and lecturer at several universities. Since 2019, he was an MP and served as the Deputy Chairman of the Parliament, being also the president’s representative in the Verkhovna Rada.

Stefanchuk also admitted that he is Zelenskyy’s friend since the late 1990s, when they together participated in KVN, Club of the Funny and Clever, a humorous TV show.

Stefanchuk rarely gave comments on media or social networks. Several times in Razumkov’s absence, he headed parliamentary sessions. The opposition claims he failed to give them time to present their amendments and violated Parliamentary regulations. In particular, this happened during the recent adoption of presidential “anti-oligarchic law,” oppositional parties European Solidarity and Voice say.

Zelenskyy’s new anti-oligarch law: populism or the real thing?

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