Two months ago, Ukraine elected a comedian, Volodymyr Zelensky, to be its president. On Sunday, the country chose a rock star to help Zelensky form a government and enact radical anti-corruption reforms.
With half the votes counted from Sunday’s snap election, Zelensky’s pro-European Servant of the People party holds a commanding lead with over 42 percent of the vote, and will likely command a majority in parliament, but will need to enter a coalition in order to form a government.
The centrist Opposition Platform has garnered 12 percent, but its close links to the Kremlin have ruled out the possibility that Zelensky would do a deal with the party. Instead, he will turn to the newly-formed center-right Voice party, which is led by Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the 44-year-old lead singer of popular Ukrainian rock band Okean Elzy. Voice has won 6.3 percent of the vote.
“People voted for changes and we are happy to be part of these changes,” Vakarchuk told supporters at his party headquarters after the exit polls were released. “We are ready to take responsibility.”
Vakarchuk formed the Voice party just two months before the election, but the singer has long proclaimed his political ambitions.
He supported Kyiv’s pro-western Orange Revolution in 2004 and joined the bloc of then-president Viktor Yushchenko. He won a seat in parliament in 2007, but quickly grew disillusioned with Ukranian politics and gave up his seat within a year.
Vakarchuk’s political ambitions were reinvigorated during the 2014 Maidan revolution, which ousted the pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych. Vakarchuk hosted a concert in support of the protesters that was attended by 100,000 people.
Zelensky, a comedian whose only previous political experience was playing a president in a sitcom, won a surprise victory in April when he beat political heavyweight Petro Poroshenko. One of his first actions as president was to call a snap parliamentary election to capitalize on his popularity.
While some questioned the wisdom of calling the election, the results have cemented Zelensky’s position, and his majority in parliament will allow him to push through the radical reforms he wants to enact during his presidency. They include tackling rampant corruption.
The parliamentary victory will ensure that Zelensky will be able to appoint his preferred choice for prosecutor general.
"Our main priorities - and I repeat this for every Ukrainian - are to end the war, return our prisoners and defeat the corruption that persists in Ukraine," Zelensky told supporters on Sunday night.
Cover: 5920017 18.06.2019 Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, the lead vocalist of Okean Elzy rock band and leader of Voice political party speaks to his supporters during a meeting ahead of the parliamentary elections, in Lviv, Ukraine. Stringer / Sputnik via AP