Five years after deadly street protests toppled their Kremlin-backed leader, Ukrainians are delivering a verdict on what has happened since. In April, they elected the country’s most-watched comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as president, replacing Petro Poroshenko. The rise of Zelenskiy, a political novice, was driven by public fatigue with rampant corruption. The same anti-establishment forces could help Zelenskiy consolidate power in parliamentary elections that he aims to hold sooner than originally scheduled.
1. When is the parliamentary vote?
Eager to capitalize on the poll lead for his fledgling party, Zelenskiy dissolved parliament and called snap elections for July 21. But his opponents are equally keen to sabotage his agenda and have challenged the decree at the Constitutional Court. A ruling is expected by the end of June. If Zelenskiy loses, the ballot will revert to its previously planned date in October.
2. What is Zelenskiy’s agenda?
The voters who put Zelenskiy in office instead of re-electing Poroshenko to a second term wanted one thing above all: meaningful steps to lock up crooked bureaucrats. (They share that in common with the demonstrators who dislodged Poroshenko’s Russian-backed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, in 2014.) Zelenskiy has made early efforts to replace officials seen as detrimental to his push to curtail graft, such as the prosecutor-general. But rival lawmakers are putting up roadblocks, from personnel appointments to electoral reform. Hence Zelenskiy’s desire for a new parliament.
3. What issues separate the parties?
The only significant policy divide is between the pro-Russian parties, which have united into a single bloc promising rapprochement with Putin, and the rest. Zelenskiy, as well as the parties led by Poroshenko and by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, back European Union and NATO integration and say they’ll crack down on corruption. For voters choosing among them, it’s a question of credibility -- and Zelenskiy’s lack of political baggage is a distinct advantage. A new party created by rock singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk is proving popular for the same reason.
4. Why is the revolution still an issue?
Ukrainians revolted starting in 2013 with the aim of building a modern, transparent state whose fortunes were aligned westward with the EU and no longer with Russia, its neighbor to the east. The split enraged Moscow, which wants to maintain influence in its former stomping ground and discourage similar unrest at home. President Vladimir Putin’s government annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, proclaiming a duty to defend the ethnic Russians who dominate the population there. Worse, in the eyes of many Ukrainians who longed for a transparent and accountable government, endemic corruption endured. Under Poroshenko, no senior official was sent to prison for graft and no one was held accountable for the deaths of protesters during the revolution.
5. Why is the world concerned?
The West is invested in Ukraine’s success. On top of International Monetary Fund support, billions of dollars have flowed in from the World Bank and the EU, while the U.S. has provided loan guarantees and military aid. Russia, meanwhile, is intent on gradually undermining Ukraine’s economy. Any destabilizing outcomes would offer fodder for Putin’s notion that uprisings bring only chaos. The Ukrainian elections are also occurring against a backdrop of revived Cold War tensions in the region as relations between the U.S. and Russia sink to their worst in decades.
6. What would investors prefer?
Having watched emerging markets like Argentina and Turkey get clobbered last year, the most important thing for investors in Ukraine is that cooperation with the IMF is maintained. Poroshenko kept aid money flowing, albeit with delays as he dragged his heels on reforms. With Ukraine frequently named among the most-vulnerable developing nations to potential financial stress, Zelenskiy has vowed to pursue a new IMF loan to replace Ukraine’s short-term $3.9 billion facility. But he’ll need backing from parliament to meet the lender’s reform conditions and keep assistance on track.
--With assistance from Daryna Krasnolutska.
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