Wed, 19 Feb 2020

KYIV -- The party of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is set for a big win in snap parliamentary elections, exit polls show, as voters threw their support behind the former comic's reform agenda.

His Servant of the People party is on track to win 43.9 percent of the July 21 vote for party lists, according to exit polls as of 6 p.m. local time. Voting ended at 8 p.m with nearly 50 percent turnout.

'This is not only great trust, this is also a great responsibility, especially for me and our team. We will not betray Ukrainians," Zelenskiy told supporters at his headquarters shortly after the polls closed.

However, the exit polls indicate he will likely need to form a coalition with another party to achieve a majority in parliament. Four other parties surpassed the 5 percent limit needed to receive seats in parliament.

After the results, Zelenskiy invited Holos, a start-up reformist party, for coalition talks.

Timothy Ash, a London-based economist focused on emerging economies, called the election results a "big win for pro-Western, pro-reform parties."

The early election, which Zelenskiy called three months ahead of its originally scheduled date, is seen as a litmus test for his popularity two months after a resounding election victory following his meteoric rise as a political outsider. He called the early elections because the outgoing parliament is dominated by his opponents, hampering his capacity to enact reforms.

Western supporters of Zelenskiy's efforts will be watching to see whether his parliamentary allies can push through key reform legislation to tackle problems like the country's rickety gas and electricity infrastructure; the nascent state of anti-corruption laws and agencies; and an oligarchic system that has all but dictated policymaking for years.

Zelenskiy told supporters at the election headquarters that one of his first main priorities will be "to defeat the corruption that continues to persist in Ukraine.'

Earlier in the day, he said he wants parliament to choose a "professional economist" to head the government.

'I would very much like this to be an absolutely independent person who has never been a prime minister, a speaker, or a leader of any [parliamentary] faction,' Zelenskiy said.

Photo Gallery: Ukrainians Vote For New Parliament RFE/RL';s Ukrainian Service Reuters AP AFP EPA-EFE Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on В Контакте Email to a Friend Share on LinkedIn

Opposition Platform, a political party pushing for better ties with Russia, was on track to receive 11.5 percent, while European Solidarity, which is allied with former President Petro Poroshenko, is set to get 8.9 percent.

Fatherland, the party of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was fourth with 7.6 percent of the vote and Holos, led by musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, was at 6.3 percent.

Under Ukrainian law, half of the seats are distributed according to lists generated by the parties; the other half are distributed to majority winners in districts where there is only a single-member constituency. Exit polls for the single mandates were still not available.

Ukraine's parliament comprises 450 seats. However, only 424 are up for grabs after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and war in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions saw the loss of several voting districts.

Vakarchuk told RFE/RL after voting that he would be willing to form a coalition with Servant of the People.

"Our intention is to influence," Vakarchuk told RFE/RL. "If you are in a coalition, you have much more power, many more possibilities to influence and to change things."

Vakarchuk said Ukrainians have been 'disappointed' with progress in recent years and that a new parliament is needed to move the country forward.

'It is not enough to change only the president. We need to change the Rada in order to make real changes,' he said.

Even with a fresh face, and the charisma born of a popular TV series that shares its name with the political party, Zelenskiy has seen his presidency dogged by questions about how willing he is to break from the oligarch-and-backroom-deals tradition of politicking in Ukraine.

Zelenskiy's ties to one of the country's wealthiest men, Ihor Kolomoyskiy, has worried reformers and some Western supporters. Zelenskiy's chief of staff previously worked as Kolomoyskiy's lawyer.

/**/ /**/ /**/ SEE ALSO: Renewal Or ';Revanche';? Buzzwords Of Ukraine';s Parliamentary Elections Forecast Tension Following Vote

In a video posted to social media last week, Zelenskiy addressed foreign investors in English, promising to clean up the government and make the country attractive for investment.

Preliminary official results are expected by early July 22.

With reporting by Mike Eckel and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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