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Decisive Win: Five Key Takeaways From Ukraine's Parliamentary Vote

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (center) applauds with his team as they look at the election results at his party's headquarters in Kyiv on July 21.

KYIV -- Ukrainian voters have spoken -- yet again -- and their message is loud and clear: They want change.

Three months to the day after comedian-turned-President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s landslide election victory upended Ukrainian politics, his political party continued the trend, as it appeared to score a decisive -- even unprecedented -- win in the country’s snap parliamentary vote on July 21.

Pledging to crack down on corruption, fix the struggling economy, and end the Russia-backed separatist conflict in the country’s east, Zelenskiy’s Servant Of The People party -- named after the television series that catapulted him to fame -- is on track to win about 122 seats in the national party-list vote and 125 in direct races in single-mandate districts, according to partial results from the Central Election Commission.

Here are five takeaways from the vote.

Historic Mandate For Reforms

As results from single-mandate districts came in overnight, it became apparent that Zelenskiy's Servant Of The People will occupy a majority of the new parliament -- a historic first for the country.

"A de-facto presidential republic as all power consolidated in [Zelenskiy’s] hands," tweeted Balazs Jarabik, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Roughly one-half of the Verkhovna Rada is elected on party lists. The rest are elected in 199 individual local races. Some experts had thought Servant Of The People would perform poorly in those direct races, which are often dominated by influential local players backed by powerful businessmen.

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But as of 10 a.m. on July 22, the party had won several of the races and was projected to hold at least 246 of the 424 seats up for grabs in the legislature. With more than 50 independents winning single-mandate district races, that number could increase if some decide to join the Servant side once in parliament.

The stunning victory makes clear that Servant Of The People will have the greatest amount of control in the parliament of any party ever, and a huge mandate for its reformist agenda. That would also mean a mandate for other key priorities, which Zelenskiy listed as “ending the war, returning Ukrainians held captive [in Russia], and defeating corruption.”

Moreover, Zelenskiy will now have a relatively easy time getting his choice for prime minister and other key cabinet positions approved.

Aivaras Abromavicius, a former minister of economy and trade and a Zelenskiy supporter, described the win to RFE/RL as “about as good as it gets.”

“A victory for reform -- close to three-quarters of voters backed pro-Western, pro-reform parties,” London-based analyst Timothy Ash wrote in a note to investors immediately after the first results.

Among the first bills to be debated, Zelenskiy said, will be those looking to lift lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution and outlining a procedure for impeachment of a president.

Coalition Not Needed

Winning a majority means Zelenskiy's party will not need to form a coalition, though it still could still seek a partnership in order to further strengthen its control.

“We will have to work with other factions in the parliament because our goal is to pass some drastic reforms, some which require constitutional changes, which can only be passed by two-thirds of parliament,” Svyatoslav Yurash, a Euromaidan activist who at just 23 years old may be the youngest Ukrainian ever to win a parliament seat, told RFE/RL.

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Speaking at his party’s headquarters after exit poll results were announced, Zelenskiy had invited the Holos party -- led by rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk -- to discuss forming a coalition.

Holos got 6.3 percent of the vote, according to the exit poll.

Biggest Turnover Of The Legislature In History

More than 60 percent of the seats in the new parliament will likely be filled by novice politicians like Yurash.

The lists for both Servant Of The People and Holos were each filled with newcomers, a requirement set out by both in order to ensure new, “politically clean” people -- as Vakarchuk told RFE/RL -- were elected.

Kateryna Zarembo, of the Kyiv-based New Europe Center, said the Servant Of The People victory combined with the Holos result likely marks the “biggest turnover” of lawmakers in the history of the country’s parliament.

That could mean fresh ideas and new ways of legislating inside the halls of the notoriously corrupt parliament, which polls show to be among the country’s least trusted institutions.

Establishment Parties Fading But Not Gone

Voters angry with establishment parties showed the extent of their discontent.

The European Solidarity party of former President Petro Poroshenko and the Fatherland bloc of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko got 8.9 percent and 7.6 percent of votes, respectively, according to the exit poll.

While some analysts believe Tymoshenko’s party could work with Zelenskiy's, they say Poroshenko’s seems destined to be among the opposition.

“He prolonged his political life with a decent result compared to where he was polling a month ago. But I don’t expect anything from him, except resistance,” Jarabik said.

At the same time, Zarembo said, “Having some old-school people [in parliament] is a good thing.” Experienced lawmakers know legislating in a way many of the newcomers do not.

Warnings About Rise Of Pro-Russia Parties Were Overblown

Despite warnings from some politicians about the return of pro-Russia parties, only the Opposition Platform-For Life performed well enough to win seats in parliament, getting 11.5 percent.

That’s only slightly more than a similar pro-Russia party got in 2014 and less than some preelection polls predicted. The Russia-friendly Opposition Bloc received just 3.3 percent in the July 21 balloting.

A vast majority of votes for both parties came from their base in the war-torn east of the country.

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