KYIV – Ukrainian lawmakers have approved 35-year-old lawyer Oleksiy Honcharuk as the country's new prime minister during parliament's first session since elections last month.
Honcharuk, a political newcomer who previously worked in the presidential office, was nominated on August 29 by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian-turned-politician who has pledged to “break the system” in Ukrainian politics.
Despite his lack of experience, lawmakers easily approved Honcharuk with 290 deputies in the 450-seat house voting in favor of his appointment.
Honcharuk has spent much of his career as a lawyer, eventually becoming a lead partner at a firm that specializes in real estate development. In 2015, he ran the EU-funded nongovernmental organization BRDO that focused on reforms and advised Stepan Kubiv, the first deputy prime minister during ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s administration.
“It will be very difficult for this government," he acknowledged in a speech to parliament.
Honcharuk said Kyiv will start talks with the International Monetary Fund over a new program in the coming weeks, signaling that Ukraine is seeking a new longer-term deal to replace an existing $3.9 billion standby aid agreement.
"You all know about these problems that we have in the country. These are the debts we have inherited," he added.
Other appointments included former NATO Ambassador Vadym Prystaiko as foreign minister and Andriy Zahorodniuk, an expert on defense reform, as the new defense minister.
Before his confirmation, Prystaiko told parliament that Ukraine’s path toward EU and NATO integration would remain unchanged.
Zelenskiy’s former business partner, Ivan Bakanov, was appointed head of the SBU security service. The chairman of the Servant of the People party, Dmytro Razumkov, was chosen as parliamentary speaker.
Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People took a solid majority of 254 parliamentary seats in last month’s elections for the 450-seat legislature.
That unprecedented mandate is expected to give Zelenskiy a free hand to carry out his campaign pledge in April to turn Ukraine's political system upside down.
In his state-of-the-nation address before lawmakers, Zelenskiy noted that this legislature has the chance “to achieve the impossible” and accomplish what previous parliaments failed do in the last 28 years.
He named bolstering national security and defense as the highest priority, along with “ending the war” against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and “returning” the Crimean Peninsula to Ukraine’s fold.
Russia forcibly annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March 2014 and has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people since April 2014.
Zelenskiy also said he wants to end the practice of “raiding,” a reference to company takeovers enabled by crooked notaries and judges to transfer ownership of assets. Another priority is achieving energy independence.
The president called on lawmakers not to fight in the chamber, skip sessions, or engage in multiple voting, otherwise “this parliament will last only a year,” Zelenskiy said.
Among the 37 draft laws the president and his party registered on August 29, one would lift lawmakers’ immunity from prosecution. Because it’s a constitutional amendment, the bill requires a two-thirds majority vote that Servant of the People lacks.
Abolishing immunity has for Ukrainians consistently been one of the most desired anti-corruption measures, according to public opinion polls.
Zelenskiy registered a bill on corruption whistle-blowers and presidential impeachment as well.