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Zelenskiy's Party Set For Big Victory As Voters Approve Reform Agenda


Zelenskiy Celebrates And Wants A 'New Face' For Prime Minister
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WATCH: Zelenskiy Celebrates After Exit Poll Result

KYIV -- At least five parties are slated to gain seats in Ukraine’s parliament following the July 21 preterm elections.

Findings by a Western-funded exit poll indicate that the biggest winner is the party of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy -- Servant of the People -- as voters threw their support behind the former comic's pro-Western reform and graft-fighting agenda.

His Servant of the People is on track to win 44 percent of the July 21 vote for party lists, according to exit polls as of 8 p.m. local time.

Voter turnout was nearly 50 percent, the Opora election watchdog said, which also monitors polling violations.

The exit poll data so far nearly mirrors official returns.

With more than 35 percent of the vote counted, Servant of the People enjoys 42 percent support, according to the Central Election Commission.

The exit poll suggests that the pro-Moscow Opposition Platform -- For Life party looks to get 11.4 percent, followed by ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party (8.8 percent), populist Fatherland party (7.4 percent), and rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk's Holos party (6.5 percent).

They all appear to have passed the required 5-percent threshold for legislative seats.

"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.

The strong result for Servant of the People, which was formed just a few months ago, underscores Ukrainians desire for a break with established politicians and parties that have failed to improve living standards enough. It also gives Zelenskiy -- who won the presidency in April in a landslide victory -- more power in choosing outsiders to occupy key government positions.

“The bottom line is that Zelenskiy -- between the presidential and the Rada [parliamentary] elections -- has put himself in a position for serious reform if that is what he chooses to do,” John Herbst, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine during street protests known as the Orange Revolution, told RFE/RL after the exit polls.

Zelenskiy told supporters at his party’s campaign headquarters that one of his main priorities will be “to defeat the corruption that continues to persist in Ukraine."

Graft has for years stifled economic growth in the Eastern European country, which traditionally ranks among the most corrupt European nations.

Earlier in the day, Zelenskiy said he wanted 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.

The president called new parliamentary elections three months ahead of their originally scheduled date because the outgoing parliament is dominated by his opponents, hampering his capacity to enact reforms.

However, the exit polls indicate he will likely need to form a coalition with another party to achieve a majority in parliament and easily pass legislation.

Zelenskiy has already offered to start negotiations with Holos, a start-up party with a similar reform agenda to Servant of the People.

Vakarchuk, the Ukrainian rock star who founded the party, told RFE/RL that he would be willing to form a coalition with Servant of the People.

“Our intention is to make an impact,” Vakarchuk said after voting in Kyiv. “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 the country’s development over the 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.

A coalition agreement for Vakarchuk, he said, entails that “Ukraine moves towards the European Union and NATO; no one is above the law and there is the inevitability of punishment; an economy without oligarchs; and lawmakers drop down from the sky to earth.”

Under Ukrainian law, half of the seats are proportionately distributed according to lists generated by the parties; the other half are distributed to simple-majority winners in districts where there is only a single-member constituency.

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

The results are a “big win for pro-Western, pro-reform parties,” said Timothy Ash, a London-based economist focused on emerging economies.

A coalition with Holos will be “good for reform and continuity.”

Ambassador Herbst, who saw first hand how Ukraine’s first pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko failed to deliver on pro-Western policies and fighting corruption, was quick to caution that not all members of Zelenskiy’s party are as reform-minded as the president appears to be.

And questions still remain about how willing Zelenskiy 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.

However, Herbst said Zelenskiy's choice of reformers to fill crucial positions at the State Customs Service and Ukroboronoprom, the military conglomerate, bodes well for fighting corruption.

And a coalition with Holos could “make up” for any deficiencies resulting from non-reformists inside Servant of the People, he said.

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