As most of you will have learned by now, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is now not only President of Ukraine, but his party, “Sluha Narodu”, has captured a clear majority of the seats in the Ukrainian parliament known as the Verkhovna Rada (VR). In the just completed elections, they captured 254 seats of the 450-seat legislature. Twenty six of these seats, representing the occupied areas of Crime and the Donbas, remain vacant. Four other parties made the threshold for entry into the VR, with the pro-Russian Opposition Platform gaining 43 seats, Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party winning 26 seats, Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party 25 seats and Svyatoslav Vakarchuk’s Holos party 20. With a clear majority in the VR, there is little stopping Zelenskyy from quickly enacting the reforms he has been promising his eager followers. With some tactical coalition support, he can even cobble together the 300 votes needed to enact constitutional changes.
By all accounts from the official observers, the parliamentary election was run in a fair manner with only a few and mostly minor infractions that had minimal impact on the final results. So, the reformist, anti-corruption forces won, many long-established corrupt VR deputies from the rich oligarchic class were summarily evicted, and three quarters of the members of parliament are first-time winners, most of them young activists eager to implement long-needed changes. So, one would think that most Ukrainians, particularly those in Western Ukraine, would be thrilled at the prospects. Sad to say, that is far from the case.
Since the results of the election became clear, there has been no end of material in the media and the Internet in particular, claiming that Zelenskyy will be a disaster, that those elected to the VR under his party banner are a bunch of uneducated, unemployed ignoramuses, that Victor Medvedchuk, Putin’s “eminence grise” in Ukraine, is in effect controlling everything, that the oligarch Kolomoisky is really pulling all the strings, that this is the first step of Russia regaining control of Ukraine, etc. etc. Needless to say, most of this is opinion, speculation and black PR by Zelenskyy’s more than biased losing opponents, that is little supported by credible facts and which contains a large element of what I would call “sour grapes”.
There are many legitimate reasons to be cautious about Zelenskyy and what he may or may not do, but we must keep in mind that he was fairly and democratically elected and should be given the opportunity to implement the reform and anti-corruption programs he promised. Ukrainians need to suspend the vituperative abuse for the time being until it becomes clear over the next six months or so, what his agenda is. As in long-established parliamentary democracies, he should be given the chance to form a cabinet and a government, and the remaining parties in the VR should play the role of a responsible and loyal opposition.
For the past 28 years, the VR has been controlled by devious means by oligarchic forces that knew how to subvert the electoral system. In this election, many of the odious figures that were complicit in this, such as Kivalov, Kolesnikov, Dobkin, Kononenko, Lytwyn, and others, were soundly defeated. So were a lot of old guard political game players such as Saakashvili and Nadia Savchenko. There are a lot of fresh young faces and they should give us reason for hope.
Detractors have been making fun of the fact that many of the new deputies are people with little or no political experience, among them, a wedding photographer, a teacher, a restaurant owner, an IT guru, and many others from seemingly ordinary professions. Rather than being a negative, I would assert that this is exactly what you need in a representative legislative body. You need people from all walks of life and from all economic classes. You need people in the VR who know what it is like to live in Ukraine right now. Ukraine needs truly representative people in the VR who can set the right priorities and formulate the right policies to get Ukraine going in the right direction again. They need not be technocrats versed in the arcane complexities of drafting laws; there are experts that can be called upon do that. What is more important is that members of the VR reflect the desires and the needs of the average Ukrainian, and not the wishes of billionaire oligarchs.
Sadly, the low level of political discourse in Ukraine, is not unique. It seems that it is following an increasingly global trend, as evidenced by the petty, populist and abusive rhetoric to be found in the U.S., Britain and even here in Canada. When political debate moves from being a reasoned exchange of contending ideas, to being one-sided barrages of insults, denigrating characterizations and outright slanders, then we have cause to worry about our democratic future.