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Volodymyr Zelensky’s Landslide Victory in Ukraine May Become a Slippery Slope

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Odessa, Ukraine

Volodymyr Zelensky’s landslide presidential victory has recently been confirmed by an equally impressive victory for his party in the Ukrainian parliament. For the first time in the history of post-Soviet Ukraine, a single party now controls both the legislature and the executive branch.

This represents a tectonic shift in the Ukrainian political landscape. Weary of war and of the social tensions spawned by efforts to project a narrow form of Galician identity onto the entire nation, the country overwhelmingly rejected president Petro Poroshenko in favor of a complete unknown. This would seem to give him greater freedom to negotiate a resolution to the conflicts that plague Ukraine, but it is still far too early to tell whether this popular mandate for change can become actual policy.

As expected, Volodymyr Zelensky’s impromptu party, Servant of the People, triumphed in this week’s Ukrainian parliamentary elections. Every poll said it would; the only intrigue that remained was whether it would gain enough seats to rule on its own (it did); how well the late-surging, peace-with-Russia Opposition Platform would do (better than expected); and whether the fractured remnants of the Maidan coalition—Fatherland, European Solidarity, and Voice—would all make it into parliament (they did).

To appreciate how radical a change this is, we need to recall what the previous parliament looked like. When the freshly minted president Poroshenko called for snap parliamentary elections, just before heading to Minsk, Belarus, to meet with Vladimir Putin on August 27, 2014, he intended it to be a referendum on his decision to halt the military campaign and grant autonomy to the rebel-controlled regions.

But the parties that opposed the Minsk Accords (Popular Front, Fatherland, and the Radical Party) won more than 35 percent of the party-list vote, while the Poroshenko Bloc got fewer than 22 percent. The only other party to endorse the peace plan, the Opposition Bloc, barely got 10 percent of the national vote. These results effectively buried the peace process, and reflected the anger that Ukrainians felt toward Russia at the time. Five years later, however, the Popular Front is gone and the Radical Party failed to make it into parliament. Fatherland and the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (now renamed European Solidarity) each hover at around 8 percent of the popular vote, well behind the Opposition Platform, which calls for improving relations with Russia across the board.

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