Ukraine inaugurates comedian Zelenskiy as president

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Standup comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been sworn in as the new president of Ukraine. The political novice is under pressure to deliver much-needed reforms after unseating incumbent Petro Poroshenko.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comic with no political experience, was inaugurated as the next president of Ukraine in a ceremony at the parliament in Kyiv on Monday.

The new head of state inherits a raft of challenges, including a struggling economy and the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

What happened at the ceremony:

  • Zelenskiy pledged to “protect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
  • He said his first task was to end the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.
  • He added that dialogue with Russia could only happen after the return of Ukrainian territory and prisoners of war.
  • The newly inaugurated president also announced he would dissolve parliament.
  • Zelenskiy broke with tradition and headed to parliament on foot, high-fiving and taking selfies with supporters along the way.

Who is Zelenskiy? Zelenskiy is best known for playing a fictional president on the popular television show “Servant of the People.” Now he’s also playing that role in real life, after a landslide victory against incumbent Petro Poroshenko in last month’s runoff election. Some critics claimed his run was backed by controversial Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoysky, whose channel broadcasts his shows. But Zelenskiy has denied having any political connection to the businessman.

What are his policies? During the campaign, Zelenskiy broadly sought to capitalize on voter disillusionment by framing himself as an alternative to the political establishment. He has so far provided few details about his policies, what he plans to do in office, or who he will appoint to key posts. However, he has said he wants to tackle corruption and keep Kyiv on the pro-Western course it has chartered under Poroshenko. He has also pledged to push Russian President Vladimir Putin to end Moscow’s occupation of Ukrainian territory.

Challenges ahead: The young president is under pressure to rein in the wealthy oligarchs who wield significant influence in Ukraine, tackle widespread corruption and a stagnant economy. Many voters also expect him to stand up to Putin and end a draining five-year conflict against Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine’s east.  DW correspondent in Kyiv Nick Connolly said there were “colossal expectations from ordinary Ukrainians” that Zelenskiy would be able to “change Ukraine and allow it, after 20-30 years of independence, to really make good on its potential.”

Problems in parliament: Zelenskiy begins his term in office without a parliamentary majority, a fact that will make it difficult for him to pass reforms. He has threatened to dissolve the chamber, which is dominated by Poroshenko supporters, and hold snap elections ahead of the scheduled date in October. But lawmakers have so far attempted to block those plans. Last week, the governing coalition collapsed after a group of MPs from the People’s Front pulled out. A president can only disband parliament if a governing coalition is in place. The parliament now has 30 days to form a new coalition.

nm/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

DW

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