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Ukraine Convenes New Parliament Dominated By Presidential Party

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy applauds during the first session of Ukraine's newly-elected parliament in Kyiv on August 29.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy applauds during the first session of Ukraine's newly-elected parliament in Kyiv on August 29.

The August 29 convocation of a new Ukrainian parliament – the youngest ever, with an average age of 41 – finally gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy control over a branch of government that has, to date, defied his legislative initiatives. But one analyst warns that Ukraine could now become more of a “super-presidential republic” with a parliament that simply follows the president’s line.

The president’s party, Servant of the People, holds the country’s first single-party parliamentary majority, with 254 seats, or 56 percent of the 450-seat legislature. The largest opposition party, the Russia-friendly Opposition Platform - For Life, has a mere 43 seats.

“We see the formation of a ruling party in Ukraine that will be oriented on the president’s office,” commented political analyst Oleksiy Yakubin. Key questions about the government's makeup and other matters, he predicted, will not fall to parliament to decide.

“The structure of government that is taking shape now is more characteristic of a super-presidential republic,” agreed Konstantin Skorkin, a journalist and Donbas specialist at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “That is, the president completely controls the branches of power and now this is a test for Ukrainian democracy.”

Servant of the People leader Dmytro Razumkov has been elected as parliamentary speaker.

In an afternoon speech, President Zelenskiy urged lawmakers to make history as the parliament that accomplished more than any other since Ukraine’s 1991 declaration of independence from the USSR.

That includes refraining from fistfights and absenteeism, he underlined.

“All of Ukraine kindly asks you … [O]nly constructive and painstaking daily work for the sake of the Ukrainian people. Or, God forbid, you’ll go into history as the parliament which existed for the shortest period of all – one year.”

The 41-year-old leader described his first 100 days in office as a “quiet” drive “at dusk with the headlights turned off and in first gear …”

“I’m confident that now the country will able to finally switch into fifth gear and move confidently along the way of change,” he said.

The old parliament, dominated by members loyal to ex-President Petro Poroshenko, had rejected key Zelenskiy bills on presidential impeachment and liability for MPs who enrich themselves illegally.

Servant of the People, which won a landslide victory in July parliamentary elections called by President Zelenskiy, appears eager to make up for lost time.

The party has nominated 35-year-old attorney Oleksiy Honcharuk, a presidential aide for economic issues, for the post of prime minister. If confirmed, he would rank as the youngest person ever to head Ukraine’s government.

Zelenskiy earlier described Honcharuk as “an economic guru, who has never been in politics.” He called him “an independent, strong person, with a professional education, who is respected in Ukraine as well as the West.”

Honcharuk formerly ran the Kyiv-based Better Regulation Delivery Office, a European-Union-financed consultancy for small and medium-sized businesses.

By education, he is a lawyer, who previously worked for real-estate developers PRIOR-Invest and in a law firm that specialized in business investments. He later was an advisor to First Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Development and Trade Stepan Kubiv, who has overseen Ukraine’s economic development, finance, and agriculture ministries since 2016, and as a consultant to ex-Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Ihor Shevchenko, who served under President Petro Poroshenko.

Analyst Yakubin believes that Honcharuk likely became the president’s favorite for prime minister because “he doesn’t have his own [political] faction and he’s shown that he’s sufficiently loyal” to Zelenskiy.

Other Servant of the People candidates for ministerial posts are:

*Dmytro Kuleba for deputy prime minister for European integration. Kuleba now chairs Ukraine’s mission to the Council of Europe.

*Vadim Prystaiko, the presidential administration’s deputy chief of staff, for foreign minister;

*Andriy Zagorodnyuk for defense minister. Zagorodnyuk formerly headed the defense ministry’s Reform Project Office.

Zelenskiy has proposed to his Servant of the People faction that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov retain his post. No opposition is expected, Ukrainian media report.

Finance Minister Oksana Markarova also is expected to stay in place. “She definitely enjoys respect among international organizations and the IMF, so the fact that she remains is a positive step for the Ukrainian government,” the UNIAN Information Agency reported parliamentary deputy Roksolana Pidlasa as saying.

Aside from deciding on key ministerial positions, Servant of the People representatives stated they are ready to work all night to pass more than 100 laws on the first day of the new session.

Deputies are expected to discuss bills on:

-Ending parliamentary deputies’ immunity from prosecution, a measure Zelenskiy and his team maintain is needed for fighting corruption;

-Procedures for impeaching the president;

-Punishing absentee members of parliament;

-A mechanism for holding deputies responsible to voters dissatisfied by their work;

-Reducing the number of deputies to 300;

-Ending the government’s financial support for political parties not in parliament;

-Amending the law on concessions to investors in a bid to facilitate outside investment in Ukraine

-With additional reporting by AFP, UNIAN

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