'This is Ukraine united by one leader, united by someone who is committed to Euro-Atlantic integration. It’s a message.'
UNITED NATIONS – Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly rejected incumbent president Petro Poroshenko’s bid to secure another five years in office this weekend, choosing instead to throw in their lot with comedian Volodymyr Zelensky.
Zelensky may be a political novice whose stances on the issues remain difficult to decipher, but in a country infamous for corruption, cleaning up politics will be a top priority.
John Jaworsky is professor emeritus of political science at the University of Waterloo.
“Of course there’s corruption in the United States and Canada, etc., but it’s the exception to the norm. Whereas in Ukraine, unfortunately, very often it is the norm.”
Zelensky will face an uphill battle to end corruption. For his first six months in office, he’ll have few allies in Ukraine’s parliament until new elections are held in October, meaning the entrenched politicians whose behavior Zelensky may want to target could stand in his way of doing so.
“The President and his administration doesn’t necessarily have the levers which are needed to quickly deal with corruption. What he can do, though, is set an example.”
Then comes the challenge of Russia. Zelensky campaigned on ending a bloody war against Russian-backed militants in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and said he’d engage in diplomatic talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And while Zelensky’s political opponents accused him of being secretly backed by Moscow, Nina Jankowicz of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute says that the story didn’t add up and that Zelensky’s landslide victory is bad news for Putin.
“He has united the country in a way that the country has not been united in years, from East to West, save one region in Lviv where he came close to beating Poroshenko but didn’t squeak through. Every other region he won a majority of the vote, and that is a strong message to the Kremlin: This is Ukraine united by one leader, united by someone who is committed to Euro-Atlantic integration. It’s a message.”