New wave of young Ukrainians shakes up parliamentary polls

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The polls are packed with young people new to politics

At 33, Kira Rudyk already heads a company with a thousand employees and is among a host of ambitious young political novices standing in Ukraine's parliamentary polls on Sunday.

The chief operational officer at the Ukrainian branch of Ring, a US smart home security startup acquired by Amazon last year for over $1 billion, Rudyk is standing for pro-Western party Golos, or Voice.

The party was launched in May by Ukrainian rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk and opinion polls predict it is likely to get into parliament.

"I am a startup enthusiast at heart and when Svyatoslav told me there was a chance of getting into parliament and being able to change the things that are going badly, I said to myself: why not?" Rudyk told AFP.

The parliamentary polls called by recently-elected President Volodymyr Zelensky are expected to usher in a new era in the ex-Soviet country dominated up to now by politicians who grew up in the USSR.

"This will be a fundamental turning point," said sociologist Iryna Bekeshkina of the Kiev-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation, who predicts that between 50 and 70 percent of the next parliament will be first-time MPs.

Ukrainians elected Zelensky, a comedian with no political experience in April, frustrated at the long-drawn-out war against Moscow-backed separatists in the east that has killed some 13,000 as well as ingrained corruption and economic woes.

Parliamentary polls look likely to follow the same trend: out of the five parties leading in opinion polls, two are newly created -- Golos and Zelensky's own party, Servant of the People.

Packed with young people new to politics, the two parties have gone so far as banning any candidates who previously served as MPs from their lists.

Their candidates include businesspeople, athletes, and activists. Their average age is 37.

The president's party, which is named after a sitcom in which he starred, is predicted to get almost half the vote, followed by three more established parties.

The pro-Russian Opposition Platform is tipped to win up to 14 percent, the party of ex-president Petro Poroshenko up to 9 percent and that of ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko around 7 percent. Golos is expected to win between 4 and 9 percent.

- Temptations and pressure -

One of the candidates for Zelensky's party is Iryna Vereshchuk, who previously served as mayor of a small town in western Ukraine and now heads a think tank in Kiev.

The 39-year-old appears desperate to make the "political big time" and put herself forward when the party issued a call for candidates.

"I suggested it (to a party official) during a talk show," she said. "They invited me to the headquarters for an interview and that's how our cooperation began."

While analysts cautiously welcome a renewal of the legislature, they say that the new lawmakers' lack of experience could lead to a chaotic handover.

"The parliament's job is adopting laws and you have to know how to do this," said Bekeshkina.

"Therefore it's very important to know whether the lawmakers will collaborate with competent advisors. For the moment that's not clear."

Golos is even running a training course for its candidates. This involves "two or three sessions a week on creating the budget, information security and drafting laws," said party spokeswoman Alisa Malitska.

Lawmakers will also have to deal with likely offers of bribes in a country where an MP's backing for a bill reportedly can be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

"I'm a realist and I don't believe that all my colleagues will be able to resist all the temptations," said Vereshchuk.

Outgoing lawmaker Yegor Sobolev warned that "the greatest risk for the novice lawmakers is being manipulated" by people who want to influence a vote's outcome, whether through "incomplete information, alteration of facts or fabricating expert advice."

"Be prepared to face the greatest pressure of your life!" he wrote in a message to future lawmakers on Facebook.

"Check everything," he warned, and "only vote (for a draft law) if you are sure that it's a step in the right direction."