Zelensky party heads for absolute majority in Ukraine

Dmytro GORSHKOV, Ola CICHOWLAS
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Zelensky has promised to stamp out corruption and end a separatist war

Ukraine's comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky is set to control an absolute majority in parliament after polls that ushered in a new generation of lawmakers in the ex-Soviet country.

The 41-year-old became Ukraine's youngest ever post-Soviet leader when he took office two months ago and has promised to stamp out corruption and end a separatist war.

His newly created Servant of the People party -- named after a sitcom in which he played a president -- took around 43 percent in Sunday's parliamentary polls, with 70 percent of votes counted.

Ukrainian media said these results put the party on track to pick up more than half of the parliament's 450 seats, the best showing by any party in the country's post-1991 history.

The result is the culmination of Zelensky's stunning entry into Ukrainian politics and will bring a host of newcomers into parliament and government.

One of the many young and politically inexperienced future lawmakers who will enter parliament is Zhan Beleniuk, a 28-year-old Olympic wrestler with Rwandan roots.

An entertainer, a wedding photographer and a dentist are among the first-time MPs for Zelensky's party.

Four other parties -- including one openly supported by the Kremlin -- passed the five-percent threshold to enter parliament.

At 49.8 percent, the turnout was the lowest in Ukraine's post-independence history.

The polls "respected fundamental freedoms," international observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said.

Nevertheless polls were marred by "widespread malpractice and the misuse of political finance," they said, with vote buying a "serious concern".

- 'New face' for PM -

Speaking shortly after exit polls were released Sunday, Zelensky said his primary goals were to bring peace and tackle corruption.

He also said he was looking for a "new face and a specialist in the economy" to become the next prime minister.

According to initial forecasts, it had seemed likely Zelensky would have to form a coalition.

The president had indicated a preference for another new political force, the Golos (Voice) party of rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk.

The singer's party, also packed with young professionals, made it to parliament with six percent of the vote, according to the latest results.

Some Ukrainians said they were worried Zelensky will wield too much power.

"For every force there must be an opposition," said one Kiev resident, Katerina Karpushko.

"Power in the hands of one person is not right."

"It's best to form a parliamentary coalition in order to avoid authoritarian tendencies," said analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

"Especially as there is a suitable candidate: the Golos party," he added.

Servant of the People party leader Dmytro Razumkov said Monday that the party was "open to dialogue" with parties with the same "basic vision for our country."

- 'Tough opposition' -

Zelensky's victory in April was seen as a rejection of the country's traditional elite for failing to end the separatist conflict, revive the economy or tackle widespread corruption.

Ukraine's new government will face a long list of challenges as the country is heavily dependent on foreign aid and scarred by a conflict with Russia-backed separatists that has killed 13,000 in five years.

In another challenge for Zelensky, after more than a decade's absence, a formidable ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Viktor Medvedchuk, will return to the Ukrainian parliament.

His pro-Moscow party Opposition Platform-For Life came second in the vote with 13 percent.

Medvedchuk has claimed that the Russian leader is godfather to his daughter.

Former president Petro Poroshenko's European Solidarity party and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's party Batkivshyna (Fatherland) also entered parliament with 8.4 and 8 percent of the vote respectively.

Analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk said that Zelensky faces "tough opposition" from both Poroshenko and Medvedchuk.

"He will be in a difficult situation. They will create serious problems for him," he said.