Ukraine’s new president wins big

Readers will probably remember Ukraine’s presidential election, held three months ago. It got a fair bit of media coverage because Volodymyr Zelensky, who won in a landslide, had no political experience other than playing a fictional president in a humorous TV series, Servant of the People.

What you might not have picked up from the media is that a Ukrainian president is not, like (say) a United States president, the head of government: he governs through a prime minister responsible to parliament, on the French model. So it was no surprise when Zelensky promptly dissolved parliament in the hope of winning himself a supportive majority.

The election was held yesterday. The old parliament, elected in October 2014, had mostly supported then-president Petro Poroshenko; his party, now called European Solidarity, was the largest party with 132 of the 423 seats. A loose coalition of pro-European parties controlled a large majority.

Ukraine’s electoral system is less than ideal – it is in fact the same system used in neighboring Russia, which is not a great recommendation. There are 225 seats elected nationwide by proportional representation (Sainte-Laguë, by the look of it), with a 5% threshold. The remainder – nominally another 225, but falling short because of the Russian occupation of Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Lugansk provinces – are first-past-the-post in single-member districts.

So last time, Poroshenko’s party won only 63 of the proportional seats, with 21.8% of the vote. But it cleaned up on the single-member seats, winning 69 of them; its nearest rival, the People’s Front, had only 18.

Zelensky has proposed reforming the electoral system to lower the threshold and get rid of the single-member seats, but parliament has so far failed to act. Nonetheless, the existing system is clearly working to his advantage.

As of a short time ago (around 6.30am, Ukrainian time), with 29.0% of polling places reporting, Zelensky’s party (also called Servant of the People) had a runaway lead with 42.1% of the vote. A distant [second] was the mildly pro-Russian Opposition Platform, with 12.7%, followed by European Solidarity on 8.7%.

Only two other parties were clearing the 5% threshold: Yulia Tymoshenko’s party, Fatherland, with 8.2%, and the liberal Voice on 6.4%. Just missing out were the Radicals with 4.0% and Strength & Honor with 3.7%. Exit polls produced similar numbers.

But in addition to that, Servant of the People is on track to win more than half of the single-member seats. It’s currently leading in 117, with independents in front in another 51. The opposition parties have only a handful: Opposition Platform is leading in eight, its ally the Opposition Bloc in six, and the far-right Svoboda in three. European Solidarity, Fatherland and Voice are ahead in two apiece.

If those numbers hold up with further counting, the president’s party will finish with 238 seats, an overall majority of more than fifty. The Opposition Platform will have only 45, outnumbered by the 51 independents (of whom presumably some will be sympathetic to Zelensky, or able to be persuaded). Poroshenko’s party will be reduced to just 27.

Updates to come as more results appear.

UPDATE 9.30am, Ukrainian time:  Counting has been progressing steadily, now with 44.2% reporting. Servant of the People has maintained its lead, and in fact edged up very slightly to 42.3% of the vote, which would net it an additional PR seat at the expense of Fatherland.

FURTHER UPDATE 3.20pm, Ukrainian time: It’s not exactly a fast count, but Ukraine is a big country. Now 67.9% in and very little change; Servant of the People on 42.6%, Opposition Platform also up slightly to 13.1%. They would each pick up an extra seat as compared to the numbers in the original post, at the expense of European Solidarity (now 8.4%) and Fatherland (8.0%).

No-one is very close to the threshold, so that’s not going to be an issue; Voice is safely clear at 6.2%, and the Radicals are back on 3.8%. I haven’t rechecked the single-member districts, but no reason to think there’ll be any major change there either.



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