Campaigning kicks off for Ukraine early parliamentary polls

Kiev (AFP) –


Campaigning for Ukraine's snap parliamentary polls began Friday as comedian-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky seeks to cement his power.

The 41-year-old political novice, who won a landslide victory last month in a rebuke to the elites, dissolved a parliament dominated by his political opponents immediately after taking office this week.

To push through reforms, Zelensky needs to secure maximum seats for his newly-formed party, called Servant of the People after a television show in which he played a president.

Originally parliamentary elections had been set to take place in October but Zelensky called early polls for July 21.

Many said the dissolution of the single-house legislature was controversial but Zelensky insisted the old parliament did not enjoy popular support.

The Servant of the People was established in 2017 and is largely a virtual party.

But it is already leading in latest opinion polls with 44 percent support.

It has recently said it will profess libertarianism.

Analysts chalk up the party's massive popularity to the high approval ratings of Zelensky, who last month beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko winning more than 73 percent of the vote.

According to opinion polls, four more political parties will overcome a five-percent vote threshold to enter parliament.

The pro-Russian "Opposition Platform" is the second most popular party, with 10 percent of respondents saying they would vote for it, according to the Rating pollster.

Poroshenko's party and the party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- who was knocked out of the presidential race -- enjoy 8.8 percent and 7.3 percent support respectively.

Last week, Ukrainian rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk launched his own political party, dubbed Golos (Voice). Its popularity is growing rapidly and currently stands at 4.6 percent.

Under the current legislation, half of the 450-seat chamber's lawmakers are elected via party lists; the other half are selected directly in single-member districts.

Zelensky wanted to push through changes to the electoral law by lowering the voting threshold and having the next chamber elected only on party lists.

But lawmakers have refused to consider those proposals.