Is Ukraine headed for a snap parliamentary election?

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01:56 mins.
20.05.2019

Zelenskiy dissolves parliament

Freshly sworn-in President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is seeking to capitalize on his popularity and cement his grip on power. But will his call for snap elections get him the support he needs in parliament?

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the 41-year-old TV comic with no political experience who won Ukraine's presidential election just last month with 73% of the vote, isn't wasting any time. Minutes after he was sworn in as the country's new president on Monday in Ukraine's parliament, the Supreme Rada, he announced the dissolution of the legislative body and said it was time for a new government.

Zelenskiy has reason for haste: by law, he as only until May 27 to dissolve parliament and call new elections. After that date, a grace period will come into effect protecting the Rada ahead of the scheduled election in late October. But if the new president has his way, Ukrainians will now head to the polls in July.

Read more: Ukraine: Zelenskiy outshined Poroshenko on way to victory

Looking for parliamentary support

The tone of Zelenskiy's inaugural speech — like his video messages on social media during the election campaign — was reminiscent of the main character he played in the popular comedy series, Servant of the People.

In the show, Zelenskiy played a teacher who accidentally becomes Ukraine's president and pushes out existing officials with reputations for corruption and abusing power. Life further imitated art on Monday with Zelenskiy also asking parliament to support his motion to fire the defense minister, the head of the state security service and the prosecutor general, all allies of former President Petro Poroshenko.

"Dear people, during my life I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians smile," he said in his speech. "In the next five years, I will do everything, Ukrainians, so that you do not cry."

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01:58 mins.
DW News | 20.05.2019

A president without experience

As Ukraine's real-life president, Zelenskiy has made it clear he will take a tough stance when it comes to parliament, which is highly unpopular with the people. And it was hardly a surprise that he called for its dissolution on Monday.

For weeks, observers had speculated over whether he would call a snap election to get his new political party into the Rada. Without parliamentary support, Zelenskiy's hands are tied on many issues —according to Ukraine's constitution, power lies with parliament. The president only has the power to name certain ministers, the foreign and defense ministers among them.

The most recent opinion polls show Zelenskiy's party, named after his hit TV show and relatively unknown until recently, could take as much as 30% of the vote — far more than any of the country's other parties. But pundits have questioned whether this support can be sustained until the autumn, explaining Zelenskiy's eagerness for a July vote.

Read more: Vladimir Putin stirs Russia-Ukraine tensions with passport offer

Snap elections: Justified or not?

Whether or not he'll get his wish will be determined in the coming days. On Friday, the People's Front party tried to hobble the new president and prevent a snap election by announcing its withdrawal from Poroshenko's ruling coalition.

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Parliament now has 30 days, theoretically, to form a new coalition. Should it fail, the president would then be allowed to call fresh elections — though by then, the grace period would already be in force.

Zelenskiy, meanwhile, has argued that Ukraine's ruling coalition no longer exists. Indeed, the 2014 political alliance fell apart in February 2016 when three constituent parties, including Yulia Tymoshenko's  Fatherland party, joined the opposition.

The remaining two parties — the People's Front and Poroshenko's Bloc Solidarity — have since relied on independent lawmakers to secure parliamentary majorities on an ad hoc basis, meaning Zelenskiy's election call may have a solid legal ground.

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Fiction comes true

Not too long ago, Volodymyr Zelenskiy cracked jokes on screen in the popular Ukrainian TV show "Servant of the People," in which he plays a history teacher who becomes president of Ukraine. For Zelenskiy, the story has become reality — the actor won the country's presidential election in April. He isn't the only screen actor enter the political scene.

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Terminator to governator

Arnold Schwarzenegger was a bodybuilder and actor before he became governor of California (2003-2011). He is hands down one of the best-known celebrities to make that radical change in career. Initially a tough Republican, he later tightened weapons laws and raised minimum wage. He is still active in environmental protection.

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Wrestling to politics

Jesse Ventura — above in the 1987 film "Predator" — was an actor and a professional wrestler before he served first as mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and then as the state's governor for a term. He returned to the screen from 2009 to 2012 as host of the US TV series "Conspiracy Theory."

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'Let's make America great again'

Acting gave Ronald Reagan a taste of politics long before he became governor of California and the 40th US president in 1981. Beginning in 1941, he was active in the union at Warner Bros. film company and later became president of the Screen Actors Guild. Decades later, President Donald Trump picked up Reagan's successful 1980 election campaign slogan, "Let's make America great again."

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Brief Intermezzo

Clint Eastwood's political career also started in California, where the actor and director served as mayor of his hometown, Carmel, from 1986-88. But the fast-paced film industry drew him back. However he kept his political voice present, and many years later, the legendary film star spoke at the 2016 Republican party convention, endorsing the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

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Family legacy

With a politician father and grandfather who were interior minister and mayor of Athens respectively, the Greek actress and chanson singer Melina Mercouri seemed destined to enter politics, too. She became a lawmaker and later served twice as Greece's culture minister.

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Back in Berlin

In 1973 the military coup in Chile forced writer Antonio Skarmeta to flee via Argentina to Berlin. His writing focused on life in exile and being a stranger in a foreign country. Skarmeta returned to his native country 16 years later, only to live in the German capital again from 2000 to 2003, this time as Chilean Ambassador.

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Actress and MP

British actress Glenda Jackson won two Oscars for Best Actress, including for the 1969 film "Women in Love" (above). In 1992 she headed into politics for the Labour Party and served for four legislature periods in the House of Commons. She was one of Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair's most outspoken critics during the Iraq War. Jackson finally retired from politics at age 79.

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Bollywood to parliament

Vinod Khanna was one of the most successful actors in India in the 1970s. Yet he retired from the film business at the height of his career, spending a few years at the ashram of a mystical guru named Osho Rajneesh in the US before winning a seat in the Indian Parliament. Later he served as tourism and culture minister and as state minister in the foreign ministry. Khanna died in 2017.

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A singing president

Michel Martelly was president of Haiti from 2011 to 2016 and tasked with rebuilding the country after a devastating 2010 earthquake. Before that he was a popular singer who performed under the stage name "Sweet Micky" singing Kompa, a form of Haitian folk music.

Political crisis ahead?

The country's judiciary, and ultimately Ukraine's constitutional court, will make the final ruling. The court's presiding judge, incidentally, was recently dismissed after a vote of no confidence by his colleagues. It remains unclear whether there is a connection to Zelenskiy's planned dissolution of parliament.

A protracted power struggle between Zelenskiy and parliament over the timing of fresh elections could further harm the country, which is already politically and economically weak.

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