Ukraine's New President Announces Plans To Dissolve Parliament, Hold New Elections
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
We go now to Ukraine, which swore in a new president today, a president who is wasting no time putting his stamp on how the country's run.
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PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKIY: (Speaking Ukrainian).
KELLY: That's Volodymyr Zelenskiy. He had only just taken the oath of office today when he announced he wants to dissolve Ukraine's Parliament and hold early elections. Zelenskiy won the presidency last month by a landslide a surprise victory. He is a comedian, never held elected office before. But he was already famous in Ukraine for playing a fictional president on TV.
Well, to help us understand what's going on, we turn to David Stern. He is in Kiev covering all this for The Washington Post. Hey there, David.
DAVID STERN: Hello.
KELLY: Hi. So I gather that Zelenskiy delivered this news that he wants to dissolve Ukraine's Parliament while speaking to members of Parliament, delivering his inaugural address. How was it received?
STERN: Well, it wasn't entirely unexpected. There have been sort of anticipated rumors that he was going to call for early elections. That he did it during his inaugural address and, in fact, at the very end of it is kind of the punctuation point, if you will.
KELLY: Known as burying the lede. You say he did this at the very end of the address.
STERN: Yes, exactly. He very very buried the lede. I think it put a lot of the deputies on the back foot, and they really didn't know how to react to it. So it left them kind of scrambling.
KELLY: Well, is it legal? Can he just decide to dissolve Parliament?
STERN: It's not quite clear. But I think the consensus is, whether or not it's legal, he's probably going to get away with it. There is a sense that if deputies were to challenge this, perhaps in the courts or otherwise, it would just take too long. And in that sense, this is a masterstroke.
KELLY: Help us understand why this matters. And I ask because I gather Ukraine was already scheduled to hold elections later this year anyway.
STERN: Right. So the parliamentary elections were scheduled for the end of October. But as you noted, Mr. Zelenskiy won by - I think landslide is putting it lightly. He won with almost 75% of the vote. So he has a great deal of momentum. But the - Ukraine being what it is, a very weak economy and a war going going on in its east, what he apparently is trying to do is either win a majority in the Parliament or at least win enough seats that he can form a ruling coalition.
KELLY: Let me follow up on one of those challenges that he has just inherited as the new president - the war against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. This has been going on for five years. It's still simmering along. He talked about this a lot in his inaugural address today. Does he have a plan to bring some kind of end to this conflict?
STERN: Whether he has a plan it's not clear. He may and he's just keeping it from us. But he did say during the address that this was his top priority, to bring an end to the war or bring an end to the fighting. And he said that he was willing to take unpopular steps. In fact, he would be willing to sacrifice his own post, his own position in order to do what needs to be done. But obviously there are a lot of questions, not the least being, you know, what will the Russians and President Vladimir Putin do?
KELLY: Before I let you go, did we get any better sense today of Zelenskiy the man? This is a 41-year-old. As we mentioned, he's never held office. And I gather he turned down some of the traditional touches of inauguration. He didn't take the motorcade to get there, for example.
STERN: It was an unusual inauguration, fitting with the man himself and the campaign that he ran. He approached Parliament by foot among his supporters. They were behind barriers, but he walked along the barriers giving high-fives, slapping hands as he walked down, kissing some people, shaking hands, even taking a selfie. There's no question that this is going to be a totally new chapter for Ukraine and for most any democracy to have somebody like this as the commander in chief.
KELLY: David Stern, thanks again.
STERN: Thank you.
KELLY: David Stern. He's been covering events in Kiev today for The Washington Post. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.