Fulfilling a campaign promise, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41 year-old Ukrainian television star, disbanded Parliament in a fiery speech just moments after being sworn in as the new Ukrainian president, CBS News reports. Zelenskiy, a comedian who played the role of president who was unexpectedly elected in a popular TV show but has no real life political experience, won the presidential race with 73% of the vote last month. His move to dissolve the Rada will allow snap elections to take place.
Zelenskiy eschewed the usual motorcade trip to the inauguration, instead walking with bodyguards through Kiev, giving high-fives to bystanders, stopping to take a selfie with one spectator, and kissing another on the head.
In his inaugural address, the new president asked the entire cabinet to resign and slammed the government as a hot-bed of self-enrichment. Defense Ministry Stepan Poltorak resigned after President Zelenskiy called for the Rada to support his motion to fire the Defense Minister and other allies of outgoing president Petro Poroshenko. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said he would resign on Wednesday and invited Zelenskiy to take full responsibility of the country, according to the AP.
President Zelenskiy’s move to dissolve Parliament came after parliamentary maneuvering to prevent such an action. One faction announced it was leaving the ruling coalition, technically collapsing the government before Poroshenko left office. That would have prevented the disbanding of Parliament for 30 days but Zelenskiy and his supporters argued that the claim that government had long since ceased to function was invalid, paving the way for today’s move.
Zelenskiy is hoping to use the snap elections, which will be held two months after he signs the decree disbanding the Rada, to replace a government dominated by his predecessor’s supporters with his own.
ABC News reports that President Zelenskiy told officials that he wanted them to hang portraits of their children, instead of his portrait, and think of them when they were making decisions. “Because a president isn’t an idol,” he said. He also quoted Ronald Reagan, who he pointed out was also an actor and an “awesome” president. He told the Rada, “Government isn’t the solution to our problem, it is the problem.”
The inaugural address ended with the newly sworn in president saying, “Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh. In the next five years I will do everything, Ukrainians, so that you don’t cry.”
Zelenskiy faces a war weary population and an aggressive neighbor who invaded a portion of Ukraine in 2014 and who detained 24 Ukrainian sailors and seized three ships in November. He campaigned on a promise to end the war with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine and said in his address, “I’m ready to do everything so that our heroes don’t die there. It wasn’t us who started that war. But we need to be the one to finish it.”
Per the AP, the Kremlin expressed hope that Zelenskiy will help normalize relations with Russia but said Putin will not congratulate Zelenskiy on his inauguration until the first steps are taken to normalize relations. A spokesman for Putin said the Kremlin is open to continue talks regarding the release of the sailors.