Ukraine’s new president calls for snap elections

Kiev: Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky used his inaugural speech on Monday to call snap parliamentary polls after shooting to power in a country wracked by a separatist conflict and severe economic problems.
The 41-year-old comedian was sworn in as Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president a month after scoring a landslide victory over Petro Poroshenko with a campaign capitalising on widespread public discontent with the political establishment.
Zelensky — whose only previous political experience is appearing as president in a popular TV show — announced his first priority was ending the five-year conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in the industrial east that has claimed over 13,000 lives.
“Our first task is a ceasefire in the Donbass,” Zelensky said during the ceremony in parliament, referring to the eastern separatist-controlled region, prompting a round of applause.
“We didn’t start this war but it is up to us to end it,” he said. “We are ready for dialogue,” he added, urging the handover of Ukrainian prisoners.
He reiterated Ukraine does not recognise Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea nor the separatists’ self-proclaimed republics.
“Our next challenge is the return of the lost territories,” he said.
Switching to Russian in an emotive speech, he stressed that Ukraine must regain the hearts and minds of Russian-speaking people living there, who “are not strangers, they are ours, Ukrainians”.
Zelensky announced he would dissolve parliament in order to call early elections which had originally been scheduled for October.
“People must come to power who will serve the public,” Zelensky said, after wrangling with hostile lawmakers whom he has called “petty crooks”.
Zelensky’s move could be seen as breaching Ukraine’s complex legislation but is likely to go ahead, political analysts said.
“It will be easier for Zelensky to dissolve parliament than to keep his high rating,” analyst Mykola Davydchuk said. “There are no mechanisms or instruments to stop this decision.” Zelensky also called for the sacking of the head of the state security service, prosecutor-general and defence minister loyal to his predecessor, although this has to be approved by parliament.
Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak and the head of the SBU security service Vasyl Grytsak tendered their resignations on Monday.
Zelensky took a non-traditional route to his inauguration — walking from his nearby home, after saying he wanted a less pompous ceremony.
— AFP