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Ukraine's new president sworn in, disbands Parliament

Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy applauds after taking the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony in the parliament hall in Kiev
Ukraine's new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, applauds after taking the oath of office during his inauguration ceremony in the Parliament hall in Kiev, Ukraine on May 20, 2019 VALENTYN OGIRENKO / REUTERS

Kiev, Ukraine -- Ukrainian TV star Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sought to capitalize on his huge popularity, dissolving the country's parliament Monday minutes after he was sworn in as president. 

Zelenskiy, who won 73% of the vote last month in a landslide victory, slammed parliament as a hot-bed of self-enrichment, and promised to stop the war in the east against Russian-backed separatists.

The president's bold move to dissolve the Supreme Rada followed the failure of a majority of lawmakers to use parliamentary ruses to hamper Zelenskiy's plans.

Zelenskiy's victory reflected Ukrainians' exhaustion with widespread corruption and the country's political elite.

Even before he disbanded parliament, which had been one of his campaign promises, the 41-year-old Zelenskiy upended other Ukrainian political traditions on inauguration day.

He ditched the idea of the usual motorcade to his inauguration, walking to parliament in the capital of Kiev through a park packed with people. Flanked by four bodyguards, the beaming president-elect gave high-fives to some spectators, even stopping to take a selfie with one of them.

After he was sworn in but before he moved to dissolve parliament, Zelenskiy asked the Supreme Rada to adopt a bill against illegal enrichment and supporting his motions to fire the country's defense minister, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service and the Prosecutor General. All of them are allies of former President Petro Poroshenko, who lost the election to the comedian with no previous political experience but who played the Ukrainian president on a popular TV show for years.

Defense Ministry Stepan Poltorak promptly published his letter of resignation on Facebook.

In a feisty speech after his inauguration, Zelenskiy told the Rada his main goal for the presidency is to bring peace to eastern Ukraine, where government troops have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for five years in a conflict that has left at least 13,000 dead.

"I'm ready to do everything so that our heroes don't die there," he said. "It wasn't us who started that war. But we need to be the one to finish it."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin had no plans to congratulate Zelenskiy until progress is made settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine and healing ties with Moscow, according to the Reuters news agency.

As ministers and lawmakers listened with dismay, Zelenskiy urged everyone in the cabinet to resign, asking them to "free the spot for people who will think about the future generations, not about the future elections."

Many lawmakers had already viewed Zelenskiy's inauguration with apprehension, and it was not clear if the new president could legally dissolve the sitting parliament. Political factions have been maneuvering for weeks trying to avoid such a situation.

Zelenskiy is hoping to ride the wave of his electoral success to get his supporters into parliament. Ukraine's parliamentary election was scheduled for Oct. 27, and the current legislature's authority expires in late November. Ukrainian law allows the president to disband the parliament no later than six months before its power expires.

In a bid to deprive Zelenskiy of the opportunity to call an early election, a faction in the Rada had announced its departure from the ruling coalition, technically collapsing Poroshenko's government. The parliament's rules envisage that it cannot be disbanded within 30 days following the announcement of a collapse of the ruling coalition.

Zelenskiy's supports argued, however, that the motion was legally void because the coalition had long ceased to exist.

The new president wrapped up his speech at parliament by referring to his career as a comedian.

"Throughout all of my life, I tried to do everything to make Ukrainians laugh," he said with a smile. "In the next five years I will do everything, Ukrainians, so that you don't cry."