On the 25th of September, local elections took place in Ukraine. Voters across the country were able to cast their votes. However, the local elections were held under a new electoral code that decentralized power from Kyiv to local governing bodies. Under the new legislation, only political parties could nominate their candidates for participation in towns and cities with more than ten thousand inhabitants. There are also positive changes to the law, for example, a women’s quota of 40% of the local council seats. This change has forces the main parties to include women on their party lists.
These elections are considered historical in Ukraine’s modern history because the reforms have been lauded as a significant step away from the top-down administration of the country inherited from the Soviet Union. The vote has also been seen as an important test for President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Servant of the People party.
Despite the new changes, the voter turnout was quite low. According to the information of the Central Election Commission, it was about 37% which is much less than 5 years ago 46.5%. However, there are several reasons why eligible voters did not vote. The voting came as Ukraine – like many European countries – is experiencing a sharp increase in new coronavirus infections. Besides, the interest in local elections is quite low (mostly elderly people took part in the voting). There is also a certain apathy and distrust of citizens towards politics in general.
Thus, not all of the national parties managed to expand their influences on the local level. With the help of local elections, parties such as European Solidarity (Former President Poroshenko) and Opposition Platform for Life (the former Party of Regions of fugitive President Yanukovych) were able to strengthen their presence in the western and eastern-southern regions of Ukraine. The pro-Kremlin Opposition Platform-For Life party did comparatively well, while President Zelensky’s Servant of the People party performed particularly poorly. For example, in Kyiv, the candidate for the position of mayor from the President’s party received 8% of the votes cast in the city, while the party received 10% of the votes in Kyiv. Similar results are seen in many other regions, where none of the country’s national parties proved themselves capable of overcoming the local parties of individual city mayors.
No local power balance
A distinctive feature of these elections was the distance between the incumbent mayors of almost all large cities of Ukraine from the central government. This indicates two important factors. The first and most important reason for mayors was investing the previously accumulated resources in personal rating and the desire to remain independent and in power. Thus, almost all of the incumbent mayors created their pocket parties, with the help of which they ran once again, and nominated their candidates into local and regional councils. According to preliminary data, in cities such as Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odessa, Dnipro, Kryvyi Rih, Khmelnytskyi, Vinnytsa, Mykolaiv, Ternopil, incumbent mayors are winning with a tangible advantage. Another reason is the growing influence of local elites, which were able to obtain very serious financial independence from the center as part of the implementation of the decentralization reform.
Despite the difficult conditions for social democratic candidates to campaign, more than 100 representatives of public organizations and trade union movements took part in the local election campaign. Many had to go on the lists of another party, whose ideological principles they did not support. At the moment it is rather difficult to say what the exact results will be, but some activists in Kyiv, Vinnitsa, Netishyn, Mykolaiv, Kharkov, Dolynska and some smaller villages have the chances to enter local councils.