Zelenskyy’s Defeat—Results of Local Elections in Ukraine
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27 OCT 2020 Spotlight
The preliminary results of local elections held on 25 October in Ukraine show a defeat for the ruling Servant of the People party. This will increase tensions between the central government and regions whose powers have increased as a result of local government reform being implemented. It is also possible it will lead to the gradual disintegration of the ruling party in the Verkhovna Rada.
Photo: Ivan Nikolayev/TASS Photo: Ivan Nikolayev/TASS

What were the results of the elections?

The preliminary election results indicate that the ruling Servant of the People (SP) party lost. SP candidates did not win a majority in the vote for mayor in any of the most important regional cities, in most cases without even entering the second round. Many of the current mayors probably will remain in their positions, for example, in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lviv, and Odesa. Local formations, often centred on mayors, have also been successful in the voting for city councils. Opposition parties also achieved good results in the elections, including the pro-Russian Opposition Platform–for Life (OP) and the pro-Western European Solidarity (ES) of Petro Poroshenko. They strengthened in their traditional areas—the OP in the south and east and the ES in the west of the country.

Why are these elections exceptional?

These elections mark the end of an important stage of decentralisation in Ukraine. The reform aims to strengthen local government units by reducing their fragmentation and increasing competences. After the elections, new units (gromadas) will be formed. The number of regions will be cut to 136 from 490. The new units will gain financial independence and will no longer have to seek subsidies from the central authorities because they can retain 60% of personal income taxes in their budget. The reform, by increasing the importance of local government units, has contributed to an intensification of the political struggle for mandates, including numerous violations of election law noted by the police.

What are the results of the so-called Zelensky survey?

Along with the elections, Ukrainians could vote separately on five of the president’s proposals: a life sentence for large-scale corruption, a special economic zone in Donbas, a reduction in the number of MPs, the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes, and the use of the security assurances provided by the Budapest Memorandum. The reduction in the number of MPs received the highest support in the survey, garnering 70%. This was a legally non-binding poll, intended to mobilise participation in the local elections and gain a mandate to implement Zelenskyy’s policy on the conflict in Donbas. The first goal was not achieved—turnout in the local elections was low (36.8%), probably because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the mandate for Zelenskyy’s proposals is questionable because of irregularities with the survey, the Donbas points will probably be used in negotiations with Russia.

What could be the consequences of the local elections?

The good results for current mayors and their political parties, together with the increased powers of the local authorities, will result in increased tensions between the central government and the regions. The central authorities will probably strive for changes to the constitution (the next stage of decentralisation) to limit the independence of local authorities, for example, by increasing the importance of prefects. Meanwhile, the weak result for SP may accelerate its disintegration in the Verkhovna Rada, which would weaken Zelenskyy. Despite having a majority in parliament, SP must increasingly seek votes among the opposition to retain its majority during voting. The weak result for SP may also lead some MPs to join other factions or found new ones. This will make it more difficult for Zelenskyy to implement policy because it will increase the influence of oligarchs who control opposition parties and factions within the SP.