October 27, 2020
On October 25, Ukrainians voted in local elections for city mayors, heads of village municipalities, local and regional councils. These elections were important for two reasons. First, they were the first ones to be held under the new Election Code, which made these elections a de facto test for long-awaited electoral reform in Ukraine. And second, the elections revealed that Zelenskyy’s approval rating has drastically fallen, while the local elites managed to retain their power. In addition, they showed that the ghost of a pro-Russian comeback in the country’s east exists, but stays stable, as the pro-Russian Opposition Platform for Life mostly came in second or third place in the town and regional councils closer to the Russian border.
Preliminary results according to exit polls
The preliminary results of the local elections show that local elites easily and drastically outdistanced Zelenskyy’s party, Servant of the People. Even the party-list voting (the so-called proportional electoral system, – Ed.), introduced at the last moment before the campaigning for small municipalities, barely helped the presidential party to win more than a modest 5-15% at most councils, while at the last year’s parliamentary elections the Servants had 43% of the votes.
MORE ABOUT THE LOCAL VOTING CULTURE
The data of exit polls show that all mayors of the biggest cities are going to retain their office. The same goes for the mayors’ regional parties which won city councils on many occasions. So, the victory of incumbent local authorities, even of those engaged in numerous corruption scandals in the past, can be explained to a large extent by the service-oriented rather than transparency- or justice-oriented voting culture of Ukrainians.
Poroshenko’s European Solidarity demonstrated a rather high level of support ranging from 7% in the country’s east to 32% in the west – a major increase compared to the 2019 parliamentary elections, where it landed in fourth place with only 8.1% of the votes.
As for the pro-Russian parties, Opposition Platform, the successor to fugitive president Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, and the novel Shariy’s Party run by popular pro-Russian blogger Anatoliy Shariy, they jointly have up to 20% of votes in the eastern Ukrainian cities and almost no votes in the west of the country. This level of support for pro-Russian elites has remained rather stable over the last years with no trend of rapidly rising popularity but at the same time retaining the long-lasting power of openly pro-Russian political forces.
Incumbent mayor Vitaliy Klitschko is close to a landslide victory with 47% of votes (according to Interfax-Ukraine’s source close to the ongoing process of counting the votes, Klitschko may even win in the first round with 50+%, – Ed.). His closest rival Oleksandr Popov has only 9% of the votes. Even in the case of the second round, the results are quite predictable. Klitschko actively participated in the Revolution of Dignity and was first elected as Kyiv mayor in 2014. He is considered one of the best Ukrainian mayors according to evaluations by the Opora watchdog. Regarding Kyiv city council, Klitschko’s party Udar has 20% of the votes, Poroshenko’s European Solidarity 18%, Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People 10%. The pro-Russian Opposition Platform holds fourth place with about 8% of the votes.
In Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, incumbent since 2010 Hennadiy Kernes was re-elected as mayor by 58% of the votes. Kharkiv is situated only 30 kilometers away from the Russian border. This city in the east is considered one of the two most pro-Russian Ukrainian cities, the other is the southern port city of Odesa. Both were included in the so-called Novorossiya project by the Russian Federation in 2014 in an attempt to annex south-eastern Ukraine.
However, despite widespread fears, the pro-Russian Opposition Platform obtains a rather moderate 17% of votes in Kharkiv, coming second after Kernes’ party (40%). Another pro-Russian party of Anatoliy Shariy got 6%. Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party won just 12%. At the same time, Poroshenko’s European Solidarity obtained 9% of the votes, which is a relatively high number for this party in Kharkiv.
In Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port city, the incumbent mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov secured 34% of the votes and is likely to gain the upper hand over his closest rival (17%) in the runoff. Trukhanov’s local party got the same 34% of the votes, while the Opposition Platform came in second with 18%. The pro-Russian Shariy’s party got 8% in Odesa. At the same time, Zelenskyy’s and Poroshenko’s party got 16% and 13% in Odesa respectively.
In Lviv, the biggest city in western Ukraine, incumbent mayor Andriy Sadovyi (41%) is also likely to overcome his closest rival (27%) in the second round. Yet, Lviv is the only city where the mayor’s local party finished second (21%) after Poroshenko’s European Solidarity (28%). No pro-Russian party is going to win seats in the Lviv city council as the liberal Voice and nationalist Svoboda got 12% and 6% respectively. The intrigue remains whether Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party will be present in the council, as it has, according to the exit polls, about 5%, which is the election threshold.
The trends remain similar in other Ukrainian cities and towns. The majority of mayors were re-elected and their parties got the highest electoral support. Zelenskyy’s party got some 5-15% of the votes and has up to 30% in the south. Poroshenko’s party got nearly the same 10-15% on average and more in the west. Pro-Russian parties in eastern Ukraine got no more than their usual 20%.
The important exception is the second-largest city in Donetsk Oblast, Mariupol, the city closest to the Donbas frontlines, where the pro-Russian Opposition platform and Shariy’s party got almost 40% together.
There is no information yet about regional (oblast) councils. These are the most important in the context of Russian aggression. If pro-Russian parties win more seats there, regionalization may become possible. The presented data on cities is based on exit polls by the Rating group, Savik Shuster program, and regional media. The information will be updated soon.
Scandals and violations during the elections
There were at least two scandals during the elections. They did not influence the results greatly but are important politically.
The first is that the Hungarian Minister of foreign affairs Péter Szijjártó, on the day of the elections, openly called on Hungarians in the Ukrainian Transcarpathian region to support the local Hungarian party for the regional council. That is a clear violation of the rule of abstention from campaigning on the day of elections. It is also inappropriate since a foreign official has openly intervened in Ukraine’s internal affairs. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted by the statement:
“In this way, official Budapest brazenly reaffirmed its direct interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs and struck an insidious blow to Ukraine’s consistent efforts to constructively resolve the problems in Ukrainian-Hungarian relations. Unacceptable tips from Budapest to the voters violate Ukrainian law and leave the Ukrainian side no choice but to react harshly to such steps in accordance with established international practice and Ukrainian law,” the statement reads.
The second was the so-called president Zelenskyy poll. Representatives of Ukrainian president Zelenskyy were standing in front of the many polling stations across the country asking voters 5 questions: on legalizing medical cannabis, the establishment of a free economic zone in the Donbas, cutting down the number of MPs from 450 to 300, the introduction of life imprisonment for corruption, the use of Budapest memorandum diplomatically to liberate the Donbas.
The opposition claims such a poll couldn’t be conducted at the polling stations since it bears traces of hidden agitation. The poll was also criticized for its questions that are to be answered in detail by expert discussion rather than on the basis of simple answers from public opinion.
Despite surveyors of Zelenskyy’s “5 questions” being presented as volunteers, they received a one-off payment of $42 (1200 UAH). The Servant of the People said their party is funding the poll, which, however, will not carry any legal consequences. However, the integrity of the results is under question, as an undercover investigation by Ukrayinska Pravda revealed that the poll was marred by chaos in the ballot collecting, where citizens could participate twice and many didn’t understand the questions.