The first municipal elections in Ukraine with a record low turnout (the first round – 37%, the second one – 29%) in times of a coronavirus pandemic together with the new, unbalanced and imperfect Electoral Code and incomplete decentralisation did not mark absolute winners. However, they demonstrated interesting trends that differ from the steady results of previous local campaigns.
Low turnout is a pan-European trend: the voter is less interested in municipal expression than in the national one. In addition, statistics shows that the desire to vote is traditionally higher in the first round than in the second one. Ukraine’s updated election legislation has confused candidates and voters more than it has indicated an easy path to election.
In fact, none of the political forces became the only favourite of the electoral preferences. There is no single winner. The People’s Servant party leads in the number of deputies of councils of all levels. Following slightly behind, there are two opposing parties at war with each other: the European Solidarity and the Opposition Platform “For Life.” The top five also includes the Batkivshchyna and “For the Future” parties. But none of the mentioned political forces has a majority in the regions.
In the long run, the increasing demand for pro-Russian political forces is likely to be limited by the depletion of their electorate, which will never exceed a quarter of Ukraine’s politically active population. Competition in the struggle for this part of the electorate will grow, but these political forces will never have the majority. It is an indisputable fact of modern Ukrainian politics. Local political projects, mostly performed in the pro-Russian electoral field, will work in favour of local business, and therefore will oppose Russian influences and will not support separatist sentiments.
The clumsy actions of the central government undermined the voter’s confidence in the turbo regime know-how and pushed him or her to clear conservative decisions in favour of local leaders. The Ukrainian voter filled the ballots with significant confidence in local political elites and mayors. And this trend only strengthens local self-government and convinces of the success of decentralisation reform. It provided local leaders with the necessary powers, administrative and financial resources, which not all their predecessors have had since Ukraine’s independence. Through appointments and redistribution of local budgets, the elites have increased their influence, and having felt electoral support, will not restrain their political ambitions, and will unite in independent political projects to “capture” the parliament.
Non-parliamentary, local parties won elections in some cities and regions. Representatives of 110 parties became deputies of local councils with representatives of 46 parties among city, settlement and village mayors. In general, the 2020 municipal elections confirmed the triumph of party pluralism in Ukraine, from the point of view of democratic processes in Ukraine and the need to balance political and party interests, particularly in relations between central and local government.
Meanwhile, ranked political leaders and the parties they lead, will continue to play a key role in the national elections. A sufficiently mobilised electorate was demonstrated by European Solidarity, which was favoured by the loss of confidence in the Voice and the lack of real, new alternatives for the patriotic electorate. It is possible that such political projects are a matter of the nearest future.
Local oligarchic groups have consolidated power, but in my opinion, they are unlikely to go into open conflict with the central government, despite sharp contradictions. Instead, the central government will cooperate with the local government, regardless of their party affiliation. It will be a matter of time before the optimal balance of power is found between the central government and local self-government. Situational political alliances, based on personal or regional interests, will be formed in most regions of Ukraine. At the same time, temporary tactical coalitions do not require formalisation. Therefore, at the constituent sessions, situational diverse alliances are formed in order to elect chairmen of local councils, secretaries of city councils and to form commissions. Eventually, those majority coalitions are doomed to reformatting.
Unbalanced and imperfect election legislation preserves the risks of active use of the technology of so-called “election tourism.” The technology allows any citizen of Ukraine to change their voting address and exercise their right to vote in another region. In addition, according to NGOs, technologies with voter bribery mechanisms will remain serious challenges, i.e. transportation of voters to the polling stations by private vehicles, “carousel voting” or mass photographing of ballots. Given the low voter turnout, such anachronisms will be kept in use for bribing and activating the constituencies.
The main task of new political projects and traditional political forces in the upcoming national elections will be to experience new social trends and take advantage of this.