The ruling Servant of the People party’s failure in the Ukrainian local elections and the simultaneous reinforcement of regional elites and their political projects have consolidated a decentralization trend in the neighboring state
Last Sunday, local elections were held in Ukraine. The final voting results are yet to come, but the key trends are already more or less visible. They allow us to provisionally conclude who lost and who won in this electoral contest, and what impact these results will have on the internal political processes in the country.
First of all, the record low turnout (37%) draws attention, which can partly be attributed to a pandemic. The practice, however, shows that the population’s interest in local electoral processes has been steadily declining since the first elections in 1994, when 75.5% of citizens came to the ballot boxes. This time, residents of the western regions were most active, while in the south and east of the country the voter turnout was slightly lower.
In fact, the main intrigue was focused on the struggle for large cities and regional centers, which are the concentration of major political and business interests. As a result, local elites, on the whole, managed to retain political control at the local level. Moreover, their political projects have proved to be dominating, and significantly undermined the final results of the all-Ukrainian party structures, first of all, of the Servant of the People party. Thus, the citizens openly demonstrated to Kiev that they do not particularly trust the country’s political center and pin their hopes on local managers, who, in their opinion, can solve municipal and regional problems more effectively.
Among the most painful setbacks of the past voting was the actual defeat of the ruling party and Volodymyr Zelensky personally. After last year’s unprecedented concentration of power in the history of Ukraine, the “servants of the people” failed to reinforce their political positions and build on local success. As a result, the pro-presidential party will not enjoy leading roles in many local councils or administer key city-regions. Attempts to justify themselves saying that the “Servant of the People” has never before been in the municipal government system don’t stand up to criticism, since the result is in any case not the one that should normally be obtained by the sole party in power.
On the contrary, the right-wing projects have succeeded, first of all, Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity, which bolstered its status as one of the country’s most influential political forces, gradually absorbing the right-wing and center-right electorate. On the left (“pro-Russian”) flank, the Opposition Platform – For Life retains strong positions. Experts also note a definite success of a new political project, the Party of Shariy, headed by the famous Ukrainian journalist and blogger Anatoly Shariy. Being elected to a number of local councils, this relatively young formation, nevertheless, is still gathering momentum, and in the long term is likely to claim votes of the progressive generation of Ukrainians in the south and east of the country.
The next distinctive feature of this voting was a quasi-referential poll, initiated by the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Such a PR plan, not really original, was initially doomed, because of its pronounced populist character. It is difficult to understand what exactly the head of state can draw from this poll and what are the chances of making any efficient use of its results in a challenging domestic political game.
Another important outcome of the elections is the decline of the nationwide Ukrainian parties, predominantly enjoying multi-regional support. As a result, a tendency towards deep regionalization and fragmentation of the country has emerged. If in the past decades Ukraine was conditionally divided into irreconcilable western and eastern parts, now the political map of the country has become more like a patchwork. All this can lead to more active centrifugal manifestations on the part of regional elites, up to unbridgeable internal political split and disintegration, if Kiev does not find an effective way to keep the country in a single geographic space.
The situation, in which the center is weakened due to lacking support on the ground, increases the likelihood of conflicts between Kiev and regional centers, whose ambitions, by the way, will only intensify as the decentralization reform continues. Vladimir Zelensky and his entourage will have to offer something non-trivial to local political groups and clans to ensure nationwide consolidation.
Otherwise, the state will be rapidly taking shape of a coalition of regional subjects, pushing the country towards irreversible (con)federalization. Despite the fact that some experts see the “Moscow’s hand” in the growing regionalization, most Ukrainian specialists nevertheless agree that Ukraine is going through a natural stage of state transformation and refinement of its administrative functions, predetermined by the diversity of ethnic, cultural and historical profiles of its regions.
The Moldovan authorities are for sure interested in the internal stability of the eastern neighbor and strong positions of the central authorities in Kiev. Today, it is Ukraine that reliably shields Moldova from Russia’s growing foothold, and is a natural ally in a number of areas, including the Transdniestrian settlement.
At the same time, re-actualizing a longstanding issue of Ukraine and Moldova’s decentralization is not a very pleasant prospect for Chisinau, which, in any power configurations, firmly stands on the unitary principle of its state structure. In fact, the leadership of the republic is facing a difficult dilemma. The potential political transformations in this area under the influence of regional trends could help in solving a number of problems, including the separatism and reintegration outbreaks containment. However, according to experts, Moldova may eventually fail to get through such reforms, only prompting further split inside the republic and its separate regions’ drift towards different geopolitical directions.
Get real time update about this post categories directly on your device, subscribe now.