Local elections in Ukraine: Would Kyiv meet regions halfway?

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities began to prepare for the local elections ambiguously
20:54, 19 May 2020

local elections in Ukraine
112 Agency

Ukrainian authorities began to prepare for the local elections ambiguously. Useful for active participants in the electoral process bill was passed at one of the extraordinary sessions. According to the law No. 2769 adopted on April 30, for those wishing to run for mayor, the money deposit was significantly reduced. The document establishes its size in the amount of 4 minimum wages for every 90,000 voters, whereas the previous version provided for a cash deposit in the amount of 4 "minimum wages" for every 10,000.

The Verkhovna Rada adopted Bill No. 2653 in the second reading and gave the Cabinet of Ministers the right to complete the process of community unification. What does this mean in practice? The fact that the government received the exclusive opportunity at its sole discretion to approve the number, new configuration of the united communities, and their administrative centers.

This is something new in the decentralization reform that former Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman was so proud of. The initiative will no longer go from below - ready-made solutions will go from above, right from government meetings. By the way, the Cabinet of Ministers should prepare and submit to the parliament a bill of a new administrative-territorial structure within three months. Such a project (obviously) should be adopted before the local elections.

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After all, the new administrative-territorial structure will almost certainly affect the body of the Constitution, which means that such a law should be adopted at two sessions. Theoretically, the parliament could catch up to October 2020, but it will have to accelerate.

Although the hurry is not the main thing here. Amendments to the Electoral Code are also being prepared along with redrawing the map of Ukraine. First: a party that participates in local elections must run immediately in 2/3 of the constituencies throughout Ukraine. If such changes are adopted, Ukraine would lose its small parties, tied to a specific region.

Secondly, the passage barrier for parties is increased to 5%. Thirdly, the majority stays in very small settlements where the population does not exceed 10,000 (as of now - up to 90,000). In other villages, towns, and cities, an exclusively proportional election system operates.

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“The virus that has been sitting in them for the past 28 years has become more active in some political parties,” president Zelensky noted. Thus, despite the political will of the region’s residents, the old politicians want to have gotten into the local authorities. In fact, deprive small parties and non-partisan citizens of changing their region for the better…” Zelensky said.

In general, the confrontation between the “center” and the “regions” is far from being a new trend. In October 1997, the Party of Regional Revival of Ukraine was created, which at the end of 2001 became the Party of Regions. Until a certain time, it was a fairly successful project, which repeatedly carried out its numerous faction to the Verkhovna Rada.

The experience of the Party of Regions did not remain unique for long: at the local elections in the fall of 2015, at least a few projects were successful that chose as their main slogan the ideology of protecting the interests of the regions. This is the “Our Land” party (it received 156 seats in the posts of heads of cities, towns, and villages); in Odesa - the party of Mayor Gennady Trukhanov “Trust in Affairs” (which became the first in the city, and the third in the region); Revival party with Gennady Kernes (first place in Kharkiv and the region, as well as in Uzhgorod); the party, created by Oleksandr Gerega, “For concrete affairs” (won in the Khmelnytsky region); party “Cherkashchany” (became the second in Cherkasy region); as well as the “Vinnytsa European Strategy”, which won in the elections to the Vinnytsa City Council.

The tradition of 2015 could be developed in 2020 even with a wider scope. The current Party of Regions is the party of mayors, which is still under discussion. The stormy spring of 2020 was marked by two movements at once: “quarantine” disobedience of city mayors who began to leave the observance on their own, without waiting for permission from the center, plus attempts to institutionalize a new political association.

Regarding quarantine, mayor of Cherkasy Anatoliy Bondarenko was the first to go AWOL, who allowed private business to work despite the ban. He was also openly supported by the mayors of Ivano-Frankivsk, Zaporizhya, and Mukachevo. One way or another, but such Kharkiv, Dnipro, and Kyiv joined in disobedience. The leaders of these cities very well felt the current situation.

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The chances of mayors to win voters’ sympathy increase as central government protégés — governors — show growing impotence, director of the Institute for Global Strategies Vadym Karasiov is convinced. Presidential vertical has already lost the local elections, and the mayoral cohort has already won them. Although, of course, the “center” will not give up.

Since decentralization is always about how regions are fighting for their financial independence, the central government will put pressure on its local colleagues with money issues as a lever of influence with which the. The second reliable lever is the threat of criminal prosecution for the most impudent representatives of local elites.

As for the budget, when in April the Verkhovna Rada voted for the budget sequestration, local budgets were the first to fall under the knife. In particular, funding for the State Regional Development Fund was reduced by 35%, the subvention to support the development of the united territorial communities was canceled, the Energy Efficiency Fund was frozen, and the subvention for the development of the emergency medical care system was moved to the "central" medical expenses section.

Reducing spending before local elections is not formally a repressive measure, because we should not forget about the coronavirus-related crisis here. Moreover, local budgets were already affected by the epidemic (on average, each local treasury did not account for 10% of the usual tax revenues), and Kyiv should understand it.

Actually, the losses, for example, of Cherkasy has already now amounted to 9 million USD, and this is precisely the aforementioned 10% of fiscal fees. The head of this city, Bondarenko, tried to explain the situation when he unilaterally abolished quarantine. However, the "center" responded with a criminal case opened against him. The mayor of Frankivsk, Ruslan Martsynkiv, also fell under criminal proceedings for permission to open local markets.

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Zelensky team did not come to a final conclusion regarding the method of action: either beat the mayors with a whip or feed them a carrot. Head of the Third Sector Center Andriy Zolotariov believes that the fate of the central government will depend, without exaggeration, on choosing this strategy. While it still has a chance to lead the process, that is, to bring decentralization reform to an end. Otherwise, they can do this without it - uncontrollably and chaotically.

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