Democratic process maintained despite waning confidence and interest from voters

Two NHC representatives, Mina Skouen and Olga Shamshur Flydal, were on Sunday visiting polling stations in suburban Kiev as a part of a larger group of EPDE (European Platform for Democratic Election) election experts from Poland, Germany and former Soviet Union countries. This time Ukrainians cast votes electing over 168 000 representatives to local governments and mayors.

There was particular interest connected to this years local election, which was perceived as the people’s evaluation of the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and his government’s efforts to curb corruption and to set out a solid European course for Ukraine. Part of this reform process is decentralization – which means enhanced political and financial elbow room for the local authorities.

In Kiev and the neighbouring regions, where EPDE was observing, election day can be generally assessed as peaceful and quiet and the election process as democratic, despite smaller irregularities and violations. The work of the local election commissions was most places well organized, despite concerns caused by introduction of a new election law just months earlier.

The voter turnout nationally landed at 46,62 percent. This is lower than expected, and sends an unambiguous signal to the president and the post-Euromaidan government that the citizens’ patience is waning. National election experts also relate the low turn-out to the quality of the election campaign, which was described as short, brutal and unoriginal.

Due to a record number of seats and candidates, as well as a new and complex elecoral system, the complete final results of the elections are only expected in several days. But some trends are already evident:

Although the president’s BPP Solidarnost block seems to receive a relatively high percentage nationwide, acute dissatisfaction among Ukrainians with the economic and political situation and the slow pace of neccesary reforms is made evident by how alternative political forces have advanced. This includes the Opposition block, «Ukrop» and the comeback of ousted president Yanukovich’ Party of Regions under an array of new names, but mostly through «New Novy Krai» party. It was also demonstrated by the growing national popularity of the more principled West-ukrainian party «Samopomich».

Poroshenko’s political ally and Mayor of Kiev Vitaliy Klichko has also failed to deliver a clearcut victory, judging from the current 40 out of the necessary 50 percent plus one vote. According to the new election law, a re-run is required in cities with population over 90 000 where none of the candidates received over 50 percent. This can means one more visit to the polling stations in three weeks for many major cities, including Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizzhia and Lviv.

Local NGO election observers OPORA and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine reported widespread irregularities and violations during the election day, including delayed opening of the polling stations, registering of voters without passport, illegal advertising, as well as several incidents of vote buying and attempted carousel voting. The election day was also marred by the news of cancelled elections in Mariupol and Krasnoarmeysk in Donetsk region due to illegally printed and damaged ballot papers. Initially perceived and criticized as a political solution to a technical problem, the cancellation of vote because of the the destroyed ballot papers may nevertheless prove to be quite the opposite: a positive example of local activists breaking the old habits of the dominating oligarchic interests in the pre-front region. The issue is under investigation and remains to be clarified.