On October 26, 2015 Ukraine held regional and local elections. This is Ukraine’s third election in the last 18 months. The turnout was 46.6%, just slightly lower than the showing in the parliamentary elections a year ago (52.42%), which is to be expected in the case of local elections. Over a week after the vote, the counting still continues. The final results are expected on November 4.
Due to the on-going conflict, the elections were not held in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as well as Crimea. But the most controversial election-related events took place in Mariupol, where elections failed to take place due to claims that the ballot papers were improperly handled as well as printed with errors. However, overall the elections were declared competitive, well organised, and respectful of the democratic process by the OSCE. The organisation deployed a long-term observer mission to the country just days after the start of the election campaign in September. Even though the observers endorsed the election, they did note the need for continued reform and further enhancement of the integrity of the electoral process.
A total of 132 parties participated in the election for over 10,000 mayors and 1,600 council seats in 22 regional parliaments or local councils with at least $82 million spent on the election campaign nationwide. However, one party was noticeably absent from the list. People’s Front, party of the current Prime Minister of Ukraine, decided not to take part in the contest generating speculation that the party was trying to avoid a poor electoral result.
If the speculations are true, these concerns were not unfounded. The opinion poll conducted in September 2015 showed that 56% of Ukrainians thought that the country was headed in the wrong direction. Only 20% of those polled expressed confidence in the Prime Minister, a sharp decline from 60% exactly a year ago. If parliamentary elections were held today, only 1% of respondents would vote for the party.
This is the first election to be conducted under the new electoral rules adopted just over three months ago on July 14. The law introduced a number of changes. First, the election took place under new electoral rules and the voters had to cast votes for a particular party and its candidate. Second, the law raised electoral threshold to 5%. Third, the law introduced gender quotas, requiring every party to include at least 30% of women on the list. Finally, in every city with population of over 90,000 inhabitants, a runoff election should be held if no candidate secures over 50% of the vote in the first round. As a result, runoffs for the mayoral elections will be held in a number of major cities including the capital, Lviv and Dnipropetrovsk. All runoff elections are expected to take place on November 15.
The new law has been criticised both on the grounds of a speedy adoption and limited public consultation during the process as well as due to its content. For instance, despite introducing the gender quotas, the law failed to provide any punishment for their violation, essentially making the provision optional rather than compulsory. This led experts to conclude that the gender quotas were not working so far. The law also failed to accommodate about 1.5 million internally displace Ukrainian citizens, who were unable to cast their votes during this election.
The 2015 regional and local elections in Ukraine will serve as a barometer for the performance of the ruling coalition as well as bring the attention to the issues where the reforms are still urgently needed. Please watch this space for the report on the final results as well as updates on the constitutional reform in Ukraine.