On Sunday, Ukrainians voted in local elections that are seen as a test for President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who became head of state on promises to bring peace, eradicate the endemic of corruption, and strengthen a deteriorating economy.
Agency Associated Press reminds that Zelensky became president in April 2019 as a result of a confident victory for promises to end the struggle between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed militants in the east of the country. Despite his lack of previous political experience, he quickly consolidated his power by calling early parliamentary elections, which led to the fact that his party won the majority.
But the popularity of 42-year-old Zelenskiy has been steadily declining as the standards of living continued to fall, corruption remained widespread, and international efforts to resolve the war in Donbas failed to make tangible progress.
As the president’s approval rating declines, other political groups have regrouped and worked to challenge his Servant of the People party.
“Time works against the authorities because the miracle Zelensky promised never happened, and the Ukrainians felt that can’t live like in the series and are forced to tighten their belts even more, “58-year-old saleswoman Tatyana Furs told the Associated Press.
The parties of ex-President Petro Poroshenko and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are expected to receive most of the mayor’s seats in local councils in the western part of the country. The pro-Russian party “Opposition Platform – For Life” is positioned to show strong results mainly in the Russian-speaking east and south of Ukraine.
The elections did not take place in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by the Russian-backed DPR and LPR militants.
In a move that Zelenskiy widely sees as an attempt to bolster his sagging popularity, he combined local elections with “poll” where voters were asked to express their views on issues such as legalizing cannabis for medical purposes, imposing life sentences for corruption offenses, and creating a free economic zone in Donbass.
“Zelenskiy is well aware of the sharp drop in approval ratings and is trying to rectify the situation, trying to attract young and liberal voters with the issue of cannabis to participate in the elections, “Kiev political scientist Vadim Karasev told the Associated Press.
Zelinsky says the poll results will help shape the government’s agenda, but many voters dismissed it as irrelevant.
“Most Ukrainians may need cannabis to forget about the main problem – widespread poverty,” 48-year-old Kiev engineer Igor Dryhaylo, who voted for Zelenskiy last year but expressed disappointment with his job as president, told the Associated Press. “The words of the government are different from the actions, and it has failed to stop the majority of Ukrainians from sliding into poverty.”
Observers predicted that political pressure on Zelenskiy would continue after the municipal elections, with political rivals likely to insist on early parliamentary elections.
“Local elections will pave the way for an attack on Zelenskiy from all sides,” think tank director Volodymyr Fesenko told The Associated Press. “.
Zelenskiy also faces growing pressure from a one-time ally. Billionaire Igor Kolomoisky hoped that the nationalization of his Privatbank would be canceled, but Zelensky refused to reverse this decision.
“In retaliation, Kolomoisky began to methodically destroy Zelenskiy’s majority in parliament by nominating several new parties,” Karasev said, noting that decentralization, which gave broad powers to mayors and local councils, would make the results of Sunday’s local elections especially meaningful.
“Local election results could be a cold shower for Zelensky who will have to confront both the parties controlled by the oligarchs and the growing regional elites,” he said.