October 26, 2020 00:37 GMT – By RFE/RL
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy touted the country’s free elections and insisted Ukraine is moving in the right direction after polls closed October 25 in local elections considered the most consequential in the country’s modern history.
“Unlike some of our neighbors, we really have a great luxury – free elections,” Zelenskiy said on his Facebook page, alluding to Russia and Belarus.
“Yes, I understand perfectly well that our electoral system is still not perfect – unclean money and dishonest media resources, sadly, still affect the results. But we are definitely moving in the right direction,” he said, adding that every free election is another sign that “Ukraine is forever free.”
He also said he believes Ukrainians will form “responsible and effective” local governments and promised cooperation between central authorities and local representatives.
The elections were considered historic because they were the first held under a new Electoral Code that decentralizes power from Kyiv to local governing bodies.
The vote was also seen as an important test for Zelenskiy, who was elected in a landslide in early 2019, and his Servant of the People party.
According to a poll by the Rating Group polling agency, Servant of the People – a populist party that has no defined program or ideology — was expected to get only about 17 percent of the overall vote, down from the 54 percent it received in snap parliamentary elections in July 2019.
Recent public opinion polls show that about 70 percent of Ukrainians believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, while Zelenskiy’s personal approval rating has dipped below 50 percent.
Early exit polls quoted by AFP showed that his party won no mayoral elections in the nine major cities and regional centers where elections were held.
Servant of the People won the elections to municipal councils in two large cities in central Ukraine, but in the other seven it most often placed third or fourth, according to two polls cited.
All local officials were up for replacement in the elections, which saw turnout of about 37 percent, the Central Election Commission (CEC) reported based on data from 97 percent of polling stations, RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service reported.
The final results are expected in three to five days, according to the CEC.
Voting was generally in compliance with election law, according to the Opora civic network, whose observers worked in all regions of Ukraine.
The CEC says that the most widespread violation was the continuation of campaigning on election day. The violations were not severe enough to significantly distort the results, the CEC said.
The electoral reforms have been lauded as a significant step away from the top-down administration the country inherited from the Soviet Union that has remained largely unchanged over three decades of independence.
Voting was not held in the Black Sea region of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and in parts of the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions where Russia-backed separatist formations are fighting against Kyiv.
The voting comes as Ukraine – like many European countries – is experiencing a sharp uptick in new coronavirus infections. Voters were asked to maintain social distance, wear a mask and have their temperature taken before casting their vote.
The spread of the virus directly affected one high-profile contest. Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko announced on October 24 that he had tested positive for the virus and that he was self-isolating. The former boxing world champion is expected to face a runoff, according to initial forecasts exit polls quoted by dpa.