Ukrainian Leader’s Party Flops in Local Elections in Big Cities

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy suffered a setback in local elections on Sunday as his party failed to win over urban voters and saw pro-Russian forces gain in popularity.

The ballot came amid a spike in new cases of Covid-19 and after a tricky first year in power, with Zelenskiy struggling to deliver on promises to stamp out corruption and end a six-year war with Russian-backed fighters near the two countries’ border. His popularity had already slid to its lowest point since he scored a landslide victory to take the presidency in 2019.

Servant of the People, named after a popular TV show Zelenskiy starred in before entering politics, lost out on mayoral posts in all of Ukraine’s biggest cities and majorities on most local councils, exit polls showed. Meanwhile, parties sympathetic toward the Kremlin made headway in regions near the conflict zone.

Results will only arrive later this week.

The weak showing “could precipitate potentially significant changes on the central government level, such as a reconfiguration of the parliamentary majority and/or a cabinet reshuffle,” investment bank Dragon Capital said Monday in a report to clients. Next year’s budget debate in the parliament “may produce the first signs of whether Servant of the People’s standing weakened and to what extent.”

Zelenskiy had sought to fire up voters by adding five non-binding referendum questions to the ballot -- from legalizing medical cannabis to slashing the number of lawmakers by a third. That effort appeared to fail, with turnout reaching just 36.9% compared with 46.6% in the last local elections in 2015.

Zelenskiy still welcomed the results, saying the vote “met the highest democratic standards” and using the occasion to take a swipe at the likes of Russia and Belarus.

“Unlike some of our neighbors, we have a real luxury -- free elections,” he said in a statement on his website.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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