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14th Apr 2024

Ukraine local elections leave voters bitter

  • Life in Ukraine remains difficult for many after the revolution (Photo: Marco Fieber)

The high-speed train cruising at 160 km/hr from Kiev to the east of the country is a welcome luxury in a nation gripped by war and a shattered economy.

The passing country outside is patched with small villages and trails of smoke that billow up in the brisk morning air.

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It is early Monday (26 October) and the free and functional onboard wi-fi makes the high-speed trains in the west look outdated in comparison.

But for most Ukrainians, every day life doesn't run as smooth the nation's modern rail.

On Sunday (25 October), less than half of the electorate showed up at local elections. Low turnout and allegations of fraud amid a faltering economy is frustrating the pace of Western-backed reforms and many who helped topple Ukraine's former president Viktor Yanukovych.

The local election is seen, in part, as a test for the leadership of president Petro Poroshenko and his ruling coalition bloc.

Thousands of mayors and other local council officials will be elected in a vote that excluded parts of the rebel strongholds in the east. Around 46.5 percent of the 26.7 million eligible voters went to the polls with final results expected mid-week.

The billionaire confectionery magnate Poroshenko blamed the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc for electoral irregularities as polls were cancelled in the besieged port city of Mariupol.

"According to my information, some sort of falsification was being set up and we certainly can't allow this", he said, reports Reuters.

Mariupol is a strategic city of some 500,000 in the southeast that divides Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

Local officials in Mariupol scrapped the vote because they say some of the ballot papers had been misprinted. The vote is now set to take place in November instead.

Some Mariupol residents had previously backed the pro-Russian Party of Regions. That party was disbanded after Yanukovych fled the country in early 2014.

Many of the ousted president's supporters now belong to the Opposition Bloc and accuse the ruling party of stopping the poll out of fear of being defeated.

Rinat Akhmetov, a billionaire and former Yanukovych ally, is the city's main employer. A company owned by Akhmetov had also printed the ballots in dispute.

But with household energy prices on the rise along with inflation topping 50 percent, many around the country are asking what happened to the reforms promised two years ago in the aftermath of the Euromaidan revolution.

The conflict has so far killed some 8,000 people and displaced over a million in a nation grappling with corruption and high unemployment. The World Bank says Ukraine's real GDP will fall by 12 percent this year alone.

Demands for humanitarian relief are also set to increase as winter approaches in the separatist Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

Meanwhile, polls indicate that Poroshenko's party maintains a narrow lead among the coalition parties but surveys show his popularity is waning given the slow pace of reforms.

Support for prime minister Arseny Yatseniuk's party dropped to around 1 percent compared to 20 percent last year.

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