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Why Ukraine’s 2020 Local Elections Matter

Ukraine’s 2020 local elections—scheduled for October 2020—will be another step in Ukraine’s ongoing process of decentralization and European integration, providing Ukrainians a government that better represents their interests. As Ukraine prepares for Election Day, IRI is working with local stakeholders to build more responsive municipal governments so that Ukraine continues on the path to becoming a strong, stable and independent democracy.

In 2014, Ukrainians took to the streets in a series of popular protests that became known as the Revolution of Dignity. Corrupt President Viktor Yanukovych fled to the protection of his patrons in Russia, and a reformist government took power that has since taken steps toward improving democracy and accountability in Ukraine.

One of the most important steps in Ukraine’s journey to democracy has been the decentralization of power from the capital in Kyiv to local municipalities and regional governments. Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, there have been attempts to reorganize Ukraine’s highly-centralized government. Ukraine is a large and diverse country, and IRI’s Nationwide Municipal Surveys consistently reveal distinct citizen interests in each of Ukraine’s 24 largest cities.

Ukraine’s upcoming vote is particularly important because it will empower newly elected leaders of reorganized districts with the autonomy to address local issues, such as the ability to manage land, property, natural resources, local taxes as well as other budget revenues. These reforms will help to meet citizen needs by giving local officials the power to solve local problems.

In early 2019, after delays to the implementation of the reforms promised after the 2014 Revolution, the government announced goals to accelerate the pace of decentralization. Decentralization has included the creation of new territorial units called amalgamated territorial communities (ATCs) or hromadas in Ukrainian. ATCs, equipped with increased governance and financial rights, will consolidate local government services and provide communities increased control over how they allocate resources.

As of January 2020, an estimated 11.7 million Ukrainians live in more than 1,000 ATCs. Additionally, while the amalgamation of communities has been voluntary, recent legislation will allow the national government to merge communities without consultations of regional (oblast) governments to ensure that no municipalities are unamalgamated ahead of the 2020 local elections. Ukraine’s upcoming local elections will be the first election following the implementation of this reform.

IRI is supporting the process of decentralization in Ukraine through its participation in the USAID funded Consortium for Elections & Political Process Strengthening’s Ukraine Responsive and Accountable Politics Program (U-RAP) project, promoting political processes that lead to more representative, transparent and accountable governance. Supporting decentralization efforts, IRI trainings have equipped local officials with the skills to effectively respond to citizen needs. In addition to trainings, the Institute’s targeted polling gives local government officials the information they need to respond to citizen priorities. IRI also plans to conduct an election observation mission to observe these important upcoming local elections.

Ukraine’s 2020 local elections will reset Ukraine’s highly centralized government and improve the resilience of Ukraine’s communities. The October 2020 local elections will include elections for local government bodies of ATCs that will be held once the full amalgamation process is completed. According to Ukrainian legislation, elections of local council MPs, and mayors, across Ukraine will be a part of the upcoming elections.

If properly implemented, decentralization stands to benefit Ukrainians by removing bureaucracy, streamlining services and empowering communities to manage their own resources.  Ukraine’s 2020 local elections will complete the process of amalgamation of communities and be another important step in Ukraine’s continuing process of decentralization—developments that will ultimately help to consolidate Ukrainian democracy and enhance the country’s stability.