Local elections were held across Ukraine on October 25, excepting one city where elections were canceled amid allegations of erroneously printed ballots. The Ukrainian governments stated that elections were canceled in the provincial capital of Mariupol in Ukraine’s eastern region. The steel company that printed the ballots is owned by Ukraine’s richest man Rinat Akmetov, an oligarch with ties to the Opposition Bloc, a pro-Russia opposition group popular in eastern Ukraine. Mariupol is located in a strategic position between Crimea and rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk republics in the east, where elections were not held.
International media reported that the elections are seen as a platform to measure the popularity of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his government against that of Ukraine’s oligarchs who dominate the commercial and industrial sectors. Invested in maintaining local clout, oligarchs whose business often ties them to Russia are seen as a challenge to the power of the central government, which is purportedly focused on moving Ukraine towards democracy and greater integration with the European Union. The press has detailed several instances of oligarchs fielding candidates for local political positions, including Akhmetov’s own mayoral candidate and steel mill manager in Mariupol, Vadim Boychenko.
The October elections were the most extensive since Mariupol was nearly invaded by Russian-backed rebels in August 2014, and was seen as a peaceful chance for local citizens to express their wishes regarding Russian influence in the area. Poroshenko’s approval rating is down to 26% across the country. Analysts have said that the Opposition Bloc, which holds approximately 10% of seats in the national parliament and fielded former separatist candidates, is poised to take advantage of the continuing economic instability and difficulties brought on by war waged in the east to boost their influence.
Notably, the Opposition Bloc took 20% of the vote in Ukraine’s 2014 parliamentary elections in Mariupol, where citizens formed a human chain in an attempt to prevent separatist forces from taking the city in August 2014. Exit polls from four cities where elections were held showed an east-west split between support for candidates backed by local business tycoons, and Poroshenko’s Solidarity and other EU-leaning parties. A second round of elections will be held on November 15 in Kiev and a few other large cities where no one candidate garnered a majority of the votes. Rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk republics had originally stated their intent to hold their own elections on October 18, but later changed the date to February under alleged pressure from Moscow.
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