Battle for votes in Donbas
This year's local elections have much more weight than in previous years. The most elaborate fight is underway for the votes of the Donbas people.
It's no secret that Donbas has plenty of disadvantages in the electoral sense. The main problem is that the local people are used to make decisions upon the orders of some upper management. Now, given the deep roots of economic dependency of eastern Ukraine on Russia, the region’s plants oriented on Russia are only 20-30% loaded. They are on the verge of life and death today, and this surely affects people who are either not paid, or get much smaller wages. As a result, their initiative is in atrophy, and they have no will to actually get involved in choosing their candidate.
Moreover, apathy is a common thing : 50% of voters simply ignores the elections.
Therefore, despite the launch of the 2015 election campaign, unfortunately, there are still virtually no active citizens traveling across the region to promote their parties, or themselves. It would be great for them to become opinion leaders, to mold their agenda in a way that the others would believe and follow them.
In my opinion, it will take years for such leaders, the new political elite, to emerge in Donbas. Certainly, the events of the last two years have given rise to new faces, but the fact remains – they are either overshadowed by the more funded rivals, or they simply lack professionalism in manifesting their ideas clearly enough to win the voters’ minds.
It turns out that we will see the local elections different from what we would like them to be like. The concept seems good, but in fact, we failed to fertilize the soil and create quality environment for the new forces to win.
In addition, there has been a heated debate on whether to hold local elections in parts of Donbas under Ukraine’s control. The safety issue can hardly be overestimated. A lot of details are yet to be worked out.
However, I would like to remind all the opponents of local elections in unoccupied Donbas that the local council in the city Kramatorsk (just one example) still has a group in it called "United Kramatorsk," which in fact consists of supporters of the Opposition Bloc. A number of its deputies will keep doing their best so that this de-facto regional center is not developed, and the reforms never come there. Last year, when Kramatorsk became a member of the Sustainable Development USID program, the Kramatorsk executive committee has failed to take a decision regarding this program for over a year, all because the 16 deputies from the United Kramatorsk were simply blocking the move.
Unfortunately, such fate awaits all of the city’s important decisions. They will be further sabotaged ahead of the elections in order to claim “inability” of authorities to do anything useful for the community.
The worst thing in this situation is that the voters are ready to hear such criticism of government. This will significantly affect the results. That’s why today, a lot of energy is needed, as well as the actual good things done communities, to shift the people toward the constructive attitude.
Even disregarding completely inadequate behavior of some political forces, we still must recognize that most Ukrainians did not fully understand the essence of the Constitutional amendments supported by Parliament. People of Donbas don’t understand, how extensive their consequences are, and what impact they will have.
Today, few people know that decentralization reforms have been supported by the majority of political forces, representatives of local authorities, the Venice Commission, all key international partners of Ukraine - our allies in the U.S. and the EU. And the failure of this reform would not only bring the huge risk of an escalation of hostilities, but also the collapse of the international coalition in support of Ukraine.
Therefore, the authorities need to talk to people and explain that the amendments do not provide for any special status of Donbas, just creating a possibility of a specific procedure for local government in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions . First of all, we have to launch a large-scale information campaign aimed at the country’s population in general and the Donbas residents in particular. Clear answers must be given to all possible questions, to protect the issue from political manipulations.
Amendments to the electoral legislation also need special attention. No one really understands exactly what has been changed and what the rules are of the current campaign. He only thing clear is that a perfect ground has been formed for political competition. The question is whether here are any political forces worth people’s attention in Donbas that would really be tough competitors for the once again "repainted" "opposition" and the like.
... In fact, Donbas is tired of war, death, failed reforms and poor living standards. But we should remember how Kramatorsk and other front-line cities in eastern Ukraine marked the day of liberation from occupiers and the Independence day. People took to the streets with patriotic banners proving once again that “Donbas is Ukraine.” Few people may think of the outcome of the upcoming local elections. But people do understand that they have been given a choice.
Maxym Yefymov is an MP representing the city of Kramatorsk