Written by IDU member European Solidarity’s International Secretary Virginia Dronova and Member of Parliament Maria Ionova.
After more than a year at helm, Ukraine’s new administration is widely perceived as failing to deliver on the unprecedented majority given in 2019 to President Volodymyr Zelensky (73.2%) and his “Servant of the People” party. With internal turbulence and economic failures piling up, and no foreseeable peace prospects for Donbas, the country will have a chance to deliver a verdict on his performance in two weeks’ time. The result will shape Ukraine’s development, with expectations ranging from an unstable status-quo to a complete political reboot.
On October 25th, Ukrainian citizens will cast their ballots in local elections. Before the decentralization reforms made under President Petro Poroshenko, these elections were of only moderate interest to the national political parties. This time, however, Servant of the People is plummeting in popular opinion, with two major political forces – the pro-Western European Solidarity (ES) and the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life (OP) seemingly on the rise in profile and popular support.
According to recent polls by the leading sociological institutions (KIIS and SOCIS), in late September the level of public support for President Zelensky has dropped again, falling to 30.1-31.8%. Support for ES’s Poroshenko has increased by 4% to 18.9%, as well as for OP’s Yuriy Boyko by 0.5-1% to 14-16.3%. Support of Servant of the People has fallen to 21.5-23.3%, while ES is now at 17.8-18.4% and OP at 16.3%.
The ongoing downward trend of the Servants is explained by their ineffective, populist policies. The peace process is stuck in a stalemate due to President Zelensky’s lack of a clear strategy on of Donbas and Crimea. His supposed great achievement, a declared ceasefire, has turned out to be controlled and manipulated by Russia. The authorities have failed to effectively tackle the rampaging pandemic of COVID-19, with daily new cases exceeding 5,000 and total cases over 250,000, including more than 4,500 deaths. After the strong economic growth in 2019 stemming from the policies of the previous government, the economy has deteriorated rapidly, with GDP falling 11.4% year-over-year in Q2, unemployment up to 9.6% in Q2 of 2020, and the IMF now projecting a 8.2% decline in Ukraine’s GDP in 2020.
After the first IMF tranche of support under a “stand-by” agreement, the government has developed unrealistic expectations of two more tranches (of $700 million each) by the end of 2020. The first review of the program was scheduled for September, but it did not happen. Struggling to achieve the agreed benchmarks in time, Ukraine is piling up unresolved issues that are necessary for further assistance: independence of central bank, the PrivatBank case, usage of COVID-fund funds, imbalance in the draft state budget and, most significantly, ensuring the independence of anti-corruption bodies. Kyiv is still expecting to receive at least one additional tranche this year, but international financial experts are skeptical, with funding from other IFOs (the World Bank, the EU) also pending.
This situation is further aggravated by the politically motivated persecutions the government is undertaking. It has so far initiated 58 criminal cases against former President Poroshenko, leaving no doubt that this is simply the weaponization of the judiciary against a political opponent. Coupled with the increasing pressure on the freedom of media (such as the Pryamiy TV Channel), this echo of Ukraine’s totalitarian past bodes very badly for the country unless it is reversed.