As Ukraine Moves Toward Decentralization, Challenges Loom

A Commentary by Alina Polyakova (Atlantic Council)

On Sunday, October 25, Ukrainians went to the polls to elect mayors and representatives to municipal councils. Under normal circumstances, local elections would go more or less unnoticed by international observers, but with no elections taking place in occupied territories, including Crimea and the Luhansk and Donetsk Peoples’ Republics, these are far from normal times. Approximately 1,500 international observers joined over 3,000 domestic observers to monitor the first local elections since the Euromaidan revolution.

With decentralization on the reform agenda, these elections are particularly important. Decentralization, which requires amending the Ukrainian constitution, is making its way through the Ukrainian parliament. The first reading of the amendment was approved by a two-thirds majority on September 1. These reforms would give local governments expansive control over their jurisdictions, including budgets, providing local representatives with more power than ever.

Decentralization has become a contentious issue in Ukraine, mainly because it is written into the Minsk ceasefire agreement, which many view as acquiescing to Russian demands for de facto autonomy for Russian separatist-controlled areas. But increased local governance was a key demand of Maidan activists, and civil society experts and advocates agree that greater local self-governance is crucial to curb the corruption that allowed former President Viktor Yanukovych’s government to steal billions of dollars from the state budget. The Reanimation Package of Reforms (RPR)—a network of activists and experts credited with drafting the reform agenda for the new government after Yanukovych fled the country—places decentralization at the top of the agenda for the next twelve months, along with anticorruption and judiciary reform.

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