On the eve of the local elections: what President Zelenskyy reports and promises

The last week before the local elections in Ukraine, scheduled for October 25, is extremely tense. On the one hand, the coronavirus epidemic is gaining full momentum: over the past day, Ukraine set another anti-record of new infections (over 7,000) and deaths (121). On the other hand, the election campaign has intensified. The ruling party is making every possible effort to strengthen its position.

In this context, at the beginning of the week, President Zelenskyy addressed the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine with a special message, and at the end of the week he gave a long interview to four national TV channels, having repeated the style of communication with the press of his predecessors Viktor Yanukovych and Petro Poroshenko. The interview is called Autumn-2020: Victories and Challenges. We publish the main theses of the message to the Verkhovna Rada and the president’s interview.

On October 20, five days before the local elections, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the Verkhovna Rada with his annual message. The President spoke with such fervor, as if he was delivering an inaugural speech again: “Today there is no official in Ukraine who thinks that he is inviolable or eternal. If there is no result, there is no place for you in office.”

But unlike May 2019, when Zelenskyy first spoke in parliament as head of state, the fall of 2020 is a radically different time: voters are increasingly disappointed in the president’s new team. For example, according to the KIIS survey, the rating of the Servant of the People party (SP) is now 21.5%, or 11% less than six months ago. The popularity of the head of state is also declining: the Rating group survey showed that this September, 29% of those voters who have decided on their choice were ready to vote for Zelenskyy. Six months ago, there were 39%.

The president and his team approached the local elections rather weak, analysts say. The more so that Ukraine’s coronavirus epidemic is growing and we can hardly expect any positive changes in the country’s economy in the near future.

The Servant of the People party is likely to lose mayoral campaigns in the largest cities – Kyiv, Lviv, Dnipro and Odesa. As for the elections to local councils, in the west of Ukraine the presidential party may yield to Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity (ES) and in the east to the Opposition Platform – For Life of Yuriy Boiko and Viktor Medvedchuk. “In the east, the SP has lost its position. Although it is there that voters should have appreciated the president’s peacekeeping initiatives,” Maria Zolkina, a political analyst with the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, told NV. “But they didn’t.”

Passionate speech in the Verkhovna Rada: main theses

The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the parliament with his message – he read his address from a teleprompter. “The whole event was a pure show staged for the TV, not a speech in front of the parliament,” Sergei Sumlenny, head of the German Heinrich-Boell-Foundation in Ukraine, wrote in his Twitter.

However, other comments were more positive. What did the president speak about?

Negotiations on Donbas and Crimea “Peace in Donbas and deoccupation of Crimea are my priorities. Unfortunately, the issue of Crimea has never been on the agenda of the Normandy Format, but it has always been and will always be on our agenda. As long as Crimea remains occupied, and Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars are regularly persecuted there, the world should not forget about Crimea,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

“We have returned the Crimean issue to the international agenda. We are creating a “Crimean Platform” format – a coordination of international efforts to protect the rights of Crimeans and deoccupy the peninsula. I have already discussed this initiative in detail with representatives of the European Union, the UK, Canada, Turkey and other partners. Many of them are ready to join and take an active part in it,” Zelenskyy said.

He mentioned the Budapest Memorandum, the issue which is among the five questions of the “poll” initiated by the President. The President’s Office wants to ask these questions to those who will come to the polling stations during the local elections on October 25.

On counteracting the corona virus epidemic. The first topic referred to by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his annual address was the fight against the coronavirus epidemic.

At first, Zelenskyy again criticized the previous ruling team. Then he noted that the situation with the coronavirus in the country is under control and even compared Ukraine to Germany.

Among the achievements of his team, President Zelenskyy mentioned the restoration of the sanitary service, the establishment of the production of masks, the establishment of a system of testing and treatment of patients with COVID-19; payments to doctors for the treatment of “covid” patients, drug development.

According to the president, it was “effective actions by the country’s leadership that helped minimize the death rate from coronavirus.” In Ukraine, it is 1.9%, and allegedly in other European countries, this figure is several times higher.

“We do not rejoice; we sympathize with others. Moreover, we have no right to relax. Countering COVID-19 continues. “

About “a state in a smartphone.” “Not a person for a state, but a state for a person – the main principle in relations between a citizen and a state. And we want the state to be a convenient service,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the parliament on October 2.

“Millions of Ukrainians use the “DIYA” application. Ukraine is the first country in the world that has a digital passport. Dozens of other documents have been digitized, making it easier to do business. Ukrainians have digital driver’s licenses,” Zelenskyy said.

About cooperation with NATO. The President assured that Ukraine continues to implement NATO standards to strengthen its defense capabilities.

Among the steps taken in this direction are the following: Ukraine has gained the status of NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partner; the General Staff has switched to the typical structure of NATO member states; joint military Rapid Trident exercises have been successfully conducted; Ukraine proceeds with the implementation of NATO standards and the achievement of compatibility of the Armed Forces with the relevant forces of NATO Member States.

Big construction.” The President reported on what had been built in the country during his presidency and once again mentioned his program.

“To implement the Comfortable Country program we started Big Construction. And this is not just the name of the next state program. Everyone can see that the country is really undergoing a lot of construction works. We unite Ukraine, not only with the help of ideas and words, but with roads and bridges as well. This year these are 4,000 km of national roads and 2,000 km of local roads, 100 schools, 100 kindergartens, 100 sports facilities. And we want each region to have its own big sports arena,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

It should be reminded that President Zelenskyy and the government have been criticized for spending money from the coronavirus fund for constructing roads and other infrastructural facilities to showcase the government‘s work to potential voters. Moreover, funds for the coronavirus fund were raised as a result of cutting spending on the development of other areas, including culture.

The main points of the interview: the possibility of strict quarantine, polls during the election, the IMF and coronavirus

As for the strict quarantine, Zelenskyy “wants to calm everyone down.” “We understand that any lockdown will stop the economy of our country – it’s scary, it’s dangerous, today, I think, it’s impossible and impractical,”  the head of state said.

The president supported the position of the Minister of Health Maksym Stepanov that a lockdown can be imposed with 15 thousand coronavirus cases per day (currently 7 thousand). However, it is not about a shortage of hospital beds, but a shortage of doctors.

“We cannot repurpose the entire medical system of Ukraine for patients with COVID-19. Millions of doctors cannot suddenly appear in Ukraine. This is a big problem, and that is why we turn to people – we understand fatigue, but please wear masks,” he said.

About “all-Ukrainian poll.” Zelenskyy said that considers a poll an important event because in his election program there was a promise about “people’s power.” He reminded that there would be no legal consequences of the poll. However, according to Zelenskyy, it will give him additional arguments to initiate changes. “I will understand the response of the people and will talk to deputies and propose such positions,” he said.

Cooperation with the IMF. Zelenskyy believes that it is impossible to refuse to cooperate with the International Monetary Fund, because Ukraine has a weak economy. He explained the pause in relations with the IMF by the presence of people who interfere with these relations.

“We cannot live without Western money. We had the first tranche, we did everything for the second (it was expected in September – ed.), but there are people in Ukraine who stand in our way,” the president said, but he refused to name these people.

Reshuffle of the Cabinet of Ministers. The president does not rule out personnel changes in the government, noting that the work of ministers is being evaluated, and that he will meet with Prime Minister Denys Shmygal in the near future and then “the weakest will be forced to leave.”

“Heads will roll – that’s true. But not because some of the deputies have bad relationships with one or another minister,” Zelenskyy said without naming the ministers.

Land reform and stolen land. The President defends the land reform decision, which lifted the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land in Ukraine. He stressed that for 30 years politicians lied to Ukrainians about the risk of selling chornozem to foreigners, and they themselves stole the land through “grey” schemes.

“We analyzed, pardon me for saying so, how people had been “brainwashed” about the land reform. Then we changed the head of the State Geocadastre, who immediately disclosed all the figures – five million hectares were stolen. There are a little more than two million hectares of land left. There were a total of seven million hectares. Where are the other five? They were stolen,” Zelenskyy said.