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Upcoming municipal elections: a day of reckoning in Ukraine?

After last year's parliamentary elections, the municipal polls in Ukraine will again test the post-Euromaidan reformers affiliated with Petro Poroshenko. Dissatisfaction is rising. DW's Frank Hofmann reports from Kyiv.

In his bid to return to city hall, Vitali Klitschko, currently serving as mayor of Kyiv, has been doing the same as he's done almost every week since his inauguration after the Euromaidan revolution: officially opening newly renovated daycare centers or new schools - the types of projects supported by the former heavyweight boxing champion, whose second home is Germany. "Look over here, we're getting things done," is the message being conveyed.

And, of course, the incumbent also has to prove that everything is being done better than by his predecessors under President Viktor Yanukovych, who was removed by the Ukrainian parliament. Last weekend it was time to open a new park in the outskirts of Kiev. There were fresh flowers in autumn – quite unusual for the season. A young father with a child in his arms likes this. "It's better than before; I am quite satisfied with it all. He does as much as anyone can do," he says. But most of those who go to these official events are Klitschko's fans - including young sportspeople - who want to ask him to autograph a boxing glove.

Ukraine Kommunalwahl Rathaus in Kiew

Several candidates are vying to become the mayor of Kyiv.

Change under the wing of the president

So Klitschko cannot be certain that his public appearances will help him win. "Campaigning is underway," has been the most frequent response to questions in the past weeks as to why a particular road is being tarred or why something else is at last happening - as though Kyiv had been at a standstill for the past months. But this is not the case. It is part of life in Kyiv to discuss things to death.

And yet Klitschko himself probably already realized in late summer that holding on to power would not as clear-cut a matter as he would like it to be. He maneuvered his party Udar - which means "strike" or "punch" in English - into the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the party of his mentor, Ukrainian President Poroshenko. After the Euromaidan revolution, Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation – which is affiliated with the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) - tried to give Klitschko and his party a clearly conservative-liberal profile.

The consultants' efforts were in vain. "Political parties in Ukraine are more like electoral alliances," says a CDU politician. And in such cases, the winner takes all. Poroshenko's bloc has been leading opinion polls for months – but by significantly fewer votes than at the parliamentary elections last autumn.

The strongest party is dissatisfaction

Copyright: DW/E. Shulko

Ubiquitous in Kyiv: Mayor Klitschko

Because dissatisfied people represent the strongest political group in Ukraine. This dissatisfaction stems from the economic crash for some, from the slow pace of reforms for others, and for many others again, from both together.

"More than half of Ukrainians we have surveyed are prepared to take to the streets again if their living conditions continue to deteriorate," says a survey conducted in October by the conservative, Washington-based International Republican Institute. It puts this group of voters at 53 percent. The survey also found that 20 percent were prepared to put up with this phase.

The German Federal Agency for Political Education has come to similar conclusions, saying that 30 percent of Ukrainians no longer believe that post-Euromaidan politicians are willing to carry out reforms. Half of them even say: "Nothing has changed at all." Only western Ukraine, which is one of the strongest pro-European regions in the country, has not lost its eagerness for reform: more than 60 percent of respondents demand that Kyiv make changes more quickly to create an open, democratic society, unlike the present-day one, still influenced by post-Soviet structures based on oligarchy and nepotism.

Copyright: DW/E. Shulko

Will discontent soon drive the people back to the streets?

The majority is for a market economy

A temporary worsening of living conditions would even be tolerated by 57 percent of the west Ukrainian population – if the changes lead to future improvements. And the majority of Ukrainians throughout the whole country want "a resolute implementation of market reforms, the creation of a competitive environment, and more favorable business conditions" – basically, what EU and US politicians ask of Kyiv.

People seem to be more satisfied in places where these types of reforms are being implemented. The center of regional capital Lviv in the western part of Ukraine resembles comparable municipalities in neighboring Poland – it is buzzing with activity, and tourism is booming. Lviv's 47- year-old-mayor, Andriy Sadovyi of the liberal coalition movement Samopomich Union (Self Reliance), has already been heralded by Ukrainian media as the next president. Sadovyi, however, faces a strong right-wing populist group in the city council.

JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images

Residents in the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine will not be able to vote until next year

Electronic allocation system against corruption

The nationalists might be among those best able to capitalize on the country's negative mood – along with the forces of the pisted autocratic president Yanukovych. Many questions remain unanswered.

At a park opening in Kyiv, the "defending" mayor tries to reassure the people. "Expectations are great; everything is to be changed and fast but that is a Herculean task. For years, nothing has been done in the city; you cannot renew 1,600 kilometers of roads at once," he says. "We have re-opened City Hall for the people," he adds – at least that was possible.

He goes on to say that a new electronic procurement system for municipal contracts has created fair conditions for all. And that one-third of the funds that once evaporated in corrupt dealings are now available to the city's coffers. That is why Klitschko, the world champion boxer, is asking for extra time.