Ukraine local elections 'transparent': observers

Kiev (AFP) –

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International observers said Monday that local elections in Ukraine -- which exit polls predict to be a setback for President Volodymyr Zelensky -- were "well-organised and transparent".

On Sunday, the ex-Soviet state of some 40 million people voted to elect mayors and local councils, with no polls in Russia-annexed Crimea and eastern regions controlled by pro-Russian separatists.

"In the limited number of polling stations visited, the voting process was generally calm, well-organised and transparent," observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said in a statement.

The mission with 66 observers across the country noted that "party observers interfered with or participated in the (vote) counting process in several cases".

Exit polls showed that in nine major cities and regional centres no candidate from the president's Servant of the People party was elected mayor -- not even in Zelensky's hometown.

The local elections were seen as a test for former comedian Zelensky, whose popularity has suffered in the year-and-a-half since he came to power with a landslide victory.

"Contestants were able to campaign freely, but cases of abuse of state resources and of office, as well as widespread allegations of vote-buying, were of concern," observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights said.

“The elections were administered professionally and efficiently despite challenges posed by the pandemic and remaining shortcomings in the election laws,” they added.

Sunday's vote is the first held in Ukraine since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In polling stations equipped with disinfectant dispensers, election officials wore masks and gloves.

In the capital Kiev, acting mayor and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko has the best chance to win the mayoral election with over 45 percent of votes, according to two exit polls.

Final results are expected in three to five days, according to the election commission.