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17 December, 2015

"Thousands of civic activists have been absorbed by political parties with obscure financing"

The leader of the Democratic Alliance party the results of the local elections, the prospects of small parties and the chances of consolidating new political forces as a counterweight to oligarchic political clubs

Do you think that local elections were a success for the Democratic Alliance? What objectives did you set and how much has been achieved?

We set out to achieve results primarily in regional centers. As it turned out, this was the most ambitious task, because the larger the city, the more difficult it is to establish communications with residents. So, we have been successful mostly in small towns with very different geography, ranging from Ternopil to Donetsk regions. We have made it to the city councils of Radomyshl, Zalishchyky, Brovary, and Novohrodivka.

But to be honest, I have to say that small towns were not our priority. Since Ukraine has over 10,000 local councils, it is clear that we simply cannot cover them all. So we decided to work primarily in large cities with large concentrations of voters. In this election, we faced a number of challenges that we were not up to. Working in large cities proved difficult. Of all the regional centers, we were only successful in Chernihiv, where we took over 5% of votes. Our factions will also be presented in district councils of the city.

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Our results in Kyiv were not so good. Here we fell short of getting into the city council by just a few votes. The biggest problem for us is the level of awareness. As practice shows, people who know about us are likely to vote for us. But the number of such voters is rather small. Even after the events on Maidan, after the revolution in which we took an active part, surveys have shown that only 3% of voters know about us. This corresponds to the number of votes that we received last year.

Even after we made it to the City Council, there was almost no information about us in the media. During this election campaign, even our voters asked: "Where were you for a year and a half?" And this despite the fact that we held briefings once a month to report on our activities.

What did you manage to achieve in the City Council during this year and a half?

We cleaned Podil of illegal outdoor advertising. We made amendments to the Regulations that allowed general public to attend the meetings of various committees. But I do admit that we have achieved little. Because in order to make a real difference, it is necessary to be better represented in the City Council. The success of your initiatives depends not so much on your proactiveness, but on the number of your party deputies present in the hall.
When we came to the City Council, we had a clear plan of what we wanted to do. We wrote a program with 53 specific initiatives. But we managed to implement only a few of them. Because we were not part of the majority and did not have the support necessary to promote such initiatives. Klitschko and his political party turned a blind eye not only to our proposals. He received a monopoly power, his party won the absolute majority in the City Council, so they did not even try to seek some compromise with other political forces.

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Have you witnessed grabfest and corruption? How did you oppose these phenomena?

For sure. We tried to establish an anti-corruption filter at the City Council and blocked corrupt decisions of the committees as much as we could. We managed to stop some attempts to organize corruption schemes. One of the examples was that same illegal outdoor advertising. We were able to figure out how much money goes into the pockets of public servants instead of the budget. We also opposed illegal street parking. Overall, the last city council was far less corrupt than the previous ones. Of course, the grabfest at the scale that existed under Chernovetskiy or Popov is no longer possible. But I must say that corruption has evolved. Today, most opportunities for abuse lie outside the decisions of the City Council. Corruption is now centered on the executive branch, Kyiv City State Administration, and public utility companies.

Why do you think you failed to repeat the success of the previous elections in Kyiv?

Unfortunately, I must say that voters know almost nothing about our activities in the City Council. Because even if you report on it at monthly press briefings, it doesn't mean that you will appear in the news and that someone will notice you. The months of the election campaign for us were an opportunity to tell the interested citizens about what we did in the previous year and what we were going to do next. But this was really not enough.

Posting on Facebook and blogging on Ukrainska Pravda website is not enough to tell the voters what you do and what you propose. We don't have a large advertising budget, so we have to constantly invent new creative approaches. During this campaign, we went to the offices of various companies, talked to the staff, presented our projects, created events that we called "flat parties," invited guests, and talked to people.

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In order to tell the residents of the capital about your activities, you need really big budgets. For example, Kyiv today has 1.2 million mailboxes. That is, only to throw newspapers in the mailboxes, you need to spend about 500,000 hryvnia per month. Over the last year, we were able to distribute a newspaper three times in 100,000 copies. And finding the money for it was also extremely difficult.

Do people still donate money?

Yes, of course. Over the past year, about 3 million hryvnia went through the Democratic Alliance accounts. All of that were donations from citizens. During the current election campaign, we were able to collect more money compared to previous periods.

Last year and at the beginning of this year, we actually did not raise money because of the war, since on our part it would have been absolutely immoral to compete for voter hryvnias with volunteer organizations and soldiers in the East.

What we manage to collect is of course not enough for full-fledged party activities. But at the same time, the Democratic Alliance is arguably the only example when citizens are willing to donate money for politics. For the last campaign, we raised about 1.5 million. These were mostly the money of our supporters. We received a rather large donation from Marko Suprun, the founder of Babylon'13 project. Despite the rather skeptical forecasts of experts and sociologists who gave us 1% of Kyiv votes, we were able to improve our last year's result and were only a step away from getting into the City Council. Syla Liudey, another party that raised money for their campaign in a transparent way, focused on small towns and was able to achieve good results.

Don't you think that these tactics are better than trying to conquer the capital?

Their success, same as ours, is very local. In Ukraine, there are about 10,000 local councils, and they did not get even to a hundredth of them. In the context of the forthcoming parliamentary election campaign, this is simply ridiculous. If early election is held in spring, what do we have? A handful of local deputies in small towns?

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So maybe you should join forces?

Today, either on our own or together with Syla Liudey, we are not capable of participating in the national election campaign. We must be realistic. There is only one way out of the current situation. There is a lot of talking today about early election. But what will change if it takes place? Nothing. We will just shuffle the same deck of cards that includes Samopomich, Solidarity or Batkivshchyna. Some of them will get more votes, others will get less, but this will be the only difference.

So today we have to set ourselves a task that should have been on our agenda immediately after the Revolution of Dignity. We need to come together and create a joint political force as an opposition to oligarchic projects. Merging just two small political parties is not a solution. It is time to create a powerful common platform that could compete for bright young politicians.

Why has not been such platform established yet?

This was our common mistake. By not creating such platform, we created the preconditions for thousands of civic activists to be absorbed by parties with obscure financing. We did not offer such people an alternative and actually encouraged them to look for opportunities to realize their potential in oligarchic political projects. We will only be able to compete for them successfully if we join our efforts and offer them a decent way to self-realization.

By their presence in oligarchic projects, people like Serhiy Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayem or Ihor Lutsenko helped legitimize them, but were themselves absorbed by this ruck. They cannot form the agenda of the Parliament or become a factor of influence. So, the only way out for all of us is to establish a large-scale civic movement with brand new people.

Of course, there is also the path of transformational growth, when we just build up the party to be able to compete for the seats in the Parliament one day. But this growth can take decades. We could lose the country by that time.

 

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