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22 February, 2013  ▪  Andriy Skumin

The Battle for Kyiv

As the Kyiv mayoral and city council elections draw closer, the government is searching for political tactics to offset its poor ratings in the capital

The term of the current Kyiv Council, elected in 2008, ends in spring. The decision to hold an extraordinary mayoral election has not been taken yet, although the term of the previous Mayor, Leonid Chernovetsky, expired in summer 2012. However, those in power will have no more excuses for delaying the mayoral election in 2013. Just a year ago, time seemed to play into the hands of the Party of Regions (PR), apparently encouraging it to keep postponing the extraordinary election. Widespread expert opinion was that Oleksandr Popov, appointed Head of Kyiv City State Administration by President Yanukovych, was thus given time to create a positive image for himself and that the election would take place when his rating was high enough to win. However, the parliamentary election on 28 October, 2012, ended with a bitter defeat for the PR in Kyiv: three opposition parties gained a majority of nearly 74% with 31% voting for Batkivshchyna, 25.5% for UDAR and 17.3% for Svoboda, compared to the PR’s discouraging 12.6%. This makes the party in power’s support in Kyiv only slightly higher than that in Western Ukraine, a conventionally anti-PR region. Based on a poll by Active Group held on 10-13 January 2013, only 14% of voters in Kyiv were prepared to support Oleksandr Popov. 34.3% would vote for Vitaliy Klitschko. Even Petro Poroshenko with his mayoral ambitions would end up with 12%. The Party of Regions could hardly expect the situation to change dramatically over the past few months. This means that it will now have to seek alternative ways to keep power in Kyiv.

READ ALSO: Kyiv Sets the Trend

Given these circumstances, the government has apparently put crisis scenarios to solve the “Kyiv issue” into practice, or so signal its latest initiatives. Kyiv Council Secretary and Deputy Mayor, Halyna Hereha, announced that the city council election should be held under the first-past-the-post system, i.e. with individual candidates rather than using party lists. According to some sources, the plan is to hold the election in July when most proactive Kyivites are likely to leave town for vacation and pensioners will prevail in the remaining electorate – many of which are easy to persuade and bribe. They were the ones who helped Chernovetsky and his team to win the previous elections, and are likely to vote for Popov and the Party of Regions candidates in the upcoming one. It also looks like the PR is preparing a scenario whereby mayoral elections will not take place at all in Kyiv –a series of Does Kyiv Need a Mayor? campaigns have been conducted by pro-PR NGOs.

BEHEADING KYIV

Not once does the Ukrainian Constitution mention the term “Kyiv city head” or “city head of Kyiv”, in other words, mayor. According to Article 141 of the Constitution, “territorial communities… elect the village, town or city head by secret voting”, but the same Constitution states in Article 140 that “special laws of Ukraine define the nature of local self-governance in Kyiv and Sevastopol.”

This equips the party in power with a simple solution to the mayoral election issue: it can merely eliminate the position as such. The scheme is simple: a group of PR and Communist Party MPs apply to the Constitutional Court requesting an interpretation of the Constitution’s provisions on whether the office of Kyiv mayor is even an integral element of the capital’s self-governance system. Chaired by the Makiyivka-born judge Anatoliy Holovin, the Constitutional Court can issue an opinion whereby Kyiv’s self-governance can be such, that is recognized by a special law on the capital. Then, the parliamentary majority of the PR, the Communist Party and crossovers approves, and Yanukovych signs, a new version of the Law on the Capital of Ukraine, the Hero City Kyiv, that eliminates the office of mayor, leaving only the Kyiv Council, the executive body of which is the Kyiv City State Administration, headed by a person appointed by the president.

POROSHENKO AS THE GOLDEN MEAN

According to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, the PR is currently busy discussing the Kyiv without a mayor scenario. However, it is not the only crisis scenario. The other appears more honest: it leaves the prospect for the mayoral election in place. However, if administrative leverage proves futile in bringing the desired victory to the PR, and Kyivites ultimately elect an opposition mayor, the PR-controlled parliament could rule to hold another extraordinary mayoral election, thus cancelling the outcome of the previous one. Another option is to cut the majority of the mayor’s powers and hand them over to the Head of the Kyiv City State Administration, who is, of course, appointed by the president.

READ ALSO: Left Hook by Klitschko’s UDAR Party

Yet another relatively honest plan to get around the voters in Kyiv is purely tactical: those in power could “disperse” their votes in the mayoral election. Under the current procedure, the Kyiv mayor is elected with a relative majority in one round. Unless the opposition nominates a single candidate, those in power will have the opportunity to win the campaign with a minority of votes, just like Chernovetsky did in two previous mayoral elections with 32% and 37%.

The lack of a single candidate from the opposition will also pave the way for Ukrainian political heavyweight, Petro Poroshenko, to run for mayor. This will give Yanukovych & Co the chance to replay a Chernovetsky-type scenario in Kyiv, especially given that the car and chocolate tycoon and ex-Minister of Economy in Azarov’s Cabinet is likely to enjoy open or hidden support from opposition leaders as well, or so signals the nomination of his son Oleksiy in his election to the Vinnytsia Oblast Council as a Batkivshchyna candidate.  

NO CITY COUNCIL – NO POWER

Still, virtually all administrative and manipulative scenarios to prevent fair voting in the Kyiv mayoral election do not guarantee complete power in the capital for the government if the Kyiv Council is in opposition to it and a pro-PR mayor, since it is the Kyiv Council that approves the budget, development programmes, privatization and the allocation of land plots.

In addition, party elections to the Kyiv City Council do not bode well for the PR. Its popularity in Kyiv is almost as low as in Western Ukraine. For this reason, few were surprised by Halyna Hereha’s statement, circulated by the Kyiv City Council’s press-service (her husband Oleksandr Hereha is a PR MP – Ed.) that a “first-past-the-post system proved more effective” in municipal elections – needless to say, from the regime’s perspective – so it makes sense to use it for the upcoming Kyiv City Council election. Moreover, this is a good way of bringing more crossovers into the Council, running as opposition candidates, who will later join the pro-PR group to form a majority. 

READ ALSO: The Great Land Grab

The PR could take into account another lesson it learned from the 2012 failure, when most “against-all” voters ultimately supported the opposition, particularly Svoboda, after this option was removed from the ballot. Now, those in power may try to bring it back in the municipal election, thus undermining support for opposition candidates.  

Some could be skeptical about the PR’s plans, especially after opposition first-past-the-post candidates won the latest parliamentary election, running against multimillionaires. Halyna Hereha herself lost a constituency in Kyiv to an opposition rival. Yet, The Ukrainian Week’s sources from the PR claim that preparations for the Kyiv elections are currently on a huge scale. Therefore, much will depend on the ability of Batkivshchyna, UDAR and Svoboda to ultimately gain control over Kyiv before the decisive presidential campaign, rather than go looking for compromise candidates that could end up playing into the regime’s hands. The opposition should not simply agree on a single candidate, who is not the consequence of a compromise with the government, such as Petro Poroshenko, and prepare to prevent parliament passing special laws to eliminate the office of Kyiv mayor, but more importantly to agree on opposition candidates in all first-past-the-post constituencies where, according to valid legislation, 50% of the Kyiv Council will be elected. 


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