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17 April, 2012  ▪  Serhiy Hrabovsky

Kyiv Sets the Trend

The mayoral election in Kyiv will be the first test to reveal the united opposition’s ability to resist the technologies that will be used by the government to ensure the necessary outcome of parliamentary and presidential elections

According to informed sources within government agencies, Kyiv mayor and city council elections will take place in July, even though the term of Leonid Chernovetsky, the current nominal mayor, expires on 15 May.

The prospect of a mayoral election in mid-summer became clear as soon as the Party of Regions (PR) transferred Oleksandr Popov, the then Utilities Minister, to the much more important office of Chairman of the Kyiv City State Administration as part of the shake up in the government. Summer, especially July and August, is the perfect time for election campaigns, in both Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities. The economically proactive, thus critical of the government, share of the electorate is on vacation. Most students are out of town on summer holidays as well, while pensioners are pleased with the warm summer sun and a good choice of affordable seasonal fruit and vegetables on the markets. Moreover, some helpful election techniques were tested in the 2008 mayoral election that kept Leonid Chernovetsky in the mayor’s chair despite the fact that less than 25% of Kyivites voted for him.

Another scenario, riskier, but just as effective, is to hold mayoral and parliamentary elections simultaneously. In that case, the storm of campaigns to promote the “leading and ruling force” will also work in favour of the right candidate for the mayoral office. In addition to the campaign, the government’s temporary splurge on social benefits to please a large chunk of the electorate, doomed to suffer increased inflation as a result of this “better life today” immediately after the election, will boost the right candidate’s popularity. However, this will once again allow the government to win the election, even if supported by a minority of Kyiv voters, just like in 2008. After all, the party in power has learned well how to manipulate those who vote against all, by generously providing their ideologues with a platform, while discouraging intellectuals and young people from voting and playing on conflicts within the opposition. Even if the opposition diligently smoothes out on-going conflicts, someone from outside will surely provoke new ones when needed and make sure the whole country knows about it.

Whatever the circumstances, the Kyiv mayoral election will occur when convenient for the PR, which will choose the right day and time.

One might wonder why the PR needs to have a Kyiv mayor that is loyal to the party after it amended the law on the capital’s status, essentially eliminating its self-governance as it delegated virtually all functions to the city state administration. Yet, the PR is a typical neo-totalitarian party in terms of its structure and methods of activity, as well as its platform, which has nothing to do with reality, similar to that of other likeminded political forces, the electorate and strategic objectives: to stay in power for ever. Just like any typical totalitarian and neo-totalitarian party, the PR is trying to hide its undemocratic omnipotence behind formal procedures and pompous rituals. Aimed at ensuring maximum legitimacy for power structures, concepts such as “the people and the party are a heartfelt unity” target the audience both within and outside the country. The actual state of affairs and the attitudes of the electorate are secondary in this context, since it is how the votes are counted that matters, not how the nation votes.

Therefore, winning the Kyiv mayoral election is a matter of honour for the PR, no matter how specific their understanding of honour is, and the opinion of most Kyiv voters is the last thing to be taken into consideration.

Under such circumstances three things can help the opposition and theoretically, prevent the continued looting of Kyiv.

Firstly, the opposition should unite as everyone is now calling for it. This unity should be real rather than formal, which means that the opposition should collaborate closely to reach a common objective. All opposition leaders should bear in mind the mayoral election in Obukhiv[1], a town near Kyiv. The lack of a single candidate and rivalry between nominees of Vitaliy Klychko’s UDAR and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna scattered the votes of the inert electorate, especially with a voter turnout of just over 40%. As a result, UDAR’s nominee got 21.9%, Batkivshchyna’s candidate won 17.8% while PR’s Mr. Levchenko ended up with 39.5%. Kyiv saw a similar scenario in 2008 as the rivalry between Vitaliy Klychko and Oleksandr Turchynov resulted in the victory of Leonid Chernovetsky, with many voters ignoring the election, disenchanted by the chaos in the opposition camp.

Secondly, opposition forces should be proactive at a level that goes beyond election processes and occasional fights in parliament or the Kyiv City Council. After all, unlike today’s MPs, the MPs of 1990 possibly did much more good for the country and Kyiv; did not put on airs and graces, were not ashamed of their shoes, which were worn out from walking in rallies and losing their voices in street disputes.

Thirdly, the opposition should collaborate with NGOs. This means establishing closer ties with various NGOs, from independent trade unions to animal right groups, bicycle riders’ associations and protectors of old Kyiv on an equal contractual basis, rather than implementing the desire of opposition politicians to lead the entire nation to unspeakable happiness. Kyiv has dozens, even hundreds of NGOs – big and small, proactive and inert – showing that voters care and are willing to take responsibility for Kyiv, and choose the “European way” frequently mentioned by opposition politicians in their rhetoric. Bodies organized by voters in different districts of Kyiv are growing more and more popular. Notably, Kyiv Council deputies from the PR are trying to please them while the opposition barely notices their existence.

Theoretically, there is the fourth thing that could lead the opposition to a victory both in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine. This would be mayoral election in two rounds. Ex-president Yushchenko once angrily reproached proponents of this idea as promoters of soviet elements. In fact, though, Mr. Yushchenko was wrong once more, as mayors are elected in two rounds in many European countries, since they cannot work effectively if they are not supported by the majority of townsfolk. By contrast, the PR is not concerned with such details. The crucial thing for them is to make sure that the interests of all of its members are satisfied. Therefore, the election will consist of just one round and it will be necessary to hit the target accurately and hard.

About two decades ago, a sociologist noted a curious trend: Kyiv was about six months to a year ahead of general Ukrainian developments, demonstrating immediate prospects. Indeed, few remember today how Kyiv said “no” to preserving the USSR in the 1991 referendum, and the whole country then voted for Ukraine’s independence in December. The fact that Leonid Chernovetsky was elected twice as Kyiv mayor showed the fragmentation and ineffectiveness of Ukraine’s democratic wing. Thus, the question now, is what will happen during the mayoral election in Kyiv and how will it set the tone for the rest of the country this year.

[1] On 18 March 2012, PR’s Oleksandr Levchenko won an early mayoral election in Obukhiv. The Committee of Electors and the police reported no violations while the teams of other candidates and NGOs claimed there were numerous violations during the election.

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