The Yanukovych regime is depriving Kyiv voters of their right to influence the local government through elections. This may be a test of the public and opposition reaction to a scenario whereby national presidential or parliamentary elections will be postponed or cancelled
The government seems to have made its final decision on the election of the Kyiv mayor and city council. It’s not going to happen, at least, not until the upcoming 2015 presidential election, if the latter take place at all. In the previous week, Party of Regions’ MPs submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to interpret when the election in Kyiv should take place according to the law. Opposition representatives claim that the Constitutional Court has already received a ready-made decision from the Presidential Administration: the next mayoral and city council elections should be held no sooner than 2015. This is hardly surprising, as the Party of Regions never even began the “legality” game – any attempt would end in defeat.
The election delay scenario will likely be implemented based on a loophole in the law on local elections. Under the relevant negotiations the term for Kyiv mayor and city council deputies elected in 2008 is five years, thus the election campaign should take place in 2013. On the other hand, Art. 14.2 of the Law “On Local Elections”, says that regular elections of deputies and mayors are held simultaneously throughout Ukraine, other than in the cases specified by the Constitution and laws. Given that regular municipal elections, other than those in Kyiv and those to the Ternopil Oblast council, took place in 2010, the Constitutional Court decide conveniently for the Presidential Administration, i.e. postpone local elections in Kyiv until 2015.
Holding them anytime soon will certainly leave the Yanukovych regime with no control over Kyiv: as the 2012 parliamentary campaign showed, support for the party in power is currently below 20%. The latest surveys signal an inevitable defeat for Oleksandr Popov, the presidentially appointed Head of the Kyiv City State Administration (KCSA) against opposition candidate Vitaliy Klitschko, if the election were to take place in the short-term. The latest snow storm in Kyiv only made things worse for the current administration, which proved absolutely helpless when faced with the extreme weather conditions.
As the presidential election draws closer, the role of Kyiv as the capital will grow, especially when protests loom. Thus, people in the Presidential Administration realize how important it is to maintain control over Kyiv’s administration bodies. A perfect scenario for Yanukovych is to keep the status quo until 2015 with the KCSA with the henchman he appointed, instead of a mayor elected by the city’s voters, and a city council that no longer resembles the will of Kyivites. Once its term in office is manually prolonged, the deputies who have no hope of being reelected if the election did take place anytime soon, are likely to fulfill the Presidential Administration’s instructions even more readily than before. If this happens, Kyiv authorities will be absolutely free to ignore the will, interests and problems of average Kyivites, as they did on the “52nd of February” when people found themselves snow-bound for almost two days.
Oleksandr Popov was previously the mayor of Komsomolsk, Poltava Oblast, for 12 years. According to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, the locals really liked him. The town was often mentioned for its progressive municipal practices. His role in Kyiv today is completely different. He is the henchman of the Yanukovych regime who, over his three years in office, has failed to become the real head of the capital, an independent official capable of protecting the interests of Kyiv residents and resisting central authorities or oligarchs who, under Popov, are grabbing the city’s architectural sites, land and other assets at an even more alarming rate than before. Controversial construction activity has grown significantly. For instance, despite Popov’s numerous promises to stop construction near the Teatralna metro station in downtown Kyiv, it is still on-going. This surprises few, as Popov was appointed by the President, not elected by the people, so needless to say, he works in the interests of the President and Co. In early March, Popov said openly that he could not influence the situation surrounding the “renovation” of The Inn because the site is state-owned and privately rented, so Popov and the KCSA he heads can only act as a deliberative vote in the situation. Saying this, he essentially confirmed that he has no leverages and decides nothing in Kyiv – the Presidential Administration does that for him.
It’s no wonder that the process of stripping Kyiv of financial resources through various mechanisms by the team in power is linked Popov. In 2010, his fellow Party of Regions’ MPs adopted a new version of the Budget Code of Ukraine. As a result, Kyiv lost 50% of revenues in personal income tax. In 2013, Kyiv will lose an estimated UAH 8bn because of this decision. In 2012, Kyiv became a subsidized city. In 2013, for instance, local taxpayers will contribute UAH 8.2bn to the state budget, while the city will get a mere UAH 2.6bn in subventions. The deficit in the adopted 2013 budget was impressive enough to make Popov react, even if it was merely for show. He soon agreed to the budget after the government promised to raise subventions for Kyiv once it revises the budget after Q1’2013.
Oleksandr Popov is most often portrayed opening roads, upgraded high-speed tram lines, metro stations, bridges and newly-built houses – all promoted as his personal accomplishments. This is despite the fact that the projects are often privately funded or part of national programmes, such as Euro 2012 preparations. In 2011, the Cabinet of Ministers allocated UAH 1.5bn for infrastructure projects, and another UAH 0.85bn in 2012. Most of this money was spent ineffectively as recently confirmed by the Audit Chamber. This is no surprise, as infrastructure projects in Kyiv – and under the current government in particular – have always been used to pump hundreds of millions from the budget to the “right” business entities spending them as they will.
Notably, under Popov as Head of the KCSA, Kyiv’s debt grew from UAH 8bn in July 2012 to UAH 10.5bn in February 2013. This is more than 60% of the city’s annual budget (UAH 18.5bn in 2013), while the municipal budget already spends over UAH 1.3bn to service it. This is despite Popov’s declarations of the need to stop increasing debts when he headed the City State Administration. Meanwhile, one of his deputies, Ruslan Kramarenko, admitted recently, that the debt will continue to grow, under the pyramid principle. Thus, instead of the Eurobonds worth USD 550mn that are due in 2015-2016, Kyiv authorities are planning to issue new ones worth USD 700mn due in 2024. This means that they will cover not only the debt, but interest on it, using new debts. If this continues, every subsequent loan will become more and more expensive for the city, with an increased risk of default. The threat of Kyiv’s default already emerged in 2012, but was averted. The question is how long it will take until the next threat, given the current policy of eating up funds.
Meanwhile, many segments of Kyiv’s economy remain in the shadow. Popov demonstrates his inability to solve this problem. This is not surprising as the most profitable segments are linked to top officials or people close to them. For instance, anticipated income from parking lots in Kyiv’s 2013 budget is UAH 30mn, the same as last year. According to expert estimates, however, minimum annual revenues from parking spaces in Kyiv hit UAH 400-450mn, which is a lot, given the deficit in the municipal budget. Popov’s initiative to bring “small architectural elements”, i.e. kiosks and trade tents, out of the shadow, failed miserably as well. He said many times that their owners evade taxes while kiosks ruin the city landscape. After a few months, the campaign abated. The owners of kiosks removed from one site got new “protection” and popped up at other sites. The way kiosk business works in Kyiv is that only the owners pay a certain contribution to a certain entity, qualify as being “compliant with the law”, while the kiosks of those who don’t, are removed.
Probably most notorious proof of how helpless Kyiv authorities can be in dealing with emergencies, was the snow storm on March 23 – the heaviest in decades. However, weather forecasts had warned of it in advance, giving the authorities time to prepare. It obviously thought that street sweepers and spades would be enough this time.
According to estimates, Kyiv has 40 times fewer snow removal machines than Moscow, i.e. 300 compared to 12,000, although the population in Kyiv is only three to four times smaller than that in Moscow. This might be why the KCSA demonstrated its efforts in dealing with the snow storm on a photo taken in Moscow last November. To make the photo look more credible they photoshopped the script on the truck that originally indicated that it belonged to the Russian road construction agency. Despite the lack of snow removal equipment in the capital, the road to Koncha Zaspa, a suburb where the “elite” lives, was cleaned first, because it is “categorized” according to Popov. Meanwhile, a school bus with 47 kids visiting Kyiv was stuck in a traffic jam for almost 12 hours.
It is a fact that the current municipal authorities are incapable of protecting voters’ interests. They cannot bring important segments of Kyiv’s economy out of the shadow, as they are controlled by entities close to the government, put the privatization and rent of municipal property in order, or stop corruption that leaks hundreds of millions from the city budget annually. In the latest case of grabbing Kyiv funds, the prosecution launched criminal proceedings against the Head of the KyivPasTrans (Kyiv Passenger Transport) tender committee, who acquired trams at a price that was UAH 11.1mn higher than their actual worth.
Clearly, regular elections of city authorities are not a panacea from all the problems mentioned above. However, a mayor and city council that will be accountable to voters, rather than the President and the institutions under his control, including the Constitutional Court, are an important instrument to make local authorities respond to the real problems the city and its dwellers face. However, Kyiv will inevitably face more and more disasters, if the regime-appointed mayor and city council continue to run the city.
And this will not be the biggest trouble. The party in power may essentially cancel the local elections in Kyiv to keep its puppet administration in power despite a 12.6% support from Kyiv voters for the Party of Regions in the latest parliamentary election. This will be a test of how voters and opposition may react, should those in power cancel the national presidential election in 2015 or indefinitely postpone the early parliamentary election if the current Verkhovna Rada is dissolved. Despite virtually zero chances to inspire win the confidence of Ukrainian voters again, weak resistance in the situation with Kyiv elections may encourage the Yanukovych regime to try the same scenario to keep central power, even if formal excuses and mechanisms differ.
WHY NOT POPOV?
The scapegoats for the failure to deal with the snow storm were KCSA First Deputy Head Oleksandr Mazurchak (photo), KyivAvtoDor (Kyiv Automobile Roads) Director Heorhiy Hlynsky and Head of the Kyiv Emergencies Department Vitaliy Pshenychny. But what makes Oleksandr Popov better than them?