A week has passed since local elections were held in Ukraine, but the tide of passions is unlikely to subside soon. In some places, votes are still being counted. In other places, a second round is expected. In Dnipropetrovsk the confrontation between different camps has escalated – replete with searches and detentions.
One of the reasons for the current situation is the adoption of the law “On Local Elections”, which introduced open party lists. Another reason is an exacerbation of conflicts within the ruling elite. As a result, the voting, which is handled in other countries in a routine almost imperceptible fashion, has in Ukraine become the main event of fall-winter 2015 and a testing ground for the most widely differing political scenarios and technologies. There were, however, some very entertaining moments.
Kharkov: one against many
The current mayor Hennadiy Kernes set the main trend for the elections in Kharkov, as he has for the past several years. Local elites were waiting to see who he ended up giving his backing to – who would become the leading political force in the region depended on this. The strict administrative resource structuring, the effectively organised media campaign, and the visual presence on every bus, metro station, TV station and any minimally suitable surface gave everyone the signal long before the elections that for the next five years, power will lie with Kernes and “Vidrodzhennya” (“Revival”).
Technology that already tested back in 2005 was used: clear lie detector, meeting with residents, putting well-known officials and media personalities forward as candidates, as well as dynamic work with the leaders of businesses, organisations, schools, kindergartens and hospitals.
Up until the last moment, the opponents of the mayor and supporters of Euromaidan were hoping that the Kharkov electorate would resist sufficiently to at least create the opportunity for a second round. “The Kernes phenomenon is like a technological project in that he is able to bring any party to victory irrespective of ideology or content. This is a big risk for the city as it is really unclear in whose camp that man will be tomorrow,” said political analyst Dmitry Melnikov in a conversation with Europe Insight.
However, the city’s inhabitants have not sided with such an interpretation. For them, Kernes is the personification of stability and it is of absolutely no importance which party he represents. Therefore, despite the intensification of the resistance on the part of his rivals, including attempts to bring him to court, the mayor was victorious in the very first round – 65.8%.
One of the reasons for such success is that the liberal-democratic opposition could not agree on a single candidate. Against one Kernes were independently, though often with the assistance of a “heavyweight” from Kiev, campaigning a former governor, and a doctor, and human rights campaigners – a total of 11 candidates. As for the Opposition Bloc, on the contrary, it did not put forward its leader Mykhailo Dobkin for the post of city mayor, which essentially simplified the choice for the electorate.
Dnipropetrovsk: Triumph of “black” technology
Vesti stated after the local elections, with reference to experts’ opinions, that the “black PR had not worked”. However, neither the authors of the article nor the interviewed political analysts, apparently, brought the events in Deipropetrovsk – where the power ambitions and business interests of Petro Poroshenko and Ihor Kolomoyskyi yet again collided – into the equation. They spared no expense for funding local headquarters: commercial ads practically disappeared during the campaign.
Several dozen candidates vied for the seat of city mayor. Oleksander Vilkul of the Opposition Bloc, Borys Filatov of Ukrop and Zagid Krasnov from the party Gromadska Sila (“Civic Force”) were considered to be the favourites.
The former governor Vilkul, connected to Rinat Akhmetov, this time also used the help of supporters of the country’s president Petro Poroshenko. Opponents of Vilkul, using the nomination from the Opposition Bloc, tried in every way to present him as a man of ex-president Viktor Yanukovich and the former government. In leaflets allegedly distributed in his name, there were promises to quickly restore the former head of state in a case of the regional success of the politician and the party standing behind him.
When the Opposition Bloc denied their involvement in this agitation, the competitors began to give out coupons with discounts for food products – supposedly in the name of the candidate. However, the pinnacle of the “black” technology was the certificates for free burial in any of the local cemeteries – also in the name of Vikul.
It was not easy either for People’s Deputy Borys Filatov, supported by Ihor Kolomoyskyi. The campaign of the candidate and his party was built on gung-ho patriotic moods. Battalion commanders were placed at the head of the political party, and emphasis was made in the agitation of the struggle between “cabinet” powers and those who stood on Maidan and fought in the east of the country.
Initially, he had the most problems not with competitors but with activists. Especially vicious battles, initiated by the social organisation Municipal Control, took place on Facebook and local media outlets. The activists accused Filatov of appropriating others’ achievements: restoration works in the city were conducted not through the candidate’s support, as claimed at the information stands that were set up, but budget monies.
However, on 31 October administrative resource started to work against Ukrop. A search was conducted in the office of the deputy, and one of Hennadiy Korban’s party’s leaders was detained.
Businessman Zagid Krasnov (Gromadska Sila), who was head to head with his main rivals by the end of September, was tripped up by the local authorities and online activists. Krasnov’s main initiative was public minibuses for 1 hryvnia. However, his drivers were fined en masse for violating traffic rules, and activists turned against him because his transport only went on the routes of his competitors-carriers.
As a result of the mutual intrigue, no one could secure a victory. A second round in which Oleksander Vilkul and Borys Filatov are to face off is scheduled in the city for 15 November.
Odessa: direct violations
Since the appointment of Mikhail Saakashvili as governor of Odessa Oblast in late May of this year, the region has become a real experimental zone for both the new cadres as well as new standards of policy. The former Georgian president immediately initiated a conflict with the city authorities, blaming them, saying that it was under their stewardship that the “city got stuck in the past and is practically not developing” (112.ua).
Over summer Odessa had turned in a battlefield between the teams of mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov and the governor. Saakashvili repeatedly complained that the resistance of the former elite was very great: the decisions of the heads of the oblast administration were regularly disregarded or somehow circumvented. In such a situation, the local elections only justified the transition from an administrative rivalry into open political confrontation.
Notwithstanding the fact that a record 42 candidates vied for the post of mayor, the main question was whether Alexander Borovik, a candidate from the governor’s team, would edge out the former head or at least make it to the second round.
The problem for both teams was their relative newness to the city (Trukhanov has been mayor since May 2014), but both had access to enough administrative and financial resources to position themselves as the sole embodiment of “real action”. As a result, the campaign turned very bitter and is held in general opinion as one of the dirtiest. The reports of observers from OPORA are full of allegations of violations, including carousels, bribes and ballot forgery.
The election results appear thus: Gennadiy Trukhanov won over half the vote – 56.6%, and Alexander Borovik got 25.7%. The loser attempted to protest the outcome and even organised meetings. But on 30 October the Odessa District Administrative Court rejected his suit for the nullification of the Suvorovsky Raion election protocol and the conducting of repeat ballot counts in 28 polling stations.
Kiev: the capital as it is
Elections in the capital have never been a humdrum affair, and they have never reached their outcome without the participation of the central government. In a conversation with Europe Insight, chief editor of the online publication Leviy Bereg (“Left Bank”), Sonia Koshkina noted that “at Bankova (where the president’s administration is located – Ed.), they’re betting on who will be the mayor of Kiev all the same.” The main choice was clear from the very beginning – the incumbent mayor and pro-president parties’ compromise candidate Vitali Klitschko.
“Klitschko genuinely tried to bring order to the city in his previous term: he visited construction sites, repaired roads, fought against illegal structures. But Kiev is too complex an organism and Kievans are to specific an electorate for this to have worked out,” says political analyst Mihail Tashi. The current mayor won 40.6% of the vote. According to the expert, administrative resource was, exclusively, the main key to this interim victory.
His unexpected rival in the second round will be Right Sector leader and People’s Deputy Borislav Bereza. He entered into the elections under the slogan “I am ready to offer the city a Plan B”, which envisaged liberating the government from oligarchs and corruption. However, in the opinion or Mihail Tashi, “Bereza may not even conduct a campaign, just remind people that he belongs to the Right Sector and hang the city in black and red billboards so that people go and, as if spellbound, put a mark by his name”. Borislav Bereza got 8.8%, beating the former mayor of Kiev Oleksandr Omelchenko by 0.38% (or 3.3 thousand votes).