Kyiv Mayor Squares Off With Tymoshenko Bloc

KIEV, Ukraine -- The parliament was elected in March but has yet to get down to work, as the first plenary session was spent in battles and haggling over which factions would form a majority.

Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky

However, the workings of the Kyiv City Council, which was also elected last spring and has a make-up similar to that of the parliament, may offer some clues as to what relations between the various groups of national lawmakers will be like.

The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) appears to be squarely in opposition in both legislatures, taking on the role of public watchdog.

During the March 26 general elections, which brought Kyiv its first new mayor in 10 years, BYuT won the largest share of seats on the 120-member city council, forging a strong alliance and near majority with two other parties to oppose new Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky.

BYuT, one of the heirs to the Orange Revolution, almost immediately demanded new elections amid allegations that Chernovetsky’s team bought votes from pensioners and the poor.

Though the “opposition” in the Kyiv City Council has reportedly settled into a tentative working compromise with Chernovetsky, experts say that conflicts are on the horizon, especially when decisions made by the mayor put council members’ own political and business interests at risk.

Earlier this week, Chernovetsky, who campaigned for mayor on a platform of populist social programs targeting the needy, sparred publicly with one of BYuT’s most outspoken lawmakers in the national parliament.

The war of words involved a preliminary decision by the Kyiv City Council to allocate 28 hectares of land in Kyiv for 15 years to Vulcan Pravex, a company that Mykola Tomenko, one of BYuT’s most outspoken people’s deputies, said is connected to Pravex-Bank, a top Ukrainian financial institution controlled by the mayor.

Tomenko charged that the July 27 decision, made by the council’s 15-member land commission, smacks of abuse of office by both the mayor and the 21 city council members from Leonid Chernovetsky’s bloc.

In his appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Tomenko noted that because Chernovetsky is a major stockholder in Pravex-Bank and his son Stepan, who is also a city council deputy, is top manager at the bank, this is a clear conflict of interest.

Tomenko said that if Vulcan Pravex receives the right to use the land, a plant already located and operating on the site could be closed.

Chernovetsky countered in a statement released by the Kyiv municipal administration on Aug. 28 that “none of the enterprises linked with this financial structure [Pravex-Bank] would receive a single square meter of land,” and added that no decision had been made by the Kyiv City Council to allocate land to Pravex-Bank.

Lev Partskhaladze, a former Kyiv City Council member and head of the European Capital party, which failed to get into the council during the last elections, played down the significance of the land dispute in the relations between BYuT and the mayor.

“In this case, I don’t really see any problems if they decided to, or plan to issue this land to that company, because technically there is already a plant operating on the property, and they [the city council] just registered it to the plant itself.”

A more fundamental issue, according to Partskhaladze, is ensuring that land plots are allocated by the authorities in Kyiv in open tenders before any building begins, allowing for the best use of the city’s land and guaranteeing a level playing field for developers.

The Kyiv City Council has come under criticism in the past for the non-transparent way in which building sites are approved.

Analysts predict that Kyiv’s ongoing development will continue to be one of the most divisive issues facing the 120 member council.

Mykhaylo Pogrebinsky, an analyst at the Institute of Political and Conflict Studies, said the issue could undermine the current “fluid compromise” between Chernovetsky and the so-called Fair Kyiv coalition, which was forged immediately after the mayoral elections between BYuT (38 council seats), the bloc of former heavyweight champion Vitaliy Klitchko (13) who lost to Chernovetsky in the mayoral race, and the Civic Active of Kyiv (7).

Chernovetsky’s bloc got only 21 seats, but is thought to be supported by the bloc of former parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn (6), the pro-presidential Our Ukraine (15) and the Socialists (7).

The Donetsk-based Party of Regions, which leads the majority coalition in the national parliament, has only nine seats in the Kyiv City Council, but is also thought not to oppose the mayor. Four council members are independents.

According to Pogrebinsky, “right now it’s hard to say who’s really in the opposition, because it’s completely understood that part of BYuT came to an understanding with the mayor’s team. Whether this will last is difficult to gauge.”

BYuT’s cooperation with the mayor is based not on the party’s political ends, but to the extent to which city council members are able to protect their own political and economic interests.

“The majority of deputies on city councils, who somehow make it onto the party lists of one or another political party, especially when these are not well known politicians, normally get elected in order to protect their own, primarily, economic interests,” said Yevhen Poberezhny, executive director of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, a Kyiv-based election monitoring group.

In this case, being in opposition is profitable for few of them,” he added.

Poberezhny said that the Kyiv city council is no exception to this rule. “There are a number of deputies, including some from BYuT, who did not get elected to the city council to be in the opposition, but to secure their own interests,” Poberezhny said, adding that at this point he would not say that there is a strong opposition to Chernovetsky in the Kyiv City Council that has a concrete strategy or that is willing to sacrifice something.

Nonetheless, the interests of these deputies will introduce oversight and control over the policies and decisions made by the mayor himself.

In this regard, Pogrebinsky views “Tomenko’s initiative [calling for a review of the land allocation to Vulcan Pravex] absolutely positively … I think that he should continue to work in this way in order to maximize control over these matters.”

Pogrebinskyi said that on the city council itself there are considerable resources to check the work of the mayor and guard against possible corruption in the future.
“I think that in this regard we can’t count on influential businessmen in BYuT, and if they work diligently, they can organize considerable control over the operations of the city council.”

Source: Kyiv Post


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