The President Of Kyiv

KIEV, Ukraine -- On May 25, around two million voters in Kyiv will elect a new mayor. It will be an early election, as was the case with the last parliamentary poll in September.

Current Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky (L) with mayoral candidate Vitaly Klitchko (R).

But more importantly for the business clans and political blocs taking part, the two month race to control the Ukrainian capital, which started on March 26, will be a dress rehearsal for the presidential elections scheduled for late next year.

Big money

Ukraine's Central Electoral Commission announced that it will cost Hr 16.5 million (over $3m) to hold the early mayoral elections - not much by Western standards, but money that could go toward a lot of neglected causes.

A more significant sum is what the candidates and their backers are spending. The head of Ukraine's Committee of Voters, an NGO, estimated that parties and candidates would spend $100m on their campaigns.

"If during the parliamentary elections, spending was $30-$40 for each vote, then during these elections you have to figure around $100 for each citizen of Kyiv," Committee of Voters chief Ihor Popov told a roundtable last month.

Why spend all that money on early elections, one might ask?

And the answer is: to get control over Kyiv's lucrative land plots, which the mayor and city council are responsible for handing out. Land plots in the capital are the equivalent of state industrial assets in the nation at large, yielding power, money and influence to those who control them.

If you're in office, you can find a way to transfer these assets to your supporters, yourself or the highest bidder. If you're not - you can accuse the people in power of doing so to the detriment of the public weal.

Current Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky has been accused by his political opponents of awarding land plots in return for political support.

The accusations were so serious that President Viktor Yushchenko felt compelled to suspend Chernovetsky as head of the Kyiv City Administration (an administrative post held concurrently by the mayor) while an investigation was conducted.

In addition, the parliament set up an ad-hoc commission to look into the matter on its own. Commission Chairman Mykola Tomenko, whose BYuT faction in parliament is hostile to Chernovetsky, accused officials from the country’s Prosecutor-General’s Office of taking plots from the city council as bribes.

All the same, Chernovetsky leads in the polls, commanding 38 percent voter support according to a recent poll by the Razumkov Center.

An experienced if eccentric politician, Chernovetsky has gone on the offensive.

His supporters were recently seen picketing on the grounds of a major city hospital, where a member of the BYuT team is said to be developing a controversial building project.

BYuT is the faction of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Chernovetsky's main opponents in the mayoral race are BYuT's Oleksandr Turchynov, considered Tymoshenko's right-hand man, and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitchko, whose main financial support comes from Kyiv land developers.

Everyone for himself

The Kyiv electoral commission announced that it had received 120 applications to take part in the mayoral race.

And just like during the last parliamentary poll, the so-called Orange politicians, or those who came to power during the country's 2004 Orange Revolution, are as divided as ever.

The Secretariat of Orange President Viktor Yushchenko has called on the Orange faction BYuT to support Mr. Klitchko.

"An announcement by BYuT to support V. Klitchko would simultaneously amount to an announcement of support for a united coalition. Otherwise, internal tension in the democratic camp will only grow, which promises nothing good," presidential chief of staff Viktor Baloga said on April 8.

But with Prime Minister Tymoshenko expected to challenge Yushchenko for the presidency next year, no one seriously expected the two politicians to agree on a mayoral candidate.

Yushchenko fired Tymoshenko as his first premier back in 2005. Since then, her popularity among voters has risen steadily, at the expense of the president's.

For his part, Klitchko has the best chance of unseating Chernovetsky. During the 2006 mayoral race, the world famous boxer got 24 percent of the popular vote, compared to Chernovetsky's 32 percent.

But in 2006, it was a three-way race - between Chernovetsky, Klitchko and incumbent mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, whose 21-percent came out of Klitchko's electorate.

This year Mr. Omelchenko has decided to throw in his hat again, but most analysts consider him a spent political force.

Klitchko, on the other hand, is enjoying popularity ratings of around 31 percent, according to the same Razumkov poll mentioned above.

Therefore, he is not seriously considering suggestions by members of BYuT that he drop out of the race.

"My decision to run for mayor of the city of Kyiv is balanced, well thought out and clear. I am not about to drop out," he told journalists on Thursday.

However, competition between Klitchko and BYuT's Turchynov only plays into the hands of Chernovetsky, who relies on a different segment of voters.

That's why BYuT and its coalition partners in the parliament have been pushing to change election legislation to allow a mayoral run-off.

"A two-tour election is more fair and objective," Tymoshenko announced last week.

If the mayoral elections are conducted in a single tour, Chernovetsky is likely to win with around a third of the popular vote, as he did in 2006.

For now the issue is awaiting inclusion on the parliament's agenda.

As the parliamentary speaker, Arseny Yatseniuk, is considered an ally of President Yushchenko, BYuT has accused the president of secretly supporting Chernovetsky's bid.

With his approval ratings continuing to fall, Mr. Yushchenko needs all the allies he can get, and a supportive mayor in the capital is nothing to look down one’s nose at.

The unlikely mayor

Tymoshenko is wagering that her personal popularity in Kyiv will transfer to Mr. Turchynov, but the mayoral election may turn out to be her hubris.

Turchynov, who has served as head of the country's intelligence service and now first deputy prime minister under Tymoshenko, has never run for office on his own.

If he loses the mayoral race and badly - recent polls give him a dismal 2.4 percent - his defeat may serve as an omen of worse times to come for Ms. Tymoshenko.

So far, Mr. Turchynov is behaving like an imitation Tymoshenko, whose success is a combination of flowery populism and steely confidence.

So when Turchynov, a practicing Baptist minister, suggested that the large number of mayoral hopefuls take off a Saturday to clean up Kyiv and plant trees, the effect was almost comical.

And his suggestion that Mr. Klitchko would be better suited to heading Ukraine's efforts to host the European football championship in 2012 sounded nothing short of cocky.

"Unfortunately, I don't see among the other candidates anyone who could better handle the tasks and solve the problems that need solving soon," he said last week, when his candidacy was announced.

Unfortunately for Mr. Turchynov, the voters of Kyiv might see things differently, and he doesn't have much time to adjust their views. But more importantly, Ms. Tymoshenko, who is already faced with a powerful group of enemies who range from Ukraine's richest men to the Kremlin, shouldn't be gambling on an election that could cost her the presidency down the road.

Source: Eurasian Home


Unknown said…
Chernovetsky is a real disaster for Kiev. I hope he won't be elected.
PS found interesting article about Kiev
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