Kharkiv – With incumbent Mayor Gennadiy Kernes riding high in the polls with Kolomoyskyi’s Renaissance Party, the only real election intrigue is whether or not he can win in the first round. However winning elections in the “court of public opinion” and winning actual court cases against criminal charges are two different things. Despite strong local support, Kernes could be convicted of crimes relating his actions against Euromaidan activists and removed from office early next year. Based on this information, the battle for number two is underway, as whoever makes a strong showing against the popular incumbent is likely to be the front runner when and if a new election takes place.
Former Deputy Governor and businessman Yuri Sapronov is running as an independent, gaining popularity and trying to position himself for a possible spring election. In summer Sapronov had low name identification and just ten percent gave him a favorability rating. However, due to his energetic and well funded campaign though, his favorability is now over 50%. The other candidate positioning himself as Kernes successor is Solidarity’s Aleksandr Davtyan. Davtyan owns the Kharkiv Hotel and the TV and Radio Company “Objective”. Davtyan currently serves as a deputy on the oblast council and prior to the 2008 economic crisis was worth an estimated $72 million dollars. Davtyan has the support of the President’s party but unfortunately Solidarity has low ratings in the city. A recent poll put Kernes’ Renaissance at 35%, Mykhailo Dobkin’s Opposition Bloc at 12%, Oleksandr Feldman’s Nash Krai at 8%, Samopomich at 6.5% and Solidarity at just 2.5%. Even if Kernes is convicted and forced to resign, the next mayor will have to deal with Kernes’ likely majority on the city council. In addition, a recent court ruling reversed an earlier decision and Opposition Bloc will now be able to take part in the elections. This will also be problematic for any new mayor as the party maintains a base of support in Kharkiv and will likely be the second largest faction on the city council. Local businessman Oleksandr Feldman declined to run for mayor even though he was the only candidate with a double digit rating against Kernes. Instead Feldman is financing “Nash Krai” locally and will maintain influence through electing officials to the city council. One other challenger, Svoboda’s Ihor Shvaika, was put into custody for his role in the decentralization riots on August 31st outside Parliament.
In 2010, Kernes narrowly defeated current Interior Minister Arsen Avakov on a questionable recount. Despite the manner in which he won though, Kernes has proved himself an effective big city mayor. As a result, Kernes may well win a first round victory on October 25. A first round victory for Kernes would but give Kernes some vindication, serve as a warning to the Poroshenko administration to drop the criminal cases against him, and give oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi a victory in Ukraine’s second largest city.
Odesa – Local politics in Odesa can best be classified as an ever shifting array of friends, enemies and betrayals. The clear enemies are incumbent Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov and former three term Mayor Eduard Hurvits. After that though, the lines get blurred and as the politicians frequently switch sides. For example, Poroshenko and Hurvits have been friends for 15 years, but Presidential Chief of Staff Borys Lozhkin decided that Trukhanov can’t be defeated this time. Therefore despite Trukhanov’s close business relationship with oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi (with whom the President and Governor Saakashvili at “at war” with), Lozhkin engineered Poroshenko’s Solidarity party to nominate Sasha Borovik for mayor. Borovik will take votes from Hurvits and thus help Trukhanov. This led to Hurvits nudging MP and former CEC Chairman Serhiy Kivalov into the race to take votes from Trukhanov. Even though Hurvits has always been associated with the “orange” camp of pro-Western politicians and Kivalov with the “blue” camp of pro-Russian politicians, the two men maintain a good personal friendship. Meanwhile Governor Saakashvili both permitted the Borovik to campaign as “Saakashvili’s candidate for Mayor” as well simultaneously approving his former Defense Minister Dmitri Shashkin to serve as an advisor to Hurvits. Saakashvili serves at the will of President Poroshenko and is following orders from Lozhkin to back Borovik. At the same time, Saakashvili is in battle with Kolomoyskyi and is looking for alternatives to Trukhanov (with or without Lozhkin’s blessing). Suffice to say, everyone is looking over their shoulders and unsure of who to trust.
This intricate web of lies and self interest is the backdrop for one of the most exciting mayoral elections in Ukraine. The Trukhanov-Hurvits rivalry dates to 2010, when Trukhanov was a key part of Oleksiy Kostyushyev’s team which was responsible for one of the most fraudulent elections in Ukraine’s history. Hurvits was the incumbent mayor and won the key exit polls, but the vote count lasted several days until “official” results produced a result acceptable to the Yanukovych government. Trukhanov’s victory over Hurvits in last May’s Special Mayoral Election repeated the situation where Hurvits won the exit polls but a suspiciously long vote count ended with a Trukhanov win. Trukhanov is backed by oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi although the two have colluded to put public distance between themselves until after the election to avoid angering Saakashvili. Since Saakashvili is likely to move to a higher post in Kyiv later this year, a Trukhanov victory in the Mayor’s election would give Kolomoyskyi greater influence in Odesa long after Saakashvili departs.
Saakashvili surprised the public by consenting to advertising stating “Saakashvili’s candidate for Mayor of Odesa – Sasha Borovik”. Given President Poroshenko’s decree that any Governor who gets involved in the election will be fired, it appears that the President has decided to make use of selective law enforcement. A court case to remove the advertisement has been filed but no one expects the law to actually be enforced. Saakashvili’s open campaigning for Borovik has already riled elections watchdog the Committee of Voters of Ukraine in Odesa because of the blatant use of administrative resources. However without Saakashvili’s support, Borovik stands no chance to making the runoff. Borovik’s team privately admits that the candidate is “weak” and their polls number poor. As confirmation , Borovik’s advertisements state, “We very much need volunteers!” which is not only true, but the reason why the campaign has no door to door resources.
Thus, Saakashvili appears to be hedging bets on Borovik. Last week Saakashvili’s Minister of Defense Dmitri Shashkin was announced as a “reforms” adviser to Eduard Hurvits. Shashkin, a key player and rising star in Saakashvili’s government, wouldn’t have agreed to the post without Misha’s personal approval. This strongly suggests that Saakashvili is preparing to back Hurvits in the runoff against Trukhanov. Meanwhile, Prosecutor General for Odesa David Sakvarelidze, Interior Minister Georgiy Lotkipanidze, and the Odesa SBU Chief issued a stern warning that those who engage in election fraud will be swiftly punished. Given Odesa’s history of electoral fraud, this is a welcome sign and a shot over the bow at Trukhanov.
However the “wild ride” didn’t stop there. No sooner had Serhiy Kivalov announced his surprise candidacy than he withdrew it on October 10th – less than two weeks later. Kivalov announced his withdraw from the race following the explosion of a grenade at one of his residences in Odesa the night before. Kivalov said, “this explosion is just another incident in the chain of threats and attacks against my address…I cannot, and I have no moral right to be allowed to shed someone’s blood”. This bizarre twist has the Odesa rumor mill working over time. Most insiders agree that the grenade was mere theater in a larger intrigue. In other words, a way to cover tracks and create a “legend”. Since Kivalov was spending campaign money heavily and a threat to Trukhanov’s electorate, some believe that Kolomoyskyi bought Kivalov off. Others believe however that Lozhkin offered to make some of Kivalov’s potential criminal cases “go away” in exchange for withdrawing from the race. In either scenario, the clear benefactor from the move is Gennadiy Trukhanov.
In the short-term, the race continues with Trukhanov in the best position to campaign for Kivalov’s anticipated 7-10%. With Kivalov out, that leaves only Renaissance Party’s Svetlana Fabrikant to take votes from Trukhanov. Given that Renaissance Party is another Kolomoyskyi project, it is likely that Fabrikant also drops out of the race to help Trukhanov. Odesa has historically had Ukraine’s lowest voter turnout (with only Crimea being less), and internal estimates from the major camps (Trukhanov, Hurvits and Borovik) point to an approximate 30-35% turnout. If those numbers are correct, that bodes poorly for Borovik who hopes to rely on youth turnout to squeak into the runoff. Conversely it would be good news for Trukhanov with his pro-Russian electorate and Hurvits’ who has his own loyal electorate of 20 years. With two weeks until the election, anything could happen in this race – truly anything.
Cherkasy – while incumbent Mayor Serhiy Odarych remains the favorite for re-election, Solidarity Party is making use of administrative resources of its own. Last week the Cherkasy City Territorial Election Commission (TEC) refused to register 12 candidates from Odarych’s Free Democrats Party. This decision came despite a ruling from the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeals instructing the TEC to approve the list. The motion to disallow the list of candidates was made by Mykola Boonyakin, the Deputy Chairman of the TEC and representative of Solidarity Party. Interestingly, Boonyakin was the Party of Regions TEC member in May 2014 during the previous Special Mayoral Election. That intentionally slow vote count was criticized by public and almost led to the TEC’s disbandment by order of the Central Election Commission. It would appear that with no strong candidate to defeat Odarych for Mayor, that local authorities with Solidarity are trying to prevent him from having allies on the city council instead. Meanwhile Motherland’s Andriy Bondarenko is seeking a rematch with Odarych for the Mayor’s post.
Kyiv – Mayor Vitaly Klitchko is unlikely to score a first round knockout in his re-election, although he remains the front runner in the runoff. Samopomich’s Serhiy Gusovsky is still the candidate most likely to square off with the “World Heavyweight Champion” in the runoff. The race has attracted a total of 32 candidates including former Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov (Renaissance Party), former two term Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko (with his Yednist/Unity Party), independent MP Boryslav Bereza (who has advocated “white supremacy” ideology), tax reformer Gennadiy Balashov (5.10 Party) and Volodymyr Makeyenko (Nash Krai) who’s brief term as Yanukovych’s appointed City Head resulted in him disobeying the President’s order and reopening the subway during a crucial moment in Euromaidan. However the candidate with momentum now who has recently moved into third place is businessman Serhiy Dumchev with Movement for Reforms. Dumchev’s grassroots canvassing, financial support and advertising are likely to result in the party winning a respectable number of seats on the Kyiv City Council.
• Bad Ideas and the Bar Association… While everyone agrees for need to reform Ukraine’s antiquated Soviet era legal system, the resulting effort should enhance judicial independence and keep proper checks and balances with the executive branch. However a Ministry of Justice attempt to create a new Legal Aid Department which would be empowered to license lawyers eligible to provide legal defense is disturbing. The creation of a government imposed Legal Aid Department removes the Ukrainian National Bar Association from the equation. In a country which desperately needs a thriving civil society following 70 plus years of Communist rule, removing one of Ukraine’s better non-government organizations (comprising more than 35,000 licensed attorneys)from its role in assigning legal professionals, is not the kind of reform that Ukrainians went to the Maidan for. In effect, this proposal takes power out of the hands of legal professionals and consolidates it into the hands of government bureaucrats – who may or may not have a legal education. Or to be blunt, this creates a patronage mechanism where the Justice Ministry could reward and punish lawyers according to their political affiliations (and subsequent bribes paid). Of all the reforms the government needs to do right now, consolidating power in the hands of government bureaucrats to enrich their bribe taking potential is next to last on the list. Furthermore, this government has not yet proven it can hold power. For example, should Mr. Azarov’s Salvation Committee return to power, they would like nothing more than an extra empowered Justice Ministry and a compliant civil society which is essentially what this proposal accomplishes. Don’t think the Salvation Committee has a chance to return to power in Ukraine? No one thought Yanukovych would return as Prime Minister just 20 months after the Orange Revolution…Bad ideas are bad ideas regardless of who proposes them and this is a truly bad idea.
Ihor Shevchenko – the former Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources is running for Mayor of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy in Odesa oblast. Shevchenko’s selection of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy is somewhat surprising since the city consists of only 50,000 inhabitants (making it the third largest in Odesa oblast after Izmayil with 85,000). Nonetheless the city is one of the “ten longest continually inhabited” cities on the planet with a history dating back 2500 years. In addition, the famous Akkerman Fortress located in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy is one of Ukraine’s best preserved castles. While the city’s history is indisputable, what would motivate Shevchenko to select it to make his next career move? First, as an adviser to Governor Saakashvili, it gives Shevchenko a boost in the polls locally and improves his chance of winning. Second, it gives Shevchenko a way to irritate Premier Minister Yatsenyuk whom he accused of corruption in June. Since the former Communist Party Mayor of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy Ihor Nanovskogo, was removed for a case of bribery, there is no incumbent in the race. Shevchenko is running as an independent and faces five opponents including the Secretary of the City Council Volodymyr Menzelinsteva with Tyhypko’s Strong Ukraine. Odesa is the region of the country where Sergiy Tyhypko performed best in the presidential election receiving 18% of the vote oblast-wide.
Anton Herashchenko – the People’s Front MP and key aide to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov managed to anger the Kremlin once again for a Facebook post in which he encouraged to share information about the Russian military fighting in Syria. In opening a criminal case, Russian Military Spokesman Vladimir Markin said, “In fact, Herashchenko has supported and spread an idea of his interlocutor in the social network that this way ‘terrorists and their accomplices in Russia will be able to take revenge on Russian servicemen according to the Sharia law’.” Herashchenko’s Facebook led to an even more hysterical comment from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who asserted, “I have no doubt that Herashchenko is linked to ISIS in some form. There were reports that he may have been involved in recruiting young people for this terrorist organization.” Such absurd comments and trumped up political case will do no harm to the Kharkiv native, but rather they can only further Herashchenko rising political career.
Dates to Watch (for Ukraine unless otherwise noted):
October 25: National Local Elections for Mayor and City Councils.
November 15, 2015: Runoff Election Date under the New Election Law. The new election law stipulates that mayoral runoffs in cities over 90,000 populations may be held “up to” three weeks after the first round of elections. Thanks to clarification by Deputy CEC Chairman Andriy Magera, the runoffs will take place on the 15th. The decision on dates still technically depends on the Territorial Election Commissions (TECs) in the respective cities, but with Magera’s guidance and the fact that the commissions typically need as much time as possible to organize elections, November 15th is the key date.
December 25: $3 Billion in Russian Bonds are due for Payment
January 31, 2016: New EU Expiration Date for Donbass related Sanctions on Russia
January 31, 2016: End of the Current Session of Parliament.
April 20, 2016: Donbass Local Elections in the Occupied Territories: The so-called DPR and LPR leaders have postponed their autumn elections and jointly agreed to the April date. The issue of amnesty for separatists is still being debated as Ukraine has refused to allow those individuals to hold elective office. The debate continues over a “special status law” as well and what that would mean in reality. Still though, the war in the Donbass is winding down.
February 2016: Stockholm Arbitration Hearings on Counter Claims between Naftogaz and Gazprom. Naftogaz is seeking $16 billion dollars and a decision is expected by June 2016.
June 23, 2016: New EU Expiration Date for Crimea related Sanctions on Russia