Special Elections on Sunday in 7 Districts: Parliament is holding special elections to fill vacancies in seven districts across the country on July 17th. The vacancies were created due to ministerial appointments, elections to other offices, and a death. The special elections will take place in Volyn District #23 (villages around Manevychi), Dnipropetrovsk District #27 (October Rayon of Dnipropetrovsk City), Ivano Frankivsk District #85 (Kalush City), Luhansk District #114 in Stanytsya Luhanska, Poltava District #151 (town of Lokhvytsya), Kherson District #183 (Korabelnoy Rayon in Kherson City), and Chernihiv District #206 (Chernihiv City). The special elections have caused Parliament to postpone a vote on new members of the Central Election Commission which was originally planned in late June. To avoid having new members managing the elections, the term of the current members has been de facto extended (12 of 15 members had their terms expire in June 2015) until autumn when Parliament reconvenes for its next session.
In Volyn District #23, there are 19 candidates are running to fill the vacancy was created by the death of Ihor Yeremeyev. Yeremeyev was the leader of the People’s Will faction and owner of the Kontinium Group, which is involved in the gas business and banking among other spheres. His business and faction has been taken over by his business partner, fellow Volyn MP Stefan Ivakhiv. Yeremeyev won re-election to his third term as an independent in 2014 by a 41-22% margin, over Lyudmyla Kydra with Motherland who was the Chairwoman of Manevytska Rayon Administration at the time. Kydra has filed again as the candidate from Motherland party. However surprisingly, the Continium Group (Yeremeyev-Ivakhiv) did not field their own candidate and instead are hoping to co-opt the winner. Former Kolomoyskyi ally and Volyn Governor Ihor Palytsya is backing Ukrop candidate Iryna Konstankevych, who is the Deputy Head of the Ihor Palytsya charitable fund. Konstankevych narrowly lost to MP Ihor Lapin from the People’s Front, in the October 2014 Parliamentary elections in the neighboring district. Out of almost 100,000 votes cast, Lapin edged Konstankevych by 28 votes. Samopomich has registered the head of its faction on the oblast council, Mikhail Imborovskoho. Svoboda has a strong candidate in Oleksandr Pyrozhyk. Pyrozhyk is the First Deputy Head of the Volyn Oblast Council and the electorate has historically supported nationalist candidates in the district. Poroshenko’s Solidarity Party is running Yuri Kulachek, the Director of the Energy Group company in Volyn. The Radical Party, Communists (running as an independent), Women’s Solidarity of Ukraine, the People’s Control Movement, and the Illustrious Party (Ukraine Slaventa) have also registered candidates.In Dnipro (former Dnipropetrovsk) District #27, there are 59 candidates on the ballot to fill the vacancy created by the election of Borys Filatov as Dnipropetrovsk Mayor last fall. Borys Filatov was elected in October 2015 as city Mayor from the Ukrop Party following a hard fought battle against the Opposition Bloc’s Oleksandr Vilkul, a former Dnipropetrovsk Governor and Yanukovych Vice Premier Minister. Filatov is a close ally of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi and served as Deputy Governor when the latter was Governor of Dnipropetrovsk. Filatov was elected to Parliament in October 2014 as an independent, by a crushing 57-19% margin over independent Svitlana Yepifantseva, a Deputy Director of Vilkul’s charitable foundation. Filatov then defeated Vilkul himself in October 2015 by a 53-41% margin in the city Mayoral election. Filatov’s victory resulted in a vacancy in his Parliamentary district. The candidate from that election who finished third, Dagestani born businessman with ties to imprisoned former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, Zahid Krasnov , may be the front runner to fill the vacancy in Parliament. He faces Kolomoyskyi backed Anatoliy Krupskiy from the Renaissance Party. Originally, Oksana Tomchuk from Ukrop was also a Kolomoyskyi backed candidate in the race and her filing drew three clone candidates also named “Oksana Tomchuk”. However, the former lawyer for party leader Genndaiy Korban has since withdrawn from the race to pave the way for Mr. Krupskiy as Kolomoyskyi’s anointed candidate. Krupskiy is the Deputy Head of the Samarska Rayon in Dnipro. Meanwhile Krasnov the front runner, must fight with three clone candidates, two of which actually have the same Dagestani name of Zahid Krasnov (and the other simply Vyacheslav Krasnov). Filatov’s opponent from the Parliamentary election in October 2014, Svitlana Yepifantseva, is also running as an independent for the seat but without the Opposition Bloc label this time. Yepifantseva is currently the Deputy Mayor of Dnipropetrovsk. Other relevent candidates include Motherland’s Tetyana Korniychuk, independent Roman Zinchenko who heads the Dnipro Police, and independent Tetyana Rychkova. Rychkova is a senior military officer with the Ministry of Defense and her candidacy resulted in three clone candidates (all named Tetyana Rychkova) filing to siphon votes away from her on Election Day. The Poroshenko Bloc has no official candidate in the race. Originally Oleksandr Tyhov who is the elected Head of the Svatoshyn Rayon Council in Kyiv oblast filed for the post. However he later withdrew his candidacy. Parties fielding candidates for the vacancy include the Radical Party, Greens, Samopomich, the Patriotic Party, the Illustrious Party, Rukh, Svoboda, Right Sector, and the Communists. In Ivano Frankivsk District #85, 37 candidates have filed to replace Ihor Nasalyk. A former MP and Kalush City Mayor Ihor Nasalyk, won an easy victory as the Poroshenko Bloc candidate over National Guard Veteran Andriy Tiron from the People’s Front, by a 52-19% margin in October 2014. Nasalyk, a businessman with experience in the energy sphere, was named as the Minister of Energy and Coal which created the vacancy in the district. This race is shaping up as the battle of famous political siblings. Nasalyk’s brother Serhiy has filed as the candidate of the Poroshenko Solidarity party. Serhiy Nasalyk currently serves as the Mayor of Rohatyn in Ivano Frankivsk oblast. His main opponent is Viktor Shevchenko, the brother of independent MP Oleksandr Shevchenko. Oleksander Shevchenko quit the Poroshenko faction last year comparing it to the “Titanic”, and became a candidate for Mayor of Ivano Frankivsk with Ukrop. The Shevchenko brothers are partial owners of the Bukovel ski resort in the region. Motherland Party briefly floated the candidacy of Nadiya Savchenko’s sister Vera for the post, but in the end they selected native Kalush resident Olha Sikora for the seat. Sikora won the distric in the 2012 Parliamentary election 55-18% over a rival from Klitchko’s UDAR party. Other parties fielding candidates include Svoboda, UNA-UNSO, Rukh, the Radical Party, Women’s Solidarity of Ukraine, Strong People, People’s Control, the Republican Party, the European Party, and the Patriot Party. In Stantsya Luhansk district #114 an astounding 107 candidates have filed so far to fill the vacancy created by the appointment of Yuri Harbuz as Luhansk Governor. Harbuz was elected to Parliament from Luhansk District #114 in 2014 as an independent by a 26-18% margin over a rival from Tyhypko’s Strong Ukraine Party. Harbuz, age 44, then immediately joined the Poroshenko faction once he was sworn in. One of the leading candidates to replace Harbuz is the Opposition Bloc’s Borys Lebedyev, the elected Chairman of the Novopskovska Rayon Council in Luhansk oblast. Lebedyev is rumored to be a cousin of former Yanukovych Defense Minister Pavel Lebedyev, and as Chairman of the Novopskovska Rayon Council, he blocked a resolution naming Russia as an aggressor in the Donbass conflict. Another candidate in the top tier is Andriy Lesyk, the Head of the Charitable Fund“FK Premier” who is also an ally of Viktor Medvedchuk. Lesik was a member of the Kharkiv city council until his mandate was removed in May for his connection to separatism. Other leading competitors include former Luhansk Governor Iryna Verihina from Motherland, independent Serhiy Zaretskiy who is the Deputy Mayor of Syevyerodonetsk for Culture and Education, Nash Krai’s Serhiy Shakhov, and former MP Valeriy Moshenskiy the President of “Community Control” NGO. Moshenskiy’s candidacy is notable in that he won election to Parliament in neighboring Luhansk district #108 (Krasniy Luch) in 2012 by defeating the Party of Regions candidate 35-33%. However Moshenskiy finished third behind Harbuz and Tyhypko’s candidate in 2014 with 16%. Another interesting candidacy is Motherland’s Iryna Verihina. Verihina served as Luhansk Governor from May 2014 until September 2014, which was the hottest period of the war. Though Verihina avoided capture by the pro-Russian armies, her tenure as Governor gets mixed reviews. Serhiy Shahkov from Nash Krai is a local businessman from Kadiyivska in Luhansk oblast and is considered among the top tier candidates.
Meanwhile, the Russian army has shelled Stanstya Luhansk heavily in recent days casting doubt on the district’s ability to actually hold an election on Sunday. In addition, the Chairman of the District Election Commission, Yevhen Bayramov from the Opposition Bloc, has been linked to helping organize the fraudulent May 11, 2014 “referendum” in which Luhansk residents supposedly voted to form the “Luhansk People’s Republic”. Bayramov has also been spotted in video footage at meetings of separatist and pro-Russian forces prior to the referendum.
In Poltava District #151, there are 47 candidates who have filed to fill Taras Kutoviy’s vacancy in the seat. Kutoviy was named as the Minister of Agriculture and Food Policy in spring. In the last Parliamentary election, Kutoviy won easily as the Poroshenko Bloc candidate, defeating independent businessman Roman Kharchenko by a 63-13% margin, with the Radical Party’s Oleksandr Olshanskiy finishing third with 10%. With the vacancy, Olshanskiy is back in the race as an independent this time, and initially drew a clone candidate with the same name. However the clone candidacy was canceled which helps Olshanskiy’s chances. Other notable candidates include Pyryatin City Mayor Oleksiy Ryabokon (a member of the Socialist Party but running as an independent), Ruslan Bohdan the Chairman of the oblast Motherland organization (who claims to be leading in the polls conducted by his party), entrepreneur Ruslan Lyashko from Oleg Lyashko’s Radical Party (no relation though), and the Opposition Bloc’s Oleksandr Bereznyanskiy. The Party of Ordinary People of MP Serhiy Kaplan has in candidate in Serhiy Mamoyan, and Kaplan won the neighboring district in 2014. Other parties fielding candidates include Ukrop, Svoboda, the European Party, the Illustrious Party of Ukraine, People’s Rukh, Women’s Solidarity of Ukraine, Right Sector, the Democratic Party, Renaissance, and the Communists (although the candidate has registered as an independent).
In Kherson District #183 (Korabelnoy Rayon in Kherson City), the vacancy was created by the appointment of Andriy Hordeyev as Governor in late April. Hordeyev, age 33, was elected to Parliament in Kherson district #183 with the Bloc of Poroshenko in 2014. He defeated independent MP Mykhailo Opanashenko by a 27-11% margin. Hordeyev replaced Andriy Putilov as Governor who had earlier resigned after being elected as the Head of the Oblast Council in the October local elections. Putilov has now emerged as the Poroshenko Bloc/Solidarity candidate for the vacancy, and is the clear front runner. Former MP Mykhailo Opanashenko is running as the candidate from the Renaissance Party this time, and is being billed publicly as the “united opposition candidate”. A victory by Opanashenko would signal strong public dissatisfaction with the Poroshenko administration. Meanwhile Samopomich has fielded Chornobayivskiy Village Mayor Ihor Dudar as their candidate, and Motherland on former Governor (before Putilov) and local construction magnate Yuri Odarchenko. Other parties fielding candidates include the Opposition Bloc, People’s Rukh, the Radical Party, Strong People, Women’s Solidarity of Ukraine, the Union of Left Forces, People’s Control, the Illustrious Ukraine Party, Ukrop and Svoboda. In all, there are 29 candidates in the race.
In Chernihiv District #206, there are 75 candidates competing to replace Vladyslav Atroshchenko who now serves as Chernihiv Mayor. The former Yushchenko era Governor, MP, agri-businessman, and Poroshenko Bloc candidate Atroshchenko, demolished his 25 year old, independent opponent Anna Kovalenko, by a 51-9% margin. His election as Chernihiv City Mayor in October 2015 by defeated three term incumbent Mayor Oleksandr Sokolov by a 59-37% margin has created the vacancy in the Parliamentary district position. To keep the seat in the hands of the Poroshenko Bloc, Atroshchenko has tapped the Chernihiv City Director of Parking and Markets, Serhiy Harus, as his replacement. Harus is generally considered the candidate to beat. One of the most visible candidates in the race is former MP Egor Firsov. Firsov was Parliament’s youngest MP after he was elected in 2014 with the Poroshenko Bloc. However when he quit the faction earlier this year because of allegations of corruption against the leadership, the party invoked Article 81 and newly passed Law #3700 to boot Firsov out of Parliament altogether. Firsov is now running as an independent in the special election. Ihor Andriychenko, a leader of the Democratic Alliance Party, is also in the race. He finished third with 12% of the vote in the neighboring Chernihiv district #205 in 2014. Andriychenko faired worse in the special election in the district last summer to fill the vacancy left by Valeriy Kulich’s appointment as Governor of the region. Andriychenko’s vote tally fell to just 8% and a fourth place finish with Poroshenko Bloc’s Serhiy Berezenko prevailing over Ukrop’s Gennadiy Korban in the contest. It is not yet clear if the new merger of European optimists in Parliament with the Democratic Alliance will enhance Andriychenko’s showing in this election. Meanwhile Berezenko’s ally Maksym Mykytas (president of UkrBud – state building company) has filed as an independent. Former Deputy Governor Lidiya Hayevska is the candidate from the Opposition Bloc. The Radical Party, Motherland, Ukrop, Samopomich, People’s Rukh, the European Party, Democratic Party, the Patriot Party, Renaissance Party, Women’s Solidarity of Ukraine, and Svoboda parties have also registered candidates.
Thus, in the special elections, the Poroshenko Bloc must defend five seats, Kolomoyskyi’s Renaissance faction must defend one seat, and the People’s Will faction must also defend one seat. Given the slim governing majority in Parliament, these five races hold additional significance as they could affect the balance of power in the chamber.Health Ministry Sickness: While Ukraine’s government has made progress in reforming the police, fiscal policy, procurement procedures, and in other areas over the last two years, the Ministry of Health has been a noticeable slackard. When the new Cabinet of Ministers was approved in spring, no appointment of a new Head of the Ministry of Health was announced due to disagreements within the coalition. Then last week, the healthcare profession was stunned by the arrest of Deputy Health Minister Roman Vasylyshyn for taking bribes of $2000-$4000 per week in exchange for authorizing surgeries. With just two deputy ministers remaining at the ministry (with the recent departure of Ihor Perehinets to the World Health Organization), it now appears that Parliament may be ready to move on appointing a new head.
The competition for the top post at the Ministry of Health focuses on two individuals: Andriy Verba and Ulana Suprun. Verba is the Director of the Military-Medical Department of the Ministry of Defense and a Major-General by rank. He also has the support of the Poroshenko Bloc faction in Parliament. However, with a fragile majority, the governing coalition must win over the People’s Front faction and independents to get a majority, and for now there is no consensus on Verba (even within the Poroshenko faction). The other leading candidate for Minister of Health is Ulana Suprun. Suprun is an American born radiologist of Ukrainian descent. She was awarded Ukrainian citizenship for her volunteer work with Patriot Defense. Patriot Defense is an NGO founded by Suprun as the Director of Humanitarian Initiatives of the Ukrainian World Congress with other organizations in summer 2014, which has trained more than 26,000 doctors, soldiers and cadets in combat first aid. Having adequate personal resources to finance the NGO’s charitable work, Suprun won’t be chasing bribes like Vasylyshn and other ministry officials. The fact that she is coming from outside the Ukrainian healthcare establishment (at a time when the system is broken) is also a plus. Radiologists by profession, specialize in using X-rays to locate and remove sickness within a body. If Suprun can do the same with Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the country may finally get a European level of healthcare.Finally a Fight with Corruption? The arrest of the Deputy Minister of Health last week coincides with the recent firing of Prosecutors in several regions by Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko, the President’s dismissal of the Governor of Mykolayiv on June 29th and the attempt by the National Anti Corruption Bureau to arrest MP Onishchenko. These changes in personnel and heightened activity may be leading indicators that the Ukrainian government is ready to make progress in the fight against corruption. US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt is famously quoted as saying “despite an invader in the east…we must not ignore an equally tenacious enemy dead set on undermining Ukraine’s economic success. One that is equally dangerous to Ukraine’s future. That enemy is corruption.”
The wave of recent dismissals is an encouraging trend. Following the President’s visit to Mykolayiv in June, the police chief and prosecutor were dismissed. This followed the firing and arrest of a Deputy Governor for taking a $90,000 bribe. The Governor then offered his resignation following a meeting with the President. The resignation comes after the new civil service law has taken effect. This means that the replacement process for the new Governor will go through a competitive and open process which could take months, and the President can no longer simply appoint the candidate. Nonetheless, having less corruption trumped having an ally in the Governor’s office. That is a positive sign.
In a more high profile case, the National Anti Corruption Bureau (NABU) persuaded Parliament to vote to lift the immunity from prosecution on fellow MP Oleksandr Onishchenko for stealing state funds from Ukrgazvydobuvannya. It’s rare to see Parliament turn on one of it’s own, but it does represent the third time that this Parliament has removed a member’s MP since the October 2014 election (the other cases being Serhiy Klyuyev from the Opposition Bloc and Ihor Mosiychuk from the Radical Party). This removal of not one – but three MP’s, is unprecedented in Ukraine’s history. This might explain why Parliament’s approval rating actually doubled in the latest IRI poll from 5% to 10%. As is usually the case, Onishchenko has escaped the country and is said to be hiding out in Russia (despite his claims of being in Vienna). It should be noted that on the vote to remove Onishchenko’s immunity, Onishchenko’s People’s Will faction provided no support for the measure – and neither did rival oligarch faction Renaissance provide any votes in favor. The Opposition Bloc, likely fearful of such moves against their own members in the future, gave just one vote in support (out of 43). Interestingly, Tymoshenko’s Motherland faction provided just nine votes in favor of lifting Onishchenko’s immunity. This gives credence to reports that Onishchenko is one of Motherland’s main financiers. Ukrainian media estimates Onishchenko’s wealth at close to a quarter billion dollars. To put that amount into perspective, it is roughly equal to the annual trade turnover between Ukraine and Canada prior to their newly signed free trade agreement this week.
This month in Rivne, a Deputy Prosecutor and five members of a criminal group were arrested for the illegal extraction of amber in the region. This effort was the joint work of Chief Military Prosecutor Anatoliy Matios and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Matios is a rising star and a potential replacement for Lutsenko as Prosecutor General. Avakov’s star is declining and he is expected to be removed by Parliament in autumn. Despite different career trajectories, both men have an interest in making their mark against corruption, and hence the Rivne amber arrests. Meanwhile, the Military Prosecutor for the Forces in the ATO (ant-terrorism operation in the Donbass) Konstantin Kulyk was arrested last week for “illicit enrichment” following an investigation by NABU. While the arrest of Kulyk is said to be instigated by Yuri Lutsenko as a way of keeping Anatoliy Matios from becoming too powerful of a rival, the message that government officials who engage in corruption and finally facing consequences it beginning to be noticed by the population. Interestingly, Lutsenko is said to be planning a continued wave of dismissals and criminal charges until autumn when he is said to be coveting a different government post. Lutsenko even negotiated a short term truce with the Anti Corruption Action Center (ANTAC) leader Oleg Shabunin. The previous Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin had accused ANTAC of misappropriating donor funds. Whether or not the wave of dismissals and investigations will actually result in any “bandits in prison” remains to be seen. However the government should be applauded for its recent attention to the matter.New Political Party Projects: The Democratic Alliance Party received a huge boost last week when reform oriented MP’s Mustafa Nayem, Serhiy Leschenko, Svitlana Zalishchuk attended their party conference with the intention of using it as their political base in the next election. MP Zalishchuk was even named as Co-Chairperson of the Party along with incumbent Chairman Vasyl Hatsko. However Zalishchuk and other MP’s now supporting Democratic Alliance will cautiously remain in the Poroshenko faction in Parliament out of fear that the faction could remove their mandates under Law #3700 and Article 81 of the Constitution. Law #3700 gives the party the right to control the mandate and not the population. This led to the expulsion from Parliament of longtime MP Mykola Tomenko and Egor Firsov this spring. Nonetheless, the endorsement of Democratic Alliance is a big move by Nayem, Leshchenko, Zalishchuk and company. This decision follows months of negotiations with potential partners including Mikheil Saakashvili. The selection of Democratic Alliance is a rejection of the current parliamentary parties (including Samopomich) as not adequately reformed minded. Democratic Alliance was formed in 2011 as a European Christian Democrat oriented party. They won two seats on the Kyiv City Council in the May 2014 local elections and 27 seats on different councils across the country in the October 2015 local elections. In June 2014 the party rejected a membership application from a gay activist, but now the party has a more liberal ideology. The newly revitalized and secular Democratic Alliance hopes to fill a left-center void on the political scene in Ukraine.
Hoping to fill the void in center-right political parties is Odesa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili. Saakashvili held months of negotiations with Poroshenko Bloc MP’s Leshchenko, Nayem, Zalishchuk, etc., about a joint political effort but talks always collapsed over the matter of who should head the party. Having run the nation of Georgia for eight years, Saakashvili was not content to accept a Deputy Chairman’s role and play second fiddle to Leshchenko for example. In addition, ideological differences remained below the surface despite both groups of political leaders agreeing on many key issues. In the end, Saakashvili tasked former Deputy Prosecutor General David Sakvarledize with the job of creating the new party. Poroshenko Bloc MP Viktor Chumak, who is a prominent anti-corruption crusader and former Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko have joined the effort to give the new party some Ukrainian (read: non Georgian) faces. Lithuanian Adomas Audickas, who served as a Senior Adviser to former Minister of Economics and Trade Development Aivaras Abromavicius, is playing a key political role in the early stages of the party’s development. The emergence of Audickas, rather than Sasha Borovik or Masha Gaydar, is generally seen as a positive signal that Saakashvili is now serious about building a party, and is willing to jettison dead political weight when needed. The move to finally create a party could not come any sooner. IRI polling from spring showed the yet to be named “Misha Movement” with ten percent of the vote in early Parliamentary elections. However the indecision and delays have taken a toll as the latest poll puts the Misha Movement at just three percent. The lack of an ideological party on the center right or center left in Ukraine is a weakness of the party system and a void that will be filled in the nearest election.
Dates to Watch (for Ukraine unless otherwise noted):
July 12-15: Last Regularly Scheduled Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
July 13: Next meeting in Minsk of the Trilateral Contact Group. Meanwhile the US government from Secretary of State John Kerry to Deputy Secretary Victoria Nuland, have been pushing the Ukrainian government to pass a special status law this year. Their reasoning is that the new US President will need six months to get caught up to speed on Ukraine, and by that time, the Europeans will lack the cohesion and will to maintain the sanctions. There are already reports that France and Germany plan to lift sanctions right before the inauguration of the new American president. Thus, the US administration believes creating a special status for the Donbass this year will encourage the Europeans to maintain the sanctions through next year. The other factor at work is that with the Obama presidency nearing the end, he is looking for a foreign policy legacy.
July 22: Current “Session” of Parliament Ends
July 31: Expiration of the EU’s Donbass related Sanctions on Russia.
September: Stockholm Arbitration Hearings on Counter Claims between Naftogaz and Gazprom.
January 2017: Stockholm Arbitration Courts Expected to Render a Decision on the Case Between Naftogaz and Gazprom.
January 31, 2017: Expiration of the Donbass related sanctions on Russia
June 23, 2017: Expiration of the Crimea related sanctions on Russia