Leonid Hrach, the Crimean Communist leader and speaker of the outgoing Crimean parliament, defied a court-imposed disqualification and took part in the local parliamentary election, held on March 31, simultaneously with Ukrainian general elections. The election is thus legally invalid. Hrach, however, claims to have won it. He accuses Kyiv of destabilization in Crimea and apparently expects help from Russia.
On February 25, citing a faulty tax declaration, a court in Crimea’s capital of Simferopol had canceled Hrach’s registration for the election. Hrach appealed the decision several times, but met with no success. Then, suddenly and mysteriously, the registration papers of all the Crimean contenders disappeared. Hrach’s rivals fingered him as the guilty party, saying that a disrupted election would be in his favor (see the Monitor, March 1, 8). The papers, however, were found. Hrach had not been responsible for their disappearance. He submitted another appeal, which the Crimean Court of Appeals turned down on March 29. Its ruling, however, did permit yet another appeal, this time to the Supreme Court in Kyiv. But, a mere two days before the elections, there simply wasn’t time, even had the judges in Kyiv been so inclined.
Hrach had apparently hoped that President Leonid Kuchma would intervene on his behalf. But Kuchma, after some initial hesitation, made it clear that he would not. Hrach had made too many mistakes. Kuchma arrived in Crimea on March 29, several hours before the Court of Appeal’s decision, to lambaste Hrach for contempt of court and disrespect toward Kyiv. The president made it clear that he would not forgive Hrach either his accusations against official Kyiv of destabilization in Crimea or his calls for a referendum on Crimea’s joining Russia. “He should have at least an elementary conscience,” Kuchma said in Simferopol. “What sort of account can he give to his voters? Rubbishing the president and the government in Kyiv?”
But Hrach did not give up. He had, he thought, three trumps up his sleeve: popularity among Crimeans, who are predominantly pro-Communist and pro-Russian; an almost full control of electoral bodies in Crimea; and influential sympathizers in Moscow. The electoral commission in Simferopol constituency Number 25, where Hrach was running, failed to endorse his disqualification on March 30 because it couldn’t muster a quorum (apparently, people from Hrach’s team who were the commission members simply did not turn up). Hrach’s name therefore remained on the ballot. On April 3, Hrach, having won over 70 percent of the popular vote, celebrated a Communist victory. The Communists scored 36.7 percent, twice as much as the People’s Democrats of former Crimean Premier Serhy Kunitsyn, Hrach boasted in an interview with Russian media. He promised to remain the Crimean speaker and pledged stability in Crimea. “Otherwise,” he said, “people of different ethnic origins, especially Russians, will resume fleeing Crimea, and Crimea will be again buried under an avalanche of crime.”
It would seem that Hrach has overestimated his strength. There is little he can do about the looming invalidation of his “victory.” He can hardly expect assistance from the Communist Party of Ukraine, weakened by a crushing defeat in the Ukrainian parliamentary election (see the Monitor, April 3). Nor are Russian Communists–stripped of key committees in the Duma early this week–likely to come to his aid. Official Moscow is not likely to risk its relationship with Kyiv over Hrach.
If the Supreme Court in Kyiv confirms Hrach’s disqualification, his rule in Crimea will be over. But not his career. Hrach has been legally elected to the Rada from the countrywide Communist Party list. He is an ambitious and charismatic individual. If he goes to Kyiv on that basis, he may well eclipse grayish First Secretary Petro Symonenko in a competition for leadership of the Communist Party, which is certain to ensue after the party’s electoral defeat (Interfax-Ukraine, March 29; STB TV, March 29, 31; RIA via Forum, April 4).
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