Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 226

On November 28, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko demonstrated that he was serious about striving to become a leader on a national scale: His allies in the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) set up a faction called Yednist (Unity). Over the December 1-2 weekend, Omelchenko was elected chairman of a party with the same name at its opening convention in Kyiv.

Unity’s plan is to become the kernel of a centrist bloc capable of competing in the upcoming Rada elections with For United Ukraine and the United Social Democratic Party (USDP) of First Deputy Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk. Yet the bloc has so far failed to attract either popular politicians or big parties. Since Omelchenko’s joining the party in early September as acting chairman (see the Monitor, September 14), Unity has concluded only nonbinding agreements on cooperation in the elections with a handful of political dwarfs–a leftist party called Justice, the Social Democratic Union (SDU), the Association of Ukrainian Cities (AUC, chaired by Omelchenko himself), the Chornobyl Union–an organization of survivors from the 1986 nuclear disaster–and a party of the Afghan War veterans.

It is not quite clear why Omelchenko decided to create this faction just four months before the elections. Ambition apparently prevailed over common sense. Not being a member of the Rada himself, Omelchenko is going to steer the Unity faction by proxy, through SDU leader Serhy Peresunko and Omelchenko’s former deputy in the mayoral office, Ivan Saly. The two men will co-chair the faction, which consists of only fifteen Rada deputies. Some of them, belonging to no particular regional group, clan or political party, had jumped across several factions before joining Unity. Others had worked under Omelchenko in the Kyiv mayoral office before the 1998 Rada elections.

With or without the faction in the Rada, Omelchenko’s Unity looks fairly weak. Its convention in Kyiv reportedly gathered mid-career bureaucrats, mid-level entrepreneurs and provincial officials from the AUC. This is scarcely enough force to fair well in the elections. Aware of Unity’s weakness and, at the same time, of Omelchenko’s personal popularity, favorites of the upcoming race–For United Ukraine and former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine–are each coaxing Omelchenko into joining their blocs. Our Ukraine, with whose moderate nationalist ideology Omelchenko has always sympathized, apparently stands a better chance of attracting Omelchenko if he abandons the plan to create a coalition on the basis of Unity. The nationalists backed Omelchenko in the mayoral election in 1999. Yushchenko and a key member of his bloc, Hennady Udovenko–the leader of the largest Rukh wing–were not only invited to the Unity convention, but were given the floor as well.

Omelchenko has an alternative to leading Unity in the elections. He may choose to run for a second term in the next Kyiv mayoral election, which is also scheduled for this coming spring. In recent interviews, Omelchenko indicated that he may run in both races. In Kyiv, Omelchenko may win hands down. Medvedchuk said the USDP, whose candidate Hryhory Surkis was Omelchenko’s only serious rival in the previous election, was not going to come up with a candidate for the Kyiv elections this time. In 1999, Omelchenko won 76 percent of the popular vote in Kyiv. Since then, the city’s economy has been booming, which only heightens his popularity (Stolichnye Novosti, September 18; Unian, September 21;, November 9; Ukrainska Pravda, November 22; STB TV, November 28; Segodnya, December 3; see the Monitor, June 2, 1999).