Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 106

The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv has, for the first time, a mayor elected by popular vote. Oleksandr Omelchenko–who has served as chairman of the Kyiv state administration since President Leonid Kuchma appointed him to that post in 1996–received 76 percent of the popular vote and was proclaimed mayor on June 1. Only 17 percent voted for Omelchenko’s main rival, Hryhory Surkis of the United Social Democratic Party (USDP). The elections, which were held on May 30, saw a field of twenty-seven candidates. Mayoral elections in Kyiv had been one of the Council of Europe’s main requirements of Ukraine. European observers have confirmed that the May 30 vote was fair.

The “oligarch” Hryhory Surkis, using big money and several nationwide media under the USDP control, conducted an aggressive and intensive campaign. It was, however, not enough to defeat Omelchenko, who is quite popular in Kyiv for his open style and–following perhaps the example of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov–for his grand restoration of Kyiv’s architectural pearls. Several political scientists said that Surkis’ aggressive campaign might have been his undoing. It certainly had an adverse effect: Surkis only strengthened his image as an arrogant nouveau riche. His overwhelming defeat may shatter the positions of USDP, which has recently shown signs of becoming a new “party of power” and whose leaders publicly underscore their closeness to Kuchma. It also underscored the fact that Ukraine’s rising oligarchs are far from omnipotent. Kuchma had refused to support either of the two primary rivals in the campaign, and was on May 31– when the preliminary results of the vote were announced–the first to congratulate Omelchenko (Ukrainian television and agencies, May 31, June 1; see also the Monitor, May 13). –OV