Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 168

On September 5, some six months before Ukraine’s parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 2002, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko went public with his desire to run in them. His announcement comes as no surprise: He has grown into a national-scale politician in the years since President Leonid Kuchma appointed him mayor in 1996. While remaining loyal to Kuchma, Omelchenko has managed to remain on good terms with both the opposition and the government. It is not known whether he will join a political bloc for the elections or conduct his own game. He seems to want to do both. In making his announcement, Omelchenko said that he would, if a pending new law permits, join the race both under a party list and in the single-seat constituency.

Omelchenko has earned some popularity, certainly in Kyiv. Under him (a construction engineer by profession), Kyiv has become in essence a large construction site with foreign investment pouring in and living standards steadily improving. His 1999 mayoral win, in which he garnered 75 percent of the vote to soundly defeat media magnate and Kuchma crony Hryhory Surkis, put him on the list as a serious contender in future national elections. His backers in that race, the nationalists, will certainly expect the favor to be returned.

Both the right-wing bloc of Rukhs and the Reforms and Order Party (ROP) and the pro-Kuchma centrists would welcome Omelchenko among their ranks, as they would former Premier Viktor Yushchenko (see the Monitor, September 11). On September 11, Ihor Sharov, one of the leaders of centrist Working Ukraine, which belongs to the pro-Kuchma bloc of four parties, along with People’s Democrats, Ukrainian Regions and the Agrarian Party (see the Monitor, August 31), met with Omelchenko and proposed joining forces. That bloc is badly in need of a charismatic leader, and popular Omelchenko would apparently suit them for this role if Yushchenko rejects their overtures.

This meeting clearly upset the nationalists, who want him for their own. The leader of one of the Rukhs, Yury Kostenko, blasted the meeting with Sharov as “political maneuvers aimed at weakening the formation of Our Ukraine”–a bloc Yushchenko announced in July (see the Monitor, September 11).

Recent developments have indicated that Omelchenko may indeed choose to run with the centrists. On September 8, he was elected acting chairman of a hitherto virtually unknown centrist political party with a pretentious name, Yednist (Unity). Commenting on the September 11 Sharov-Omelchenko meeting, Kostenko mentioned a bloc called Unity and suggested that Omelchenko might chair it. Omelchenko, who heads a small party called Unity, may use it as a launch pad to join the bloc of four as its formal leader. This would be a defeat for the nationalists and a significant achievement for the centrist bloc, which is growing stronger by the day. They already have strongholds in Ukraine’s two most densely populated regions, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk. With Omelchenko among their ranks, they would also gain many of the 3 million votes in Kyiv, where thus far their popularity is low (New Channel TV, September 5;, September 6; UNIAN, September 11; Stolichka, September 12).