Yesterday, March 18, the Ukrainian parliament called an early election for the post of mayor of Kyiv. This is a victory for Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc (BYuT), which spearheaded a campaign to oust Kyiv Mayor Leonid Chernovetsky, accusing him of corruption. However, there is no unity in the Orange camp, so Chernovetsky may win if he runs for re-election. He can also appeal against parliament’s decision, which apparently was not legally sound.
Chernovetsky came to politics from the business world. He founded Pravex Bank in the early 1990s and he was elected to parliament. Chernovetsky sided with future President Viktor Yushchenko during the 2004 Orange Revolution. In March 2006, he surprisingly won the mayoral election in Kyiv. His opponents alleged that Chernovetsky won the hearts and minds of the poorest residents by distributing foodstuffs free of charge ahead of the election.
Having no big party behind him, Chernovetsky has had to walk a fine line between the main players in the city council, trying to be on good terms with both Yushchenko’s team and the Party of Regions (PRU) of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych. Chernovetsky’s opponents on several occasions have accused him of bribing city council deputies by illegally allotting them choice plots in Kyiv for construction projects. Chernovetsky always denied those accusations.
Early this year, Chernovetsky had a quarrel with Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. The two accused each other of corruption, and Lutsenko punched him in the face (see EDM, January 31). Relations between the mayor and Lutsenko’s People’s Self-Defense group – the junior partner in Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS) – were seriously damaged. Chernovetsky also failed to find a common language with Tymoshenko, who at some point was rumored to harbor mayoral ambitions herself.
Tymoshenko was prompted into action by a mass defection of city council deputies from BYuT to Chernovetsky’s team. When Tymoshenko tried to replace the defectors with other BYuT members, appealing to the law on binding mandates that forbids deputies to change caucuses, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) refused to back her. A furious Tymoshenko demanded the dismissal of both Chernovetsky and CEC chairman Volodymyr Shapoval, a Yushchenko appointee.
On March 7, the BYuT pushed through parliament a resolution to set up an ad-hoc commission to investigate “violations of the constitution and laws” by Chernovetsky. On March 12, the Cabinet voted to approach Yushchenko with a request to dismiss Chernovetsky over alleged illegal land deals. All BYuT representatives in the Cabinet backed the motion, but five NUNS ministers abstained, arguing that Yushchenko has no legal power to dismiss the mayor. The head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Baloha, said that the Cabinet had failed to come up with any documents to substantiate their charges.
Chernovetsky helped Yushchenko save face. On March 13, he sent a letter to Yushchenko suggesting a temporary absence. Yushchenko then suspended Chernovetsky for 15 days and set up a government commission to probe Chernovetsky. Tymoshenko, however, was not satisfied. On March 16, she threatened a BYuT walk-out of parliament if lawmakers failed to call an early mayoral election. This is necessary, she said, because the “Kyiv mayor and his entourage created colossal corruption schemes in selling and distributing land and other property.”
Baloha and the PRU dismissed Tymoshenko’s demand as too radical, arguing that the commission set up by Yushchenko should first report on its findings and accusing Tymoshenko of undermining political stability. However, on March 18 parliament voted in favor of conducting early elections for mayor and city council in Kyiv. The motion was backed by 246 votes in the 450-seat body, including the votes of BYuT, NUNS, and the Communists.
Commenting on the motion, politicians from different camps agreed that Chernovetsky will likely appeal in court. Anatoly Matvienko, one of the leaders of NUNS, said that parliament had acted illegally, as the law allows the calling of an early mayoral election only if the illegal activities of a mayor were proved in court, which is not the case.
It is possible that Chernovetsky will win re-election, which will most probably be held in June, in line with legislation that gives 70 days to conduct a campaign in case of an early mayoral election. The PRU and the Communists have weak positions in Kyiv and will hardly field strong candidates, while the situation in the Orange camp is the opposite: too many hopefuls and no unity. BYuT reportedly rejected NUNS’s proposals on coming up with a single candidate.
There are at least five popular politicians among the Orange camp who do not conceal mayoral ambitions. These are Lutsenko (NUNS); Kyiv Council deputy Vitaly Klichko, who is a former world boxing champion (unaffiliated); former deputy prime minister and former deputy speaker of parliament Mykola Tomenko (BYuT); former mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko (NUNS); and former vice-mayor Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov (BYuT), who chairs the state committee for material reserves.
(UNIAN, Gazeta Po-Kievski, March 13; Channel 5, March 16, 18; Ukrayinska pravda, March 17, 18)