When Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma “suggested” that state officials running in the March 31 parliamentary elections should take a sabbatical from their official work to campaign, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko promptly complied and requested a vacation. Kuchma, with equal dispatch, on February 11, then sacked him from his post as city administrator (though leaving him with the decorative mayoralship) and appointed Serhy Shovkun to replace him. Now, however, Omelchenko is back in, effective February 18. While it is true that Kuchma has never before revoked an appointment, Omelchenko’s victory may be a shallow one.
On February 11, Premier Anatoly Kinakh had introduced Shovkun to Omelchenko’s former subordinates. Omelchenko then revoked his vacation request and turned, by telephone, to Kuchma (who was touring Siberia at the time) for help. Kuchma refused to speak to him. “Like it or not, he has to obey my order,” Kuchma told Russian journalists. Omelchenko managed to meet Kuchma only on February 15, but to no avail. He had asked for leave and he had gotten it, Kuchma explained to journalists. Only after Kuchma and Omelchenko met for the second time, on February 18, did Omelchenko regain his post as city administrator.
The head of Kyiv city administration, unlike the mayor, is appointed by the president and subordinated to him. Serving in this position, Omelchenko, as a member of the executive pyramid, manages the city funds. The mayor, elected by the people of Kyiv, chairs the Kyiv city council, but has no real power.
Omelchenko had for some time been ignoring the Constitutional Court ruling forbidding him to hold two posts simultaneously. But when he refused to join the pro-presidential For United Ukraine (FUU) bloc in the run-up to the Rada election (see the Monitor, September 14) and set up his own party, Unity, to compete with the FUU, Kuchma’s previously benevolent attitude apparently changed.
Almost all of Ukraine’s national media are working for the FUU. The administrative machine in Kyiv, however, has favored Unity, going so far as coercing people into joining it, gluing its advertisement on every lamp post and singing odes to it in the municipal media. This fragmentation of the administrative resource could have cost the FUU the election. Kuchma needs a loyal Omelchenko in Kyiv, but he doesn’t need his political party.
Speaking on television on February 19, the president urged Omelchenko “to work and not indulge in politicking”. “Everyone should draw appropriate conclusions,” he said. This, however, was a warning rather than an admission of a presidential mistake. Omelchenko’s party, Unity, should apparently give way to Kuchma-backed forces in the run-up to the March 31 elections. As it stands now, Omelchenko has been shown his place, and the FUU, most certainly, has a green light to campaign in Kyiv (Ukrainian TV and web sites, RFE/RL, February 11-19).
Back in his chair, Omelchenko accused Premier Anatoly Kinakh, who is a member of the FUU, of having orchestrated his abortive dismissal. In an interview with Zerkalo Nedeli, Omelchenko also said that he had barely escaped dismissal in January, when “ill-wishers”, who he did not name, told Kuchma that he harbored presidential ambitions. Omelchenko denied that he had such ambitions (Zerkalo Nedeli, February 23).
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