October 30, 2015

Local elections held with lower-than-expected turnout


Euro-Maidan opponents re-elected

KYIV – Exhausted by war, economic depression and ongoing government corruption, Ukrainians turned out less-than-expected to elect their local councils and heads on October 25. Tallies conducted locally were still being registered by the Central Election Commission on October 29 but observers were already drawing conclusions.

As expected, the Solidarity Petro Poroshenko Bloc performed well, finishing in the top two parties on most councils in western and central Ukraine. The youth-oriented Self-Reliance (Samopomich) party performed surprisingly well, earning seats in the nation’s six largest city councils. On the other hand, Euro-Maidan persecutors were re-elected mayors of numerous cities in southeastern Ukraine, including Kharkiv and Odesa.

Voter turnout was 46.6 percent, far lower than the 60 percent that was projected by experts such as Iryna Bekeshkina of the Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Fund and as much as 74 percent potential turnout reported by some polls, including Democratic Initiatives.

“The low turnout at the elections means Ukrainians believe in neither the government nor the opposition. No one without exception,” Serhiy Rudenko, a veteran political observer at the Espreso television network, wrote on his Facebook page.  “The absence of tangible reforms, the further decline in quality of life, the prolonged war in Donbas – all this has already fed up Ukrainians.”

Turnout was highest in western Ukraine and lowest in the Donbas region, where several elections had to be canceled owing to what European observers referred to as “excessive politicization” of the campaign and election preparation.

Most notably, elections were canceled in Mariupol, Ukraine’s strategic port city near the separation line with a pre-war population of 458,500. City election commissioners announced on the eve of elections the presence of too many errors in voting ballots to hold the vote.

Days earlier, officials considered cancellation after the ballots were printed at a factory owned by industrial magnate Rinat Akhmetov, who had backed many candidates in the city’s election, most of which belong to the Russian-oriented Opposition Bloc that he’s widely recognized as financing.

Elections were also canceled in the Donetsk Oblast town of Krasnoarmiisk (pre-war population 64,500) after officials cited problems of printing and distributing ballots. In the Luhansk Oblast, elections were canceled in a district in Severodonetsk (pre-war population 109,000) and in the town of Svatove (pre-war population 18,000) because of ballot errors.

The scandals weren’t limited to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Odesa Oblast State Administration Head Mikheil Saakashvili alleged fraud in the city’s council and council head (mayoral) elections, which resulted in a widely questioned first-round victory for incumbent Hennadii Trukhanov.

These claims were backed by the Committee for Open Democracy, the third-largest election monitoring organization accredited in Ukraine, which reported the Odesa elections were undermined by carousel voting, a lack of protocols, bribing of voters by candidates and too many ballots at some polls.

“These problems call into question the accuracy of results,” said Committee for Open Democracy executive director Brian Mefford.

Much criticism was directed at the Central Election Commission (CEC) for deciding on October 27 to cancel the second-round runoff vote for city council head (mayor) of Pavlohrad, a Dnipropetrovsk Oblast city with a population of about 110,000 situated on the Donbas coal basin.

The CEC based its decision on the city’s voting-age population dropping below 90,000 after voting lists were reviewed, which it argued should change the category of rules for its election to a first-past-the-post system (for cities below 90,000) from a second-round runoff.

This logic drew sharp criticism from the Opora election monitoring group and the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, which said changing the voting system after an election was held was a violation of election law. Pavlohrad had already been established ahead of the elections as a city for which the second-round runoff applies.

“There has never been such egregious legal nihilism in the history of Ukrainian elections,” said Olha Aivazovska, the head of the Opora election monitoring organization.

Following the public outcry, Pavlohrad’s district election commission decided the same day to hold the second-round runoff, which the CEC said it would review.

The runoff would involve Anatoliy Vershyna, who is widely reported to represent the interests of Donetsk billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, against Yevhen Terekhov, who represents the Ukrop party that is sponsored by Dnipropetrovsk billionaire Igor Kolomoisky.

In all, the Opora election-monitoring organization reported 1,128 election violations while the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) recorded more than 1,500 violations.

Among the most common violations was a lack of protocols (to tally votes at polling stations), vote-buying with cash and gifts, ballots issued without identification, excessive ballots printed, missing ballots and destroyed ballots. Incidents video-recorded by Opora revealed ballot-stuffing and photographs confirmed parties transporting voters to and from polling stations.

Then there were incomplete voter lists. Major Archbishop Emeritus Lubomyr Husar of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church reported he didn’t find his name on the lists to vote in his local polling station.

Despite the various scandals, leading international election-observing organizations such as the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the European Network of Election-Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) determined the elections met international standards, as did the U.S. government.

Official results were still being established as of October 29, which also drew criticism from observers. The mass media could only rely on estimates from Opora’s parallel vote count, exit polls conducted by at least three organizations and what the political parties and candidates themselves were estimating.

As expected, Kyiv City Council Head (Mayor) Vitali Klitschko handily won the most votes in his re-election bid, but he will nonetheless face a runoff after failing to win 50 percent of the vote.

As of October 29, it wasn’t clear who his opponent would be since the runner-ups were separated by small margins. His most likely opponents, described as sparring partners by observers, were Boryslav Bereza, a former spokesman for the Pravyi Sektor paramilitary group, and Oleksandr Omelchenko, the 77-year-old former mayor of Kyiv.

Mr. Klitschko performed well despite overt election violations, such as promoting his candidacy and the Solidarity party at government functions, and an abundance of video clips circulated on the Internet revealing his verbal gaffes.

His lack of speaking ability has become so notorious that one of his competitors, Vasyl Hatsko, even adopted the slogan, “A mayor not to be ashamed of.”

“If a serious competitor emerged, Klitschko wouldn’t have had much of a chance,” said Andriy Zolotariov, a veteran political consultant and director of the Third Sector firm. “I think there was a political deal here because those figures that could have competed for the mayorship weren’t included.”

The elections confirmed that the Batkivshchyna party, founded by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, is no longer the dominant political force in Ukraine’s capital, finishing in fourth place in the city council vote, according to an exit poll conducted by Savik Shuster Studios.

Filling its void has been the Self-Reliance (Samopomich) party, founded by Lviv City Council Head (Mayor) Andriy Sadovyi, and the Svoboda nationalist party, which potentially finished in a surprising third place with 11 percent of the votes, the exit poll said.

The Svoboda party is alleging political persecution from the Poroshenko administration, with several of its top leaders, including Deputy Party Head Yuriy Syrotiuk, being detained or placed under house arrest in relation to their alleged role for the deadly explosion outside parliament on August 31.

Indeed, Svoboda became the party gathering the most protest votes in central and western Ukraine, said Mykhailo Besarab, a Kyiv political consultant.

“They have been the target of the most harassment from the Poroshenko administration and those dissatisfied with the government voted for Svoboda, choosing a peculiar way to express their protest,” he said.

“It’s very similar to 2012, when votes came to Svoboda in opposition to Yanukovych and the Party of Regions rather than for the party. Now it’s in opposition to Poroshenko.”

Billionaire Igor Kolomoisky tried to get a foothold in Kyiv politics by fielding his close confidante, Hennadii Korban, as a mayoral candidate representing the Ukrop party. Yet Mr. Korban’s performance was miserable, not finishing even among the top five, as was the case with Ukrop.

“Kyiv voters are well-informed and know that Ukrop is Kolomoisky,” Mr. Besarab said. “The attempt to dress up the Kolomoisky cult into a patriotic party simply didn’t work.”

The elections in Kharkiv offered surprises, but only in the sense that City Council Head (Mayor) Hennadii Kernes, first elected in 2010, won with a landslide of 65.9 percent, according to a parallel count conducted by the Opora election monitoring organization, avoiding the need for a runoff.

Mr. Kernes is currently on trial, accused by the government of illegally kidnapping Euro-Maidan protesters, ordering torture against them and threatening two Euro-Maidan activists with murder.

Indeed Mr. Kernes was among the leading enemies of the Euro-Maidan. Afterwards, he was widely credited with preventing separatists from getting a foothold in the Kharkiv region, which has remained solidly under Ukrainian control. He also survived an assassination attempt, for which he is still being treated.

The bullet pierced his lung, stomach and vertebrae, injuring his spine and harming his ability to walk normally, news reports.

Since then, Mr. Kernes has balanced between supporting the Ukrainian government and patronizing the city’s large Russophile population. He led the Kharkiv City Council in June in avoiding a proposal to recognize the Russian Federation as an aggressor. In February, he told the pravda.com.ua news site in an interview that he doesn’t believe Russia is engaged in aggression against Ukraine.

Mr. Kernes is widely acknowledged to be the gatekeeper of corruption in the Kharkiv region. In September 2014, Kharkiv Oblast State Administration Head Ihor Baluta accused him of sabotaging the delivery of military hardware to Ukrainian soldiers, fulfilling just 25 percent of what had been planned by the central government.

In one of his first interviews after the vote, which was published on October 28, Mr. Kernes said among his priorities will be renewing economic ties with Russia.

“We’re still waiting for election results. Various scum is celebrating its revenge. The elected mayor of Kharkiv wants to ‘re-establish’ relations with Russia. It’s a madhouse,” said on October 28 Petro Oleshchuk, a political science lecturer at Shevchenko National University.

Another Euro-Maidan opponent, Hennadii Trukhanov, enjoyed strong support in Odesa, Ukraine’s third-largest city. He won re-election with 52.9 percent of the vote, also forgoing the need for a second-round runoff.

Yet Mr. Trukhanov’s seemingly convincing victory was marred by accusations of vote fraud from election observers, political parties and key state officials, including Odesa State Administration Head Saakashvili, who called for a mass protest on the evening of October 28 and creating a committee to combat the fraud.

“With our common efforts, we will eliminate the dominance of the oligarch mafia clans and turn Odesa into a city clean from trash, as well as bandits, budget thieves and corrupt officials,” Mr. Saakashvili wrote on his Facebook page. “We will make the city budget transparent and won’t allow any more theft. We will cease demands for bribes from officials and extortion in our schools.”

Only a few hundred showed up for the protest and they were met by a hundred or so supporters of the re-elected mayor, reported the dumskaya.net news site.

Mr. Trukhanov became an influential businessman by launching one of Ukraine’s first security companies in the 1990s and he’s had close ties to oligarchs and criminal authorities ever since, news reports said. He led the Party of Regions faction in the Odesa City Council in 2010 and was elected to the Verkhovna Rada in 2012.

During the Euro-Maidan, he dismissed its leaders as “a bunch of provocateurs who want to return to power” and voted for the so-called “dictatorship laws” that were aimed at severely restricting individual freedoms.

The Opposition Bloc, a party composed largely of former Party of Regions members, indicated on October 28 that it wishes to sign a memorandum of cooperation with Mr. Trukhanov and work with his Trust Actions party.

“With Kernes in Kharkiv, Vilkul in Dnipropetrovsk and Trukhanov in Odesa, we can get a pro-Russian belt in Ukraine’s key cities,” Mr. Besarab said. “Instead of sitting in prison, people involved in horrific crimes are becoming mayors. That’s the verdict on the government’s failure to prosecute them.”

The most competitive mayoral race occurred in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine’s fourth-largest city, where final results had yet to be established as of October 28.

The second-round runoff will feature Oleksandr Vilkul, reported to have actively persecuted Euro-Maidan activists, against Borys Filatov, a Euro-Maidan supporter.

Mr. Vilkul represents the Opposition Bloc, which is being financed by Donetsk billionaire Akhmetov, while Mr. Filatov is a close confidante to Dnipropetrovsk billionaire Kolomoisky, who is the sponsor of the Ukrop party.

The two billionaires have an intense rivalry in which they’re fighting over industrial assets throughout the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. Mr. Kolomoisky is widely reported to be trying to encroach upon Mr. Akhmetov’s assets after his position weakened, both financially and politically, following the Euro-Maidan and outbreak of the Donbas war.

“The fight will not be for life, but to the death,” Mr. Zolotariov, an expert on Dnipropetrovsk politics, told an October 27 press conference. “And I’m afraid the (Soviet) metaphor about the ‘Kalashnikov calculator’ may be fulfilled in Dnipropetrovsk, taking into account that Kolomoisky’s team has its own (private) armed forces.”

At least 19 mayoral runoffs will take place on November 15, based on the local election law adopted in July that stipulates a runoff in the event that a mayoral election doesn’t produce a winner with an absolute majority of more than 50 percent.

Another city requiring a runoff will be Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine where Mr. Sadovyi, the founder of the Self-Reliance party, won 49 percent (according to the CVU) and will compete against Ruslan Koshulynskyi of the Svoboda nationalist party, who won 12 percent.

Mr. Sadovyi is expected to easily win re-election, given that Self-Reliance has overtaken Svoboda as the most popular party in the Halychyna region since the Euro-Maidan. It earned 32 percent of the vote for the Lviv City Council, far ahead of its rivals.

2015 local elections results estimates

KYIV – The following are the best available estimates of the results of the October 25 local elections held throughout Ukraine. As of October 28, the only official results for the largest elections emerged for Odesa City Council head (mayor), as established by the Odesa city election commission.

The following estimates were determined by independent exit polls, or a parallel vote count conducted by the Opora election monitoring organization.

Kyiv City Council

Solidarity Petro Poroshenko Bloc 27.2%

Self-Reliance 12.9%

Svoboda 10.6%

Batkivshchyna 9.2%

Unity 5.7%

Source: Savik Shuster Studios exit poll

Kyiv City Council Head (Mayor)

Vitali Klitschko (Solidarity) 38.4%-40.4%

Serhii Husovskiy (Self-Reliance) 8%-9.2%

Volodymyr Bondarenko (Batkivshchyna) 8.0%-8.7%

Boryslav Bereza (Decisive Citizens) 8.5%

Oleksandr Omelchenko (Unity) 6.6%-8.1%

Source: Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), Hromadske TV exit polls

Kharkiv City Council

Renaissance 51.3%-67.9%

Self-Reliance 15.5%-16.4%

Our Land 8.3%

Solidarity 6.9%-8.3%

Source: CVU, Hennadii Kernes interview with pravda.com.ua

Kharkiv City Council Head (Mayor)

Hennadii Kernes (Renaissance) 65.9%

Taras Sitenko (Self-Reliance) 12.3%

Yurii Sapronov (Independent) 5.1%

Source: Opora election monitoring organization parallel count

Odesa City Council

Trust Actions 28.6%

Solidarity 20.0%,

Opposition Bloc 14.4%

Serhii Kivalov’s Sea Party 5.9%

Self-Reliance 5.4%

Fatherland 5.3%

Source: Shuster Studios

Odesa City Council Head (Mayor)

Hennadii Trukhanov (Trust Actions) 52.9%

Sasha Borovik (Solidarity) 25.7%

Eduard Hurvitz (Independent) 8.5%

Source: Odesa City Election Commission

Dnipropetrovsk City Council

Ukrop 33.0%

Opposition Bloc 27.1%

Civic Strength 7.9%

Solidarity 6.8%

Self-Reliance 5.7%

Source: Shuster Studios

Dnipropetrovsk City Council Head (Mayor)

Borys Filatov 35%-41.6%

Oleksandr Vilkul 32.0%-37.2%

Zahid Krasnov 11.2%-12.0%

Source: Opora, Shuster Studios

Zaporizhia City Council

Opposition Bloc 24%-26.8%

Solidarity 11.1%-16%

Ukrop 12%

Self-Reliance 9.1%

New Politics 8.8%

Batkivshchyna 7%

Our Land 6.8%

Source: Center for Independent Sociological Research at Zaporizhia National University, Gorshenin Institute

Zaporizhia City Council Head (Mayor)

Volodymyr Buriak (Independent) 30%-30.6%

Mykola Frolov (Solidarity) 14.6%-16.5%

Yaroslav Grishin (Ukrop) 10.0%-13.2%

Source: Center for Independent Sociological Research, Gorshenin Institute

Lviv City Council

Self-Reliance 31.9%-32.7%

Solidarity 12.6%-12.8%

Svoboda 10.0%-11.3%

Civic Position  9.4%-9.7%

People’s Monitoring 7.4%-7.6%

Ukrop 5.9%

Ukrainian Halytska Party 5.8%-6.0%

Source: www.depo.ua, Shuster Studios, CVU

Lviv City Council Head (Mayor)

Andriy Sadovyi (Self-Reliance) 49.23%

Ruslan Koshulynskiy (Svoboda) 12.29%

Volodymyr Hirniak (Civic Position) 11.4%-11.6%

Dmytro Dobrodomov (People’s Monitoring) 10.0%-11%

Source: www.depo.ua, Shuster Studios, CVU

Lviv Oblast Council

Solidarity 21.6%

Self-Reliance 14.5%

Svoboda 12.9%

Batkivshchyna 9.2%

Civic Position 8.0%

Ukrop 6.2%

Oleh Liashko’s Radical Party 5.6%

People’s Monitoring 5.2%

People’s Rukh of Ukraine 5.1%

Source: www.depo.ua, Shuster Studios, CVU

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