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05.07.2007 | Halya Coynash

Here we go again?

   

While attention has been focused on Kyiv over the last few months, democracy would seem to have been under siege not so far away.  A mayoral election in a Kyiv regional town would not of course normally draw in television cameras, however some very disturbing echoes of 2004 would, in fact, suggest that attention may be warranted.

In March 2006, Myroslava Svystovych was voted in as Mayor of the small city of Irpin. Her victory can hardly be termed landslide with only 20 percent of the votes. On the other hand, this was more than any of the other candidates and she was duly elected.  Not all found such elements of democratic choice to their taste. The deputies in the Council were outraged by her election and spent just over a year doing all they could to eject her.  She can boast, in fact, of having crossed the party lines in terms of unpopularity, with deputies of various factions up in arms. 

Should this mixture of popular support and deputy antagonism seem surprising, it might be worth considering Irpin’s very attractive location. Not only is it close to the capital, but it is surrounded by forest land.  There is admittedly, ever less of the latter which has been systematically carved up and portioned out to various speculators. Myroslava Svystovych’s predecessor was notorious amongst Irpin residents for selling land to outsiders, while finding excuses for not allocating land to longstanding residents of the city.  She, on the other hand, took a very strong line against such wheeling and dealing, and was elected Mayor ….

And then came April 2007, with President Yushchenko’s Decree dissolving parliament.  The connection may not hit one in the eye but it is undoubtedly there.  On 3 April (the day after the Decree), a two-thirds majority in the Irpin City Council voted for Ms Svystovych’s dismissal and sent a letter to the Committee on State construction, regional policy and local self-government on 4 April. Within a day, on 5 April, the Head of this Committee (from the Party of the Regions) felt sufficiently up on the situation to put forward a motion to the (dissolved!) Verkhovna Rada to have new elections set for Mayor of Irpin.  And lo and behold, on 5 April, two days after the vote of no confidence in Ms Svystovych and three days after the President’s Decree dissolving parliament, new elections were indeed set for 17 June 2007.

It is worth mentioning, incidentally, that laws passed by this dissolved and therefore hardly legislative body have needed to be voted on again (after the Decree was revoked) to ensure their legitimacy. Should other questions not have arisen over the somewhat hurried movements in early April, then surely one must at least place a question mark over the legitimacy of the Verkhovna Rada Resolution calling for new elections which was voted on only that once.

The elections took place on 17 June with the main candidates being Myroslava Svystovych and Oleh Bondar.

Members of the nationwide and authoritative Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) were among the observers of the voting and vote count. They report a number of infringements of electoral legislation. These include money for votes being offered students from the Tax Academy (with them using cameras on mobile telephones to record their actual vote in the voting cubicle), excessive obstruction to observers, as well as an inexplicable situation at polling station No. 5 where the vote count was disrupted, leaving 800 votes uncounted.

Given that the gap between the two candidates was just over 300, the fact that a “winner” was announced on 19 June already, although at least 800 votes remained unrecorded, raises even more questions.

It would be more than galling if the loudest question proved to be where democracy vanished.

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