Bypassing the Voters: on the Ousting of the Mayor of Cherkasy
The following is an updated report on the worrying moves in Cherkasy where 40 members of the Cherkasy City Council voted to oust the elected Mayor, Serhiy Odarych.
An extraordinary session of the Cherkasy City Council on 24 April considered only one issue: deputies’ burning wish to oust the democratically elected Mayor, Serhiy Odarych (from the Party of Free Democrats).
The motion was put forward by the Party of the Regions but unusually, was supported by opposition deputies. On Thursday Arseny Yatsenyuk confirmed that the opposition deputies had voted for Wednesday’s motion, calling this the “political position of the faction” and saying that they had spoken against the Mayor for the last two years.
Now it is not at all unusual for deputies to be against the Mayor. It is less common for the latter to be ousted by vote.
The civic network OPORA has looked into both the grounds for Odarych’s dismissal and the vote Article 79 § 2 of the Law on Local Self-Government states that the Mayor’s powers can be terminated early if a Mayor “infringes the Constitution or laws; the rights and freedoms of citizens; does not ensure that the powers vested in him are carried out”. A Constitutional Court judgement from 9 February 2000 specifically stipulated that no other reasons were possible.
There does not appear to be any decision or court ruling confirming an infringement which could warrant Odarych’s removal.
What was achieved?
The practical result was that on Friday Serhiy Odarych was prevented from entering his office. Odarych asserts that the fact that the Council got in a private security firm to keep him out demonstrates that their moves were unlawful. He told the BBC that he would be turning to the Prosecutor and upholding his right to office in the courts.
In the meantime his powers have been assumed by the current Secretary of the City Council Viktor Horkun from the Party of the Regions.
Both national election watchdogs have had comments regarding the session on Wednesday, and neither is positive.
Yury Sas from the Cherkasy Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] told Radio Svoboda that even if Odarych has had his administrative levers of power removed, he has gained political dividends through the move and that his opponents have harmed themselves.
Sas points out that Odarych can now present himself as a politician brazenly removed by those in power and is publicly asserting that the move was ordered by Tulub, Head of the Cherkasy Oblast and others.
It is difficult to understand what the opposition has gained. Yes, if the ousting is upheld by the courts, then according to the law new elections need to be called within 60 days. However Yatsenyuk himself has acknowledged that the authorities may not call elections within 60 days and suggests that a new Mayor may not be elected until 2015. This situation has been seen most notoriously in Kyiv where the ruling majority in parliament is blocking all attempts to hold overdue elections.
This means that the opposition has helped to oust the elected Mayor and left his powers in the hands of the Party of the Regions Secretary of the Council – if not indefinitely, then conceivably for a long time.
As mentioned, the grounds for Odarych’s ousting can be challenged. There is also a problem regarding the vote which as mentioned was secret. 42 votes were cast: one was spoiled, leaving one against and 40 for the dismissal. A two-thirds majority is required, and 40 is less than two thirds of 61. The deputies decided to get by this through excluding the Mayor’s vote. While it is likely that his was the dissenting voice, this cannot be verified if the voting was secret. Also the actual vote should probably be invalidated since the Mayor did in fact take part in the vote, and was only excluded so as to get the result the deputies wanted.
What about the voters?
The events in Cherkasy are the latest in a number of moves which seem to totally bypass the wish of the voters. The High Administrative Court has stepped in and removed the mandates of elected MPs, including that of opposition MP and Yulia Tymoshenko’s defender, Serhiy Vlasenko, The Head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Oleksandr Chernenko has stated that the already long-overdue re-runs for MPs in five particular scandal-marred constituencies will not take place before the autumn, a year after the elections. And that, he says, is if they happen at all.
It is galling that all political factions took part in this latest questionable move in Cherkasy, with the voters once again treated as incidental props, to be consulted when and if it suits.