Semen Semenchenko (l) and Yuriy Vilkul (r)
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
The victory of Yuriy Vilkul in the special election for mayor of Kryvyi Rih is a demonstration of the shortsightedness, weakness, and conceit of the democratic movement in Ukraine.
The special election for mayor of Kryvyi Rih gave Yuriy Vilkul the possibility not only to win but to establish himself in the role of the practically uncontested choice of the citizens.
If, after the previous election, the mayor looked like a “lame duck,” a person who was opposed by almost half of the voters and who, therefore, had to reckon with the mood of the city, then it has now become clear that Vilkul no longer has any competition and none is to be expected in the near future. Kryvyi Rih now belongs to “one of theirs,” to Vilkul.
How could this have happened? It is worth recalling that after the local elections (in November) there were claims of election fraud in two large cities — Odesa and Kryvyi Rih.
In Odesa, loud declarations by Mikhail Saakashvili, the head of the local administration, and Oleksandr Borovyk, the mayoral candidate of the Petro Poroshenko Blok (BPP) never went beyond talk and did not result in mass demonstrations to support the democratic candidate and to hold new elections (since even the president’s party was not keen to fight for the victory of its nominee). In Kryvyi Rih, however, everything was different.
The success of the local activist Yuriy Myloboh was a surprise not only for the Samopomich Party, which had nominated him, but for the entire country. But to give Samopomich their due, party members quickly figured out what was happening and succeeded in obtaining the unprecedented decision to hold repeat elections in Kryvyi Rih.
Now that the elections are over, one has to wonder if party members are asking themselves “why”? What happened can be included in political science textbooks as an example of a programmed defeat.
Actually, the fact that Yuriy Myloboh did not participate in the mayoral election was already a defeat in itself because the elections were being held precisely because victory had been stolen from him — at least his associates thought so.
And, of course, it is necessary to find out the real reason for this non-participation by a person who had become a real competitor to Vilkul — whether it was his own decision or the party’s position. In both cases, it was a real political catastrophe.
But let us assume that Myloboh had withdrawn from the election himself. What should Samopomich have done in such a situation? It is obvious that Myloboh’s electoral success was not at all due to any high authority enjoyed by this party in the East, whatever the illusions of the activists. Myloboh ” almost won” because, first of all, he was “ours,” a local.
And in this situation it was important not to nominate a conventional candidate from just any political party but to find a person who would have been just as familiar and understandable to the residents of Kryvyi Rih as was Myloboh. A person who would have offered the same kind of alternative to Vilkul. And who certainly would have been no stranger to the city. At least, the correctness of such an approach was made evident to Samopomich after the Odesa elections
Mikhail Saakashvili had confidently put forward as candidate for the mayor of the city a person who was not known to the Odesa residents. And the issue was not even that Oleksandr Borovyk was not able to defeat Gennadiy Trukhanov, despite the high popularity of the former Georgian president. It was because no one wanted to fight for his victory.
Local elections are always elections of “our guys.” But Samopomich went in exactly the opposite direction, deciding to nominate Semen Semenchenko as candidate for mayor of Kryvyi Rih. And from that moment, the issue of the triumphant victory of Vilkul was a foregone conclusion.
What is striking in this entire situation is how confidently the party activists spoke about victory in the second round — about everything that was impossible by definition. How, in fact, they did not want to notice the obvious — that the party had no real popularity and no local infrastructure in the east of the country.
The accidental and unique luck associated with the figure of Myloboh should have been grabbed and held with both hands — or else it should have been stated openly that the activist would not able to continue fighting if, in fact, he was the issue. But not to pretend that in Kryvyi Rih any candidate from Samopomich would win and that it was only a question of naming him.
The issue, of course, is not Semen Semenchenko, even though he undoubtedly will receive all the blame. In Kryvyi Rih any candidate proposed by Samopomich who was not connected to the local political landscape predictably would have lost.
And the issue is not with Samopomich, although it certainly will be blamed for the failure. What happened is a blow to the entire democratic movement in the country. It is a demonstration of its shortsightedness, conceit, weakness, lack of understanding of the real situation in the country, and lack of respect for people.
Samopomich, of course, is not a party yet. It is currently a group of activists centered around the mayor of Lviv — although the political ambitions of Andriy Sadoviy are not even clear for him either. After the unexpected success of the party during the parliamentary elections, he chose to remain a leader of local self-government and not to become a politician on a national scale.
But if real political parties are not formed out of these groups of activists that are responsible and aware of the consequences of their actions, then we will all lose, and not only Samopomich.
NOTE: In November 2015, acting mayor Yuriy Vilkul, the representative of the Opposition Bloc (formerly Party of Regions), was elected mayor of Kryvyi Rih with 89,209 of the votes. His opponent Yuriy Myloboh, a local activist and a member of the Samopomich Party, lost with 88,457 votes. Myloboh’s supporters accused Vilkul of vote fraud and thousands protested. On December 7, a Verkhovna Rada special commission ruled that violations had occurred during the mayoral election and that a special election would be held.