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“Everyone is Still Alive”. Cherkasy Mayoral Elections

20 November 2020
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“It is not the first time that Cherkasy has been mentioned in view of the confrontation with the president. We’ve always been heard. In our city, one of the mayors was taken out of the office together with a chair, the other mayor barricaded the door of his predecessor’s office while he was giving a press conference. We once had banners “Cherkasy — the free Cossack city”, then they were replaced by “Cherkasy – the capital of Ukrainian basketball.” And that’s how we play basketball and become free Cossacks from election to election.” — journalist Andriy Kravets.

Since November, VoxUkraine in partnership with local media has been holding 12 online meetings with communities of different cities of Ukraine on important local self-government topics. With the support of the Nakypilo media group, the first meeting took place in Kharkiv, and the second meeting with the support of the Cherkasy Information Agency 18000 NGO was held in Cherkasy.

According to the OPORA Civil Network, the incumbent mayor, Anatoliy Bondarenko, a representative of the For the Future party (37.6%), and candidate from the Voice party, IT entrepreneur Viktor Yevpak (19.14%), received the largest number of votes in the Cherkasy mayor’s vote. In general, 37.5% of voters took part in the local elections on October 25, 2020 in Cherkasy. The second round of mayoral elections is scheduled for Sunday, November 22. On Friday before the election, the candidates will meet for a debate on the air of Suspilne:Cherkasy.

We spoke with journalists and city activists on how they assess the election campaign, what they expect from the second round, and what questions they would ask candidates in the debate.

The discussion was attended by Executive Director of the International Foundation Vidrodzhennia Oleksandr Sushko, Chairman of the Academy of Strategic Studies NGO, Regional Representative of the Public Initiatives of Ukraine Association in Cherkasy Oblast Serhiy Pasichnyk, local media journalists Nazariy Vivcharyk, Andriy Kravets and Artur Chemerys. The discussion was moderated by VoxUkraine project leader Yulia Mincheva.

You can watch the recording of the discussion by following the link.

The main conclusions. The second round in Cherkasy is not a vote for, but a vote against. Turnout of voters may be even lower than in the first round, due to a coronavirus outbreak and the fact that many voters do not support either Yevpak or Bondarenko. More details below.

The trends. Local 2020 elections, as a “gift” for the current mayors

Oleksandr Sushko started the discussion, noting that these local elections became one of the most important ones of all time in Ukraine: not only because they coincided with the crisis of trust in the central government, but also because an unprecedented resource was at stake due to decentralization of authority and finances.

“These elections were the first under the conditions of the new administrative-territorial structure of Ukraine, when the formation of the ATC was completed. And we see a new political map. We have a lot of material for conclusions and observations.”

“As cynical as it may seem,” it was the mayors of many cities who benefited most from the Covid pandemic. After all, in a situation where the central government has performed poorly in responding to the pandemic, it is the mayors of large cities, who are closer to the people, who have been able to successfully use those instruments of influence that were not available to the government, and have benefited from that. The situation was similar in Cherkasy.

“The incumbent mayors caught a certain wave and, in the conditions of creation of a vacuum of trust in the central government, they tried to fill it with themselves. Each in his own way, because there was no single model of response of local leaders to the Covid. However, no doubt, we have seen many leaders not only of large cities, but also of small ones, who in one way or another took advantage of this full of fears and uncertainty situation and proved themselves in the elections.”

According to Sushko, few people seriously mentioned what the current mayors had promised 5 years ago and whether they had kept their promises.

On the nature of the local election campaign and readiness for the second round

Even before the first round, there were discussions about who would compete with Anatoliy Bondarenko in the second round — no one had any illusions that the incumbent mayor would not pass at least in the second round.

Journalist Nazariy Vivcharyk speaks about this and adds that the so-called “third round” is still waiting for the city, even after the mayoral election there will be a question about the composition of the majority in the City Council and who will hold the position of secretary.

“Whoever is the mayor, it will be difficult for him to decide with this persona and with the majority in the City Council. And further decisions will depend on what the majority will be, how constructively it will work with the mayor.”

Vivcharyk adds that candidate Yevpak remains a “dark horse” in many ways: “We know what the risks and miscalculations of the incumbent mayor may be, but we do not know what the risks and miscalculations of the new mayor may be.”

Vivcharyk noted that before the second round, the number of political agitation in the city has sharply decreased, and the debate is still taking place between representatives of the headquarters on social networks. ”At the same time, they may not even touch on the actual candidates in disputes.”

Serhiy Pasichnyk says that it is very difficult to unite the elites in Cherkasy even to achieve any result: “For example, the coalition formed around the mayor after the 2015 elections did not last long due to selfish interests.”

He adds that the team that enters the City Council will find it difficult to work together, mostly due to the focus on the winning mayor.

Pasichnyk agreed that the degree of Facebook discussions in the city had risen significantly, but he did not see any systematic mass work on voter mobilization on the part of the headquarters of both candidates. The work in a “targeted” way:

“It seems that each of the headquarters understands that the stakes are serious and there is no time to play with technological developments and creativity. It is obvious that someone will use some schemes of a financial nature, for example, to build “meshes”, someone is already trying to campaign in a more targeted way among their target audiences.”

He predicts that due to the coronavirus, turnout of voters in the second round will be even lower than in the first one. However, in general, he is quite positive: “We expected the campaign to be more dirty, extreme, but, fortunately, no one was killed, no one was imprisoned, everyone is alive. At least after the first round.”

Artur Chemerys noted that the presence of the second round was obvious to everyone.

“Except, perhaps, Anatoliy Vasylyovych Bondarenko himself.”

He pointed to another problem of the candidates — the similarity of their programs. “I’ve read Bondarenko’s program, then Yevpak’s one. It is difficult to understand whose program is which. The points are practically the same.”

He believes that “the second round is, in most cases, not a vote for, but a vote against.” Therefore, in the second round, the incumbent mayor will be voted for by those voters who believe that he will fulfill promises that he has not been able to fulfill in the previous five years.

Andriy Kravets shares the opinion about the possibility of a low turnout in the second round. It will be additionally reduced by the indifference of people to the two candidates participating in it. He attributes this to the “bear’s” service provided to one of the candidates: first the Servant of the People party supported him, and then the Voice. “This is despite the fact that most of their electorate has very antagonistic intentions.”

He regrets that the opportunity to vote “against all” was removed: “This cuts off the expression of will of a large number of people who simply will not go to the polls just because there is no candidate for whom they would vote. And not everyone is ready to see their ballot paper among the spoiled ones.”

Questions of the participants of the meeting for the Friday’s debates of the candidates

“There is no point in asking Bondarenko anything, but I would ask Viktor Yevpak if he understands that it is not business agreements, but political ones, and if he is going to be able to cope with it.” (Artur Chemerys)

I would ask both of the candidates why they are running for mayor at all. A separate question to Anatoly Bondarenko about the state of the sewerage infrastructure in the city: “Why is the work done only with the sidewalks, and why nothing is done with what is under them?” (Nazariy Vivcharyk)

“Why to leave a warm cozy office to work in Cherkasy — for a small salary and dirty work? Where does such a desire for exploits come from?” (Andriy Kravets) 

Questions about the first 3-5 decisions that candidates would make in the postion. “Everyone will be seen by the priorities that they see after the election. But I have no illusions that these answers will be 100% honest.” (Sergiy Pasichnyk)

Debates between the candidates are scheduled for Friday, November 20, at 19:20 on the TV channel Suspilne: Cherkasy. It is curious, if the candidates will really make a willful decision to take part in them and answer journalists’ questions openly. Let’s see.

This event was organized as part of the ENGAGE Program, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Pact in Ukraine. The contents of this report are solely the responsibility of Pact and its partners and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the United States Government.

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