OPFL’s Revenge and the End of “the NKMZ Majority Era”. Local Election in Kramatorsk

Notes of the discussion “Battle for Kramatorsk. The new power landscape after the local election.”

Author:

“We used to have the priority of business managers from the NKMZ plant, and now it is the same kind of managers but scattered across different “baskets” – lawyer Serhiy Borozentsev

Starting in November, VoxUkraine in partnership with the local media will be holding 12 online meetings with different city communities of Ukraine on topics of importance to local self-government. The first meeting took place in Kharkiv with the support of the Nakypilo media group, followed by the second meeting held in Cherkasy with the support of the Cherkasy Information Agency 18000 NGO, with the final meeting on the local election in Kramatorsk organized with the help of Kramatorsk-Post.

According to Civil Network OPORA, Oleksandr Honcharenko won most votes in Kramatorsk in the second round of the mayoral election. His rival was the incumbent mayor, Andriy Pankov. The gap between the number of votes cast by the city residents for the candidates was over 17%. Voter turnout on the day of the second round was 23.14%.

Oleksandr Honcharenko was a self-nominee, an at-large candidate working as marketing and sales director for PJSC Energomashspetsstal. Maksym Yefimov, MP and this enterprise’s president was a rival of Andriy Pankov in the 2015 elections. In the two weeks before the re-election, candidate Honcharenko was supported by the Servant of the People, Opposition Platform – For Life, and Maksym Yefimov’s Our Kramatorsk party.

A detailed account on the specific features of the local political landscape, the influence of the Novokramatorsk Machine Building Plant (NKMZ) not only on the local economy but also on local politics, as well as why Maksym Yefimov remains one of the most influential individuals in Kramatorsk, was given in Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, as part of its special pre-election project.

We spoke with the city’s journalists and activists about how the local elections went in Kramatorsk, what the residents expect from Oleksandr Honcharenko, the winner of the second round, and how his victory has changed the balance of power in the city.

The discussion was attended by Valeriy Vlasenko, deputy of the City Council from the European Solidarity party and head of the party’s city branch, Dmytro Lukyanenko, journalist and editor-in-chief of Kramatorsk-Post, Maryna Romantsova, journalist and head of “Who, if not you” NGO, Andriy Romanenko, coordinator of the center for public control “Act-Kramatorsk”, Serhiy Borozentsev, lawyer and former head of the city branch of Batkivshchyna. The discussion was moderated by VoxUkraine project leader Yuliia Mincheva.           

You can watch a recording of the discussion here. 

The main conclusions. The incumbent mayor of Kramatorsk (at the time of the election), Andriy Pankov, was defeated because of a lackluster election campaign, communication failures during his mayoral term, and a loss of feedback from the community. His rival, Oleksandr Honcharenko, won through an “aggressive” election campaign and support from Opposition Platform – For Life (OPFL) and Maksym Yefimov’s party. OPFL’s support for the candidate and a significant number of seats in the City Council received by OPFL create risks for local politics primarily because the party could impose certain ideological issues from its agenda at the local level. More details follow below.

“It was a weak campaign.” The candidates’ battle for the mayoral position

Everyone participating in the discussion agreed that the incumbent mayor (at the time of the election), Andriy Pankov, did not take his election campaign seriously to give it sufficient commitment, while Oleksandr Honcharenko conducted a professional, fairly “aggressive” campaign.

“I think Pankov simply ruined the campaign. He made the wrong bet, thinking he would pull it off with the help of the good deeds he’d done during his term. The Honcharenko side looked into what hurt each voter and made their promises with those pain points in mind” said Dmytro Lukyanenko

Maryna Romantsova is of the same opinion: “Where I live… except for Honcharenko’s tent, I didn’t see any other tents at all. Including the tents of the incumbent mayor.”

She believes that most voters were not interested in hearing where the new city trolleybuses came from, where the asphalt road pavement came from and that, too, is Andriy Pankov’s communication failure.

According to Serhiy Borozentsev, Pankov did not hold any proper briefings during his entire term or communicate with the community to resolve the problematic issues. “He spent the five years not getting ready for the election.” 

Not only the incumbent mayor was not interested in the election, the voters, too, were not. This was emphasized by Andriy Romanenko: “Even the mayor got elected with only 18,000 votes. If you divide them by the city’s 90 polling stations, you get a few hundred, and sometimes a few dozen people in each station.”

He draws attention to the following paradox. On the eve of the election, a poll was conducted in the city, according to which Mayor Pankov’s work was supported by 70% of citizens who trusted him. But this notwithstanding, he lost the election. Romanenko argues that about half of the Kramatorsk residents did not come to the polls simply because they were fine with the status quo and did not want any change.

“However, this does not rule out a feeble campaign by the mayor.” he said, citing data on Pankov’s and Honcharenko’s incomparable election budgets: 

“Pankov declared about 800,000 hryvnias in total income last year, while Honcharenko officially spent over a million hryvnias on the first round of his election campaign alone.”

A change of mayor is a victory of one business group over another. The majority of OPFL that enjoyed the highest rating in the city and the majority of Maksym Yefimov’s party are the same people who previously ran in the election representing Our Land, and prior to that, the Party of Regions.

“This is a change in the vector. If the previous City Council was controlled by NKMZ, this City Council will be controlled by Maksym Yefimov. Most parties, except ES and Democratic Ax, were just smokescreens to help some individuals get in from a particular person.” (Andriy Romanenko)

Valeriy Vlasenko draws attention to the specific characteristics of local voters everyone needs a personal gift, not systemic changes or the common good: 

“After asphalt pavement was laid in my district for the first time in 30 years, an old man comes up to me and says: “You haven’t done anything for me personally. Even if you paved everything around here with gold, I’d vote for the person who’d give me something personally.”

About the majority in the City Council and high-priority tasks

According to Andriy Romanenko, in the City Council, a lot now depends on who will be appointed deputy mayors as well as on the composition of the executive committee. He notes that Honcharenko who may indeed be not a bad sort, willing to develop the city is surrounded by others and those people will be responsible for changing or maintaining the status quo in the city.

Dmytro Lukyanenko believes that it will be easy for the mayor to work with the new City Council, because it is, with some exceptions, the team of the political force supporting him in the election. He is quite optimistic about the city’s development:

“People from Yefimov’s team are businessmen, ambitious people, and they will see the city’s achievements as their own. That is, to satisfy their ambitions, they will need to do something for the development of the city. What the balance will look like is a different matter.”

He is concerned about the large number of OPFL representatives in the city councils across the country and in the Kramatorsk City Council in particular. “Medvedchuk hopes to derive some political benefit from this. It’s not clear what to expect, but I’m worried about it.”

Maryna Romantsova believes that “people on the ground will be forced to support some ideological issues coming from the center. It could be said that overall, it’s not the city level. Right, not the city… until certain moments in the political game.”

The participants list the pumping up of the city budget, strategic development of the city, and water, heat and energy supply infrastructure among the urgent issues to be addressed by the new City Council. 

NKMZ’s cancelling of social contracts made a big hole in the city budget, and the new team will have to address this issue. Another problem is the optimization of schools.

“We have a lot of schools that are filled by 40-50% that’s a problem for the whole of Ukraine and for Kramatorsk in particular. It should be addressed gradually but be resolved anyway.” (Maryna Romantsova) 

Andriy Romanenko said that due to subsidy reductions, the city budget will be significantly lower, and the first thing to be “optimized” will be the salary. He sees corruption risks in it: “I think there’ll be a great temptation to redirect cash flows in the right direction under the guise of social protection at a difficult time.”

Valeriy Vlasenko says that his branch plans on taking an inventory of the city land, going over communal property and creating conditions for privatization. In his opinion, it is important to have a development strategy for the city: “I hope that we, as deputies, will stop being heads of housing maintenance offices and start looking at the development of the city. Because machine building is already a dead end. We should see what awaits us in our city when these plants are closed down.”

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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