Thursday, November 27, 2014


Ukraine

Now Comes The Hard Part: Vitali Klitschko Aims To Clean Up Kyiv

The towering former boxing champion made up for a slightly staid stump style with his superstar sporting fame, his international background, and an image of honesty that he burnished with regular street appearances during the Euromaidan uprising.
The towering former boxing champion made up for a slightly staid stump style with his superstar sporting fame, his international background, and an image of honesty that he burnished with regular street appearances during the Euromaidan uprising.

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On The Maidan: Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

A day after his apparent victory in Kyiv's mayoral election, Vitali Klitschko said what no Ukrainian politician has dared suggest since President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country: It's time to dismantle the tent encampment and barricades on Kyiv's iconic Independence Square. But on the fabled Maidan, not everybody's on board.
By Tom Balmforth
KYIV -- Vitali Klitschko's first task as Kyiv's mayor will be cleaning up City Hall -- literally.

Following his landslide victory in Kyiv's May 25 mayoral election, the boxer-turned-politician toured his future office, located in a Soviet-era city administration building that was captured by protesters in the early stages of the Euromaidan uprising.

Since then, the 10-story monolith has served as a revolutionary headquarters as well as a flophouse, cafeteria, and medical clinic for activists. And dozens of them still haven't moved on.

Coaxing out the revolution's stragglers is Klitschko's first challenge as city manager -- part of a delicate mission to dismantle the entire protest encampment blocking traffic in central Kyiv without stirring backlash from Euromaidan activists still suspicious of authority.

"I don't envy him," says a smiling Lesya Orobets, 32, an up-and-coming lawmaker in the Ukrainian parliament who was a hit on the Maidan and who finished second to Klitschko in the mayoral race, with 8.5 percent of the vote. "The people who actually guarded Maidan have long gone home, but there are still some personalities there, and unwinding things in the center of Kyiv in the correct way is going to be difficult."

But Maidan diplomacy is far from the mayor-elect's only headache.

Not only has Klitschko been elected to a weak mayor's office that was neutered by ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, he also takes the reins after tenures widely associated with graft and mismanagement.

The Ukrainian capital, a metropolis of 2.75 million people, has not had an elected mayor since July 2012. Since then, it has been ruled by Yanukovych's appointed representative.

"A lot of problems have stacked up," says Rostislav Pavlenko, a lawmaker with Klitschko's UDAR party. "There are a lot of [criminal] mechanisms that need to be destroyed. There are infrastructure problems with roads and problems with junctions. Also, in Kyiv many parks and leisure areas have either been destroyed or given over to illegal construction. This all has to be looked at."

Cleaning House

Klitschko ran for mayor on a platform of bringing transparency to an opaque city government and to stamp out graft in the capital. He promised to review budget decisions under previous city authorities, pinpointing misallocations and violations. He also pledged to purge corrupt city bureaucrats. He also wants to reverse corrupt land rulings over the last five years and get more transparency, for instance, in utility companies.

One of his main goals is to attract investment to the capital of the second-most-populous former Soviet republic. "It could be one of the pearls of Eastern Europe," Pavlenko says. "But unfortunately it hasn't been able to develop to its potential for a long time because of the problems with corruption and budget mismanagement."
Having an ally in President-elect Petro Poroshenko (right) can only help Vitali Klitschko clean up Kyiv.
Having an ally in President-elect Petro Poroshenko (right) can only help Vitali Klitschko clean up Kyiv.

This is Klitschko's third bid for mayor and he won it resoundingly, with some 56 percent of the vote. He has been gradually building political capital for nine years and was last on the stump in the parliamentary elections in 2012. 

When Yanukovych fled in February, Klitschko initially planned to run for president, but instead threw his support behind confectionaries magnate Petro Poroshenko, who won the presidency handily.

Klitschko retailored his national anticorruption rhetoric in a municipal election campaign, borrowing at times -- somewhat surprisingly -- buzzwords from Russian President Vladimir Putin, such as "dictatorship of law" and "power vertical."

The towering former world heavyweight boxing champion made up for a slightly staid stump style with his superstar sporting fame, his international background, and an image of honesty that he burnished with regular street appearances during the Euromaidan uprising.

Packing A Bigger Punch

The municipal election results have not been completely counted yet, but in addition to taking the mayor's office, Klitschko's UDAR party also appears to have won a majority in the Kyiv city council.

This, and having a powerful ally in President-elect Poroshenko, will be vital for Klitschko -- not only in running the city, but in restoring his full authority as mayor.

Under legislative changes made in 2010 under Yanukovych, the president was given the power to appoint a powerful city manager, which rendered the mayor's post largely ceremonial.

The last elected mayor, billionaire eccentric Leonid Chernovetskyy, abandoned office in 2012 and the authorities declined to call snap elections in the capital for fear of losing control, analysts say.

Pavlenko is confident that full mayoral powers will soon be restored.

Will Klitschko be able to clean up the Ukrainian capital -- both literally and figuratively? Kyiv-based political analyst Vitaliy Bala has his doubts. "I am pessimistic about Klitschko as mayor because the mayor of Kyiv should not be a politician with ambitions to go higher. He should be occupied with the current condition of the city," he says.

"Klitschko doesn't have this knowledge," Bala continues. "That means he will have to transfer functions and trust someone else and I don't know how that person will act."

But the former boxer got a vote of confidence from an unlikely source -- the person he just defeated. "The last two mayors...were the most experienced people in Kyiv in terms of managing the city and no one would have them back," Orobets says. "This is a case when experience is a negative: it means a person has been part of schemes, machinations, and robbery of the city."

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