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Ukraine: Former Communist Wins Odessa Mayor Elections

Odessa, 25 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Former regional Communist Party leader Ruslan Bodelan was last Sunday elected as Odessa's new mayor.

His victory signaled a re-assertion of the central government's influence in the important southern port city but also introduced a measure of calm in its volatile politics.

According to preliminary results, Bodelan received 34 percent of the votes cast, with local politician Aleksei Kostusev receiving 22 percent and businesswoman Irina Zhovtis coming in third with 18 percent. There were 33 candidates in the race.

In contrast with the fractious and sometimes bloody election last March that had been won by former mayor Eduard Hurvits, the weekend's voting went smoothly. Militia and army personnel often outnumbered civilian voters at polling sites. The turnout was low.

Local issues dominated the contest. Bodelan won at least in part with an appeal to the impoverished pensioners, Odessa's most assiduous voters. During the run-up to the election he promised a moratorium on all utility payments for the next three months. Bodelan also offered the aged and destitute food staples like bread and flour as a pre-election gift.

But relations with the central government, marked by tension in the past, were also important to the voters. "We must end this terrible war with the capital," Odessa student Mikhail Krasniy told RFE/RL. "Only Bodelan can do that. That's why I voted for him."

The electoral campaign leading to the vote had been hotly contested. At the end of last week, the election commission had counted 386 alleged election law violations. But commission director Ludmila Budyak was confident that Bodelan's election will stand. "It was a fair election," she told RFE/RL.

An appointee of President Leonid Kuchma to the job of regional administration head, Bodelan played a key role in ejecting last May from office mayor Eduard Hurvits. He did it with the help of the military and police units loyal to the central government. Bodelan was also instrumental in subsequent replacement of municipal officials loyal to Hurvits by personnel linked with the central government..

Some Odessites seem now optimistic that the political situation in the city will improve. "The city will have strong leadership," Krasniy said. "That is what we need."

But many others, especially those within the business community, are concerned about the politicization of the city administration. I have never involved myself in politics," former head of the Black Sea Steamship Company Alexey Koval told RFE/RL. "For Odessa the most important thing is that business should grow. That's what I support."