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Can Lviv Mayor Change Ukrainian Politics Once And For All?

Lviv Mayor Issues Rallying Cry For Reform
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Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyy has issued a rallying cry for reform of Ukraine's economy and institutions, and his third-place party could play an important role in a new pro-European coalition government. (Video by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service)

Andriy Sadovyy acts like a man with nothing to hide.

In 2013, when the Lviv mayor purchased a new family home, he invited journalists to the house for a tour. And now, as his fledgling party prepares to enter the notoriously down-and-dirty world of parliamentary politics, Sadovyy says the more scrutiny, the better.

"Any person who comes to power must be kept under strict supervision," says the 46-year-old mayor, whose fledgling party, Samopomich (Self-Reliance), rose from relative obscurity to claim a stunning third-place finish in Ukraine's parliamentary elections on October 26.

"The only saints are in heaven," he adds. "Down here, there are a variety of people, and some are vulnerable to provocations. We want to set an example for other parties."

Sadovyy may have already set a tactical example by successfully tapping into public frustration with politics-as-usual in the months following Euromaidan and the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Self-Reliance, which was the only party to completely exclude seasoned politicians and entrepreneurs from its candidate list, took 11 percent of the vote, trailing behind only the bloc of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's Popular Front, which took 21.8 and 22.2 percent respectively.

The party had an especially strong showing in Sadovyy's native Lviv as well as the capital, Kyiv, where a politically energized demographic was seen as drawn to Self-Reliance's youthful profile.

Few gray hairs are to be seen in Self-Reliance, which draws on Ukraine's emerging demographic of community organizers, journalists, and midsize-business owners. Its best-known members include 32-year-old activist Hanna Hopko, who pushed through Ukraine's 2012 public smoking ban, and Yehor Sobolev, 37, a Euromaidan commandant and the head of the country's Lustration Committee.

Sadovyy, who himself sports a head of only slightly thinning blond hair, describes his party and its followers as Ukraine's best and brightest -- and eager for reform.

"This 11 percent that chose Self-Reliance at the polls are the most active people in the country," he says. "These are people who made their own lives, who want their country to succeed, and who are ready to participate as much as possible. This is a very large force."

Sadovyy, who has served as mayor of Ukraine's westernmost city for more than eight years, says decentralization is a key priority in the country, where a top-heavy federal structure has sucked nearly all decision-making resources from languishing municipal governments.

"What we have is a plundered country," says Sadovyy, who also serves as vice president of the Association of Towns and Communities of Ukraine. "Many cities have catastrophic problems with their authorities. Others don't have any authorities at all -- just criminal elements."

Among other things, Sadovyy hopes to pass reforms that will drastically reduce the official number of local authorities while imbuing those who remain with real power. "In Lviv, we have 90 local deputies," he says with a touch of weariness. "Thirty would be sufficient. And they should be the best 30 people in the city."

Some observers speculate that it may be difficult for Self-Reliance to advance its somewhat wonkish agenda at a time when wartime concerns are likely to dominate political debate.

Sadovyy was one of the first to see the vote-winning potential of the country's fighting force -- Semyon Semenchenko, the leader of the Donbas volunteer battalion, is No. 2 on his party list. But his algorithm for ending the conflict is largely structured around long-term reforms, rather than short-term tactics. "Russia only talks to the strong," he says. "We have to become strong."

Unusually for a party leader, Sadovyy will not be entering parliament, intending to remain in his mayoral post instead. Lviv, arguably Ukraine's loveliest city, is also one of its most financially stable, earning more European loan agreements than even Kyiv to the east.

Some suggest that Sadovyy -- who is rumored to have the backing of Dnipropetrovsk Governor and oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy -- could be grooming himself for an eventual presidential run and may see his well-run Galician city as a better stepping stone than the capital's slightly more chaotic climes.

Sadovyy denies having presidential ambitions or ties to Kolomoyskiy. "He came here last year and we talked about football," he says. "I haven't talked to him in more than a year."

Rafal Sadowski, a Ukraine analyst with the Warsaw-based Center for Eastern Studies, says all these questions may become moot as Self-Reliance enters into five-way coalition talks and the sharp elbows of parliamentary politics.

"It's too early to assess these rumors about connections between Sadovyy and Kolomoyskiy and who finances and supports the Samopomich party," Sadowski says. "The other question, now that this party may possibly become a member of the coalition and enter national politics, is whether Sadovyy will be the key decision-maker -- or someone else."

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