Ousted Mykolaiv Mayor Oleksandr Senkevych is vowing to fight on and pushing for a fresh municipal vote after a surprise 5 October City Council vote saw him lose office just two years after his election. Senkevych is now calling on Ukraine’s parliament to initiate fresh elections without further delay for both city mayor and the city council. While members of the City Council only envisage the need for a new mayoral contest, Senkevych argues that in light of recent events, he would not be able to work with the current Mykolaiv City Council deputies if reelected.
The City Council vote to strip Mayor Senkevych of his position took Mykolaiv by surprise. The vote itself was overwhelming, with 42 of 54 city deputies supporting the motion. Local officials from President Petro Poroshenko’s party sided with members of the Opposition Bloc to remove a man widely seen as a reformist, leading to accusations of an unholy alliance between politicians who came to power following the Euromaidan Revolution and members of the pre-Maidan old guard who had long held sway in the city. The official reasons cited for the vote of no confidence in Mayor Senkevych included allegations of corruption and legal question marks over the dismissals of several utilities company directors.
Senkevych told Business Ukraine magazine he believed the move was orchestrated in Kyiv and was motivated in part by a desire to deprive his party, Samopomych (“Self-Help”), of a regional success story that could bolster its chances in the coming 2018 parliamentary elections. Samopomych leader and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi also spoke out against Senkevych’s dismissal, accusing Mykolaiv City Council deputies of disenfranchising the local electorate.
Several thousand supporters rallied in support of Senkevych on 8 October in scenes that inevitably drew comparisons with the people power Maidan protests of 2014 and with Senkevych’s own grassroots election campaign in autumn 2015. The former IT entrepreneur’s victory in October 2015 was the standout result in nationwide municipal elections that saw numerous Yanukovych era politicians returned to power elsewhere in the country. Senkevych was able to defeat a rival drawn from the ranks of the pre-Maidan local elite by mobilizing young voters and utilizing social media, leading many to dub his triumph “The Mykolaiv Miracle.” This talk of miracles now looks to have been premature. Senkevych will now seek reelection and acknowledges that he must also hope for dramatic changes in the composition of the City Council if he is to avoid facing a similar fate once more.
The turmoil in the southern Ukrainian city is a blow to the country’s transition efforts and reformist credentials. Many international partners had identified Mykolaiv as a potential poster child for the new Ukraine. The city was formerly part of the Party of Regions heartlands and remains in many ways firmly rooted in the Soviet past due to its previous status as the leading shipbuilding center of the USSR. A big part of the city’s attraction as a reforms showpiece was Senkevych himself. With the reformist mayor no longer in office, the city will face an uphill struggle convincing partners that it remains a good bet.