On October, 31, voters in a single-mandate constituency No. 197 (with the center in Kaniv) are to decide who will replace the incumbent head of Cherkasy RSA, Oleksandr Skichko, who stepped down from the position upon his assignment. In 2019, a TV host Skichko surfed on the wave of popularity of Volodymyr Zelensky “Servant of the People” party, and managed to get a seat in the parliament. However, the recent two years of political history added new arguments for political opponents who were ready to fight for the mandate and change the distribution of forces in the constituency.

The scenarios for the constituency may vary but the confrontation is heating up in the context of developments in constituency 87 in Ivano-Frankivsk region, where candidates Vasyl Virastiuk and Oleksandr Shevchenko competed for the mandate, life or death. As we are well aware already, the Law was defeated in this battle.

Missing ballot papers, alleged voter bribery, unacceptable politicization of election commissions work, and disrupted procedures — we co0uld see it all in Ivano-Frankivsk region. Furthermore, it shows Ukraine’s regress in ensuring suffrage. It is important that the elections in Kaniv, as the concluding elections in majoritarian constituencies for the Verkhovna Rada, do not aggravate the dangerous trends.

Moreover, the constituency’s territory (134,500 voters in 142 polling stations) hosts several big companies owned by Ukraine’s well-known businessmen. In particular, the district is within the economic interests of the KERNEL agroholding owner, Andriy Verevskyi, and the MHP agroholding, Yuriy Kosiuk. There is also the PetRus group of companies chaired by Ludmyla Rusalina.

In the previous elections, OPORA has multiple times highlighted the attempts of business to impact the voting of their employees through using the “private” administrative resource. In the context of having big economic groups present, it is important to provide for their non-interference into election process for free choice of voters.

Thus, the value of mistake at this so-called local election is impossibly high for the country’s image. But you need to be ready for anything. Although there is still two months to go before the start of election campaign, political actors have already placed their stakes.

Consistently inconsistent: What Does Cherkasy Region Has in Stock on the Eve of the By-Election of a People’s Deputy

Cherkasy region has been multiple times an arena for electoral battles and high-profile electoral conflicts. The region located at a short distance from Kyiv has often been a clash for interests of national and local actors who would go by hook or by crook. For example, in the remote 2002, Nestor Shufrych was a candidate in constituency 201 of Cherkasy region. His performance was so bright that the gossip industry still associates his election campaign with the 20 UAH notes. In 2012, there was a failure in the constituency 197 to establish voting results, which resulted in the re-election a year after, parallel to elections in other four problematic constituencies. Presently, Cherkasy region is a region hesitating about their electoral likes, whereas the crisis of the previous campaigns affects the elections because the high-profile and systemic abuse has not ended up in any court rulings.

According to OPORA, the early campaigning has already been launched in the constituency by 13 potential candidates, and the future elections are expected to be highly competitive. The likely mandate holders include two politicians who have been the deputies in this constituency: Leonid Datsenko (Batkivshchyna AU) in 2013, and Vladyslav Holub (Petro Poroshenko Bloc) in 2014. The possible candidates may be a group of influential representatives of local self-government: deputy heads of the regional council, Roman Sushchenko (“European Solidarity”) and Serhiy Lisovyi (“Servant of the People”), regional councilors Serhiy Kurbet and Valeria Bondarenko (“For the Future”) a.o. As to the parliamentary parties, there is the “European Solidarity” who only publicly announced about their candidate. In contrast, the constituency already has the non-parliamentary political forces quite active (Svoboda AU, “Popular Will”). The “Servant of the People” has not yet identified the final candidate to be officially supported, and the local leaders keep competing among themselves. As mentioned above, the constituency has some powerful economic groups represented, and the interests of their owners may be a decisive factor to the campaign.

The Governor’s Factor: Will the Authorities Resort to Administrative Resources?

In 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky and the “Servant of the People” party gained a certain victory in the region and in the constituency, whereas the presidential party was a leader in five out of seven majoritarian constituencies. However, the intrigue for the future elections in Cherkasy region comes from the typically unpredictable political process. Since the time Volodymyr Zelensky was elected the President of Ukraine, the region has been governed by four RSA heads: an entrepreneur Ihor Shevchenko, SBU staff Roman Bondar and Serhiy Serhiychuk, and an MP Oleksandr Skichko. The prospects of the “Cherkasy” bid of the presidential Office for Oleksandr Skichko used to be a top topic in the debate of local politicians. Since the informal involvement of RSA heads in elections has been common in the region, his role in the coming campaign is in a special focus.

Political links of Oleksandr Skichko and Volodymyr Zelensky give him the grounds to offer for the constituency and for the region some high-profile initiatives. Specifically, he suggested a format of a new project from the Presidential Office, such as the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The initiatives from the RA head supported by Volodymyr Zelensky include the construction of waste processing plants, the renovation of a river port in Kaniv by the end of the year, and completion of the long-delayed construction project of the Shevchenko Cultural Center.

Such package of high-profile initiatives and support from the central government is instrumental for any head of regional state administration. Otherwise, they would be easily tempted to interfere with the course of elections. Oleksandr Skichko will still need to demonstrate his understanding of the difference between an official’s public activity and the abuse of administrative resources. Serhiy Lisovy, head of the regional council’s faction of the “Servant of the People,” deputy head of the regional council, and a classmate of the current RSA head, is presently appearing with him at joint events.

Local Context Matters

Following the results of local elections, Anatoliy Pidhornyi became a head of Cherkasy regional council.  Roman Sushchenko, a representative of the “European Solidarity,” was elected as a first deputy head; and the positions of his deputies were taken by Mykhaylo Mushiyek from the “Batkivshchyna” AU, Serhiy Lisovyi from the “Servant of the People,” and Volodymyr Domanskyi from the “Opposition Platform For Life.” 

In the region’s capital, Anatoliy Bondarenko (Fro the Future) overcame in the second round a candidate from the “Holos,” Viktor Yevpak, and was re-elected the mayor. Bondarenko is best remembered in the country for his public demarch against the quarantine restrictions from the Center, and for his exchange of video addresses with the President.

Cherkasy city mayor is an illustrative case of the changing political pathway. In 2015, he stood from the “Batkivshchyna” AU. In the next term of office, he was re-elected from the “For the Future” and chaired the party’s regional organization upon the transition of its former regional leader, Anton Yatsenko, to the “Batkivshchyna” AU. Cherkasy city council has seven parties represented, with “For the Future” and the “Servant of the People” holding most of mandates. A secretary of Cherkasy regional council is Yuriy Trenkin, elected under the “Batkivshchyna” AU list.

In the constituency, the composition of local authorities is even more versatile, and possibly, more competitive. Zolotonosha town faces the third term of office of Vitaliy Voytsekhivskyi (“Servant of the People”), whereas Kaniv is now led by a candidate from the “For the Future,” Ihor Renkas.

City and district councils within the constituency have crucially different leading parties. The “Servant of the People” won the first position in Zolotonosha city council and in Cherkasy district council. In Kaniv, “For the Future” party gained the largest support, and in Zolotonosha district council the leader was “Cherkashchany” AU.

Local councils have no formal deputy majorities, and local deputies usually manage to strike the common ground. However, their party fragmentation is striking. Cherkasy district council received nine parties, Zolotonosha city council has eight of them, Zolotonosha district council and Kaniv city council have seven for each.

Thus, the region is coming closer to by-elections of a people’s deputy with a competitive political process and a diverse party representation in local councils. What remains active and ongoing – it is the change in party organizations. The consistently inconsistent pre-election situation in Cherkasy region may ensure fair competition or push electoral rivals into fraud.

Who Rushes First to Get the Mandate?

Electoral process will officially start on September, 1. There is still time for political neophytes and seasoned politicians to submit their candidacies for People’s Deputies of Ukraine. OPORA compiled a list of potential candidates.

Roman Sushchenko, a deputy head of Cherkasy regional council from the “European Solidarity” party

The participation in the future elections of the former Kremlin political prisoner was announced in February by the ES leader, Petro Poroshenko. In fact, he started the early campaigning. In the constituency, the candidate has had meetings with voters, he did some charity, and used outdoor advertising and local media, as well as publicly engaged the national speakers from the party.

Mykola Tomenko, a leader of the “Civic Movement “Home Country,” former vice speaker of the Verkhovna Rada 

Mykola Tomenko was a People’s Deputy during several previous convocations, a vice prime minister of Ukraine on Humanitarian Aspects in Tymoshenko’s government (2005); he ran for two offices as a deputy chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada (2007, 2008–2012), and was a non-staff advisor to the President Petro Poroshenko (18.06.2014–13.07.2015). The potential candidate was born in Cherkasy region, and presents himself as the region’s representative.

Vladyslav Holub, a People’s Deputy of Ukraine of the 8th convocation from this constituency

Vladyslav Holub who lost in the 2019 elections in this constituency to the current RSA head, Oleksandr Skichko, has not yet officially declared his intention to stand in the elections. However, he has been actively engaged in the early campaigning already: outdoor advertisements have been posted, he had meetings with company workers, and often publicly mentions the projects implemented in the constituency for budget funds during his term in office. In the constituency, mass media share the findings of a survey highlighting his electoral leadership.

Leonid Datsenko, an advisor to the incumbent Cherkasy City Mayor, a People’s Deputy of the VII convocation in constituency No. 197, editor-in-chief of the “New Generation of Cherkasy Region”

Leonid Datsenko declared his intention to stand in the elections in May, during his interview for his outlet. At the 2014 parliamentary elections, the self-nominated Leonid Datsenko lost in the constituency to the candidate from the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko,” Vladyslav Holub. The difference was 3,319 votes. It is interesting to note that there were two more “technical” candidates at the elections, with the same name Datsenko. In total, they won 2,963 votes. At the local elections, Datsenko ran to the regional council from the “Vidrodzhennia” party (2015) and from the “European Solidarity” (2020) but he failed to get any mandate both times.

Yevheniy Kurbet, a People’s Deputy of Cherkasy Regional Council from the “For the Future” party, chief of department of military representative offices of the Ministry of Defense, former chief enlistment officer in the region

At the 2019 parliamentary elections, Kurbet self-nominated in constituency 195, and won 27% of votes. That time, the candidate lost to the self-nominated candidate from the “Servant of the People” and distinguished himself with the free handing out of various goods and services, such as glasses, seed packages, medical consultations, insurance certificates, and zoo trips. Local media published  some information that his candidacy was supported by the “Servant of the People” party and the MHP Agroholding. However, it has never been confirmed or refuted officially. Meanwhile, local journalists posted  some cards with green colors and photos of Yevheniy Kurbet and RSA head, regional council head, Kaniv city mayor, Zolotonosha city mayor, and a secretary of Cherkasy city council.

Andriy Illenko, a People’s Deputy of Ukraine of 7th and 8th convocations from the Svoboda AU

At the extra-ordinary parliamentary elections in July, 2019, Illenko lost in the capital’s constituency No. 205 to a candidate from the “Servant of the People,” Bohdan Yaremenko, with his 21.06% of votes against the opponent’s 37.5%. Andriy Illenko was born and raised in Kyiv. As to Kaniv region, a village of Prokhorivka is a native place to his father, a well-known Ukrainian film director, Yuriy Illenko.

Serhiy Vasyliuk, head of Kirovohrad regional party organization of the “Popular will,” frontman of the “Sun Shadow” band

In 2012, the singer stood  for the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine in constituency No. 102 (Kirovohrad region) from the Svoboda AU party, and finished second. In November, 2019, following the ex-MP Yuriy Levchenko, he left the party and became the head of the Kirovohrad center of the new “Popular Will” party created by Levchenko. Today, he presents himself as a future candidate from this party.

Ihor Zaychuk, representative of the “National Corps” party

In 2019m Zaychuk was on position 153 on the list of candidates to Verkhovna Rada from the Svoboda AU. At the local elections, he was Number 2 in a single list of candidates for councilors at Cherkasy city council, from the “National Corps” party. He is based in Cherkasy. 

Volodymyr Netrebenko, head of the “United Power” NGO

In 2020, Volodymyr Netrebenko stood for the Kyiv city council from the Radical Party; in 2015 – he represented the “United Power” party. In both cases, he failed to be elected. He was born in Vatutine town, Cherkasy region. He lives in Kyiv.

Ihor Shevchenko, ex-Minister for Environment Protection and Natural Resources, leader of the “Successful Ukraine” party

Ihor Shevchenko is best remembered by politically informed citizens for his ministerial initiatives, but also for his Davos trip. He asked the voters about the relevance of submitting his candidacy via his personal website and a promoted post on Facebook. At the 2019 presidential elections, he ran as a self-nominated candidate, and scored 0.09% of votes. In 2015, he stood for the mayoral position in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, self-nominated, and finished second.

Some potential candidates for People’s Deputies of Ukraine have not yet declared any intentions to run for this election but they have shown some noticeable activities. Local experts assume the possible candidates could also be Serhiy Lisovyi, a deputy of Cherkasy regional council from the “Servant of the People” party, a deputy head of the council; and a deputy of Cherkasy regional council from the “For the Future,” a wife of the city mayor, Valeriya Bondarenko. Head of the “Servant of the People” faction in the regional council, Serhiy Lisovyi, is attending events along with the current RSA head, Oleksandr Skichko. Valeriay Bondarenko is a leader of the region’s wing of the “For the Future” party. Their publicity has notably increased recently. Ivan Stepanets, a public activist, has also shown high activity levels in the constituency. He posted outdoor advertising and has been massively represented in the published materials (with elements of paid hit pieces) in the printed media.

The political people and candidates are ready to jump. The nature of the by-elections in constituency 197 in Cherkasy region will be determined by voters and by the law-enforcement. Are we going to see the democratic elections or the unfair political struggle?

Zakhar Kolisnichenko, OPORA observation coordinator at elections in Cherkasy Oblast, exclusive for ZN.UA.