The Ukrainian party Ukrop's candidate Borys Filatov appears to have won a key mayoral election on November 15 in the country's fourth largest city of Dnipropetrovsk despite the arrest of Ukrop founder Gennady Korban on October 31.
The vote is a setback to the attempts of President Petro Poroshenko to sideline Filatov, Korban and their billionaire business partner oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, whose business empire is based in Dnipropetrovsk.
Run-off elections were held in 29 municipalities in Ukraine where no candidate won 50% or over of the vote in the first round on October 26. The main surprise result was the apparent victory of Filatov in the key industrial city, despite having come second in the first round of voting on October 26.
Exit polls pointed to Filatov taking 62% to beat former Dnipropetrovsk governor and deputy prime minister Oleksandr Vilkul of the Opposition Bloc, a pro-Russian party. Vilkul won the first round of voting, but as in all cases where no candidate won 50% or over, the vote went to a run-off round.
"This was the toughest trial of my life. Lies, raids, arrests, monstrous accusations, deception, betrayal by the authorities. But I stood firm and never for a moment doubted in our victory," Filatov wrote on Facebook in the early hours of November 16.
The election victory in Dnipropetrovsk follows the controversial arrest on October 31 of the founder of Ukrop, Gennady Korban, on charges of embezzlement and illegal abduction, after the party put in a strong showing in regional elections on October 26.
Korban's arrest was widely regarded as politically motivated, as the party's main financial backer Ihor Kolomoisky, Korban's business partner, is in open conflict with Poroshenko's administration. The likely winner, Filatov, is also a business partner of Kolomoisky and Korban.
Dnipropetrovsk is the seat of the Kolomoisky-owned PrivatBank, Ukraine's largest, and also of an industrial empire loosely organised around the bank. Kolomoisky was governor of Dnipropetrovsk February 2014-March 2015, with the now arrested Korban as deputy governor. Poroshenko fired Kolomoisky's team in March 2015 in a conflict with the oligarch over control of state-owned energy companies.
The Poroshenko administration was seen to be backing Vilkul from the Opposition Bloc in the mayoral race against Filatov, with the presidential party Bloc Peto Poroshenko (BPP) fielding a weak candidate in the first round. Vilkul is a former ally of ousted ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, under whom he served as governor of Dnipropetrovsk region and as deputy prime minister.
Other mayoral run-offs went largely as expected, with incumbent mayor of capital Kyiv Vitaly Klichko taking around 65% of the vote against independent nationalist candidate Boryslav Bereza. In West Ukrainian Lviv, incumbent Andriy Sadoviy, founder of the Samopomich party, took 61% against Ruslan Koshulynsky of the nationalist Svoboda Party.
BPP candidates seems set to lose in two other regional capitals, besides Dnipropetrovsk. In East Ukraine industrial centre Zaporizhzhya, an independent candidate Volodymyr Buryak seen as close to Opposition Bloc appears to have defeated BPP's Mykola Frolov,, while in West Ukraine's Ivano-Franzisk region, Ruslan Martsinkiv from the Svoboda party appears to have defeated BPP's Ihor Nasalyk
The decision to hold a run-off round in municipal elections was introduced in 2015 and seen as an attempt to boost pro-Western candidates' chances in the municipal elections, with pro-Western voters likely to unite behind a pro-Western candidate in the run-off round against any pro-Russian figure.
But the head of BPP's election campaign, first deputy head of BPP parliamentary group Ihor Kononenko, called that the decision "has not justified itself", in comments on November 15, as quoted by Interfax. Kononenko said that the turnout in the second round of election has been at a record low.
Average voter turnout was 34.08%. Lowest turnout was in East Ukraine's Kherson, where only 20.52% voted. In Kyiv only 28.35% voted, while in West Ukraine's Ternopil had the highest turnout with 55.67%.