Posts Tagged ‘local governance’

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Gaidar becomes Presidential Adviser – Why, and why now?

April 5, 2017

As unusual as it is to read anything so clearly favorable about a Ukrainian politician on this blog, or to write about a politician rather than policy per se, the following prose will be something of an exception.

Maria Gaidar has featured in the blog several times having arrived in Ukraine, being granted Ukrainian citizenship (and relinquishing her Russian citizenship), and subsequently acting as Deputy Head of Odessa Oblast Administration under Governor Misha Saakashvili.

She is perhaps the closest thing Ukraine currently has to political aristocracy, albeit her political aristocracy is rooted in Russia via her late father Yegor Gaidar (Prime Minister of the Russian Federation 15 June – 14 December 1992) and Great Grandfather Arkady Gaidar.

Nevertheless there are few, if any current Ukrainian politicians that can claim 4 generations of political lineage that have all featured at the pinnacle of national policy shaping.

(She also worked with an old friend of this blog, the late Boris Nemtsov.)

All of that said, to be fair, it is all somewhat irrelevant even if interesting.

What matters is what, if anything, Ms Gaidar not only accomplished, but how she went about it, as a Ukrainian politician in Odessa since her adoption of Ukraine (or perhaps vice versa).

Having met her several times, she is undoubtedly one of the best mannered, humble, accessible and intelligent women in Ukrainian politics – and certainly to grace the political and policy stage of Odessa.

She is clearly more than capable of acting upon a stage far greater than Odessa Oblast and yet decided to remain as a local Deputy in the Oblast Rada when the rest of “Team Saakashvili” moved on/was eased out/quit and headed to Kyiv, thus honouring her public mandate.

She has remained a solid, reliable, conscientious, almost media invisible Oblast Deputy who has, so far as can be ascertained, avoided the usual trips and traps of local governance corruption.

She also did a decent job, where it was possible, at clearing up the unintended mess left behind by Hurricane Saakashvili as he whirled around the Oblast when she was his Deputy (while allowing the intended devastation to do what it was intended to do) .

It follows therefore that the blog has no issue with the surprise appointment of Maria Gaidar as Presidential Adviser.   She is certainly brighter and far less tainted than many within the Presidential Administration.

Two questions however – Why, and why now?

Is Ms Gaidar deemed a “Saakashvili legacy” by the new Governor of Odessa, akin to an unwanted fly in his soup – and thus this appointment giving opportunity to have her officially out of Odessa often, despite her local public mandate?

Is it nothing more than a cheap. non point scoring poke at The Kremlin?

Is it a poke at Misha Saakashvili?

Is it an attempt by the Presidential Administration to lure some former “Team Saakashvili” people across?  (Albeit Ms Gaidar was clearly different in her approach to her work than the majority of that team – publicly at least.)

Cynicism asks whether Kyiv simply bereft of smart people to advice the President?

Are there other reasons, be they less than obvious or distinctly motivated by events behind the curtain, for this appointment?

And why now?

For almost a year Ms Gaidar has been, by choice, a lowly Oblast Deputy having resigned as former Governor Saakashvili’s Deputy when the Law on Civil Service came into force in May 2016.  She has been left to fester in Odessa in a political position far below her abilities, so what has now changed to warrant her appointment as a Presidential Adviser (along side her local mandate)?

Is this a reward for perceived loyalty to the President and/or people of Odessa because she did not abandon her responsibilities in Odessa and follow Misha Saakashvili?

It has to be said the appointment is a surprise, and although she is more than equal to the role, the questions of why, and why now, thus far provides for few convincing answers.  Nevertheless President Poroshenko has made this appointment for a reason and that may become clearer only later.

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Odessa Port Side shuts down

December 30, 2016

Having twice failed to privatise the Odessa Port Side plant during 2016, and with debts mounting to creditors such as Naftogaz, the decision has been taken to temporarily, or perhaps better stated indefinitely, close the plant down with effect from 30th December.

ops

Valery Gorbatko, the plant Director since 1986 has resigned – which for any eventual buyer or State operational reshuffle/efficiency/transparency policy for the plant is no bad thing.  Accepting that resignation promptly would be a wise move.

From now the cost to the State will be dramatically reduced to those of maintenance and salaries – minor costs in comparison to running the plant with a (currently) low global demand for product and high gas demands to produce it.

It remains an open question as to when or even if a buyer (or long term leaser) will be found for Odessa Port Side.

Some 2017 national budgetary discipline implemented before 2016 has ended?

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Odessa – Write your own headline (It would be funny if it weren’t so sad)

December 28, 2016

In local news a headline appeared that simply demanded further reading.  It read “In Odessa region a school toilet was inaugurated:  A ribbon cutting and dancing”.

It has to be said that your author’s parents always took a very dim view of what they termed “toilet humour”, which in their definition had little to do with funny toilets or anecdotes about ablutions and the physical activities that occur within, but rather humour that was more than a little “off colour” or “beyond the pale”.

However, erudite as the readership of this blog is, there will be those that will create their own headlines for this event, and others that will find the entire event “off colour”.

One of the rural schools in Rozdilna Rayon (Odessa Oblast) quite literally had a ribbon cutting event to open a toilet at the school!

The grand toilet opening (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

The grand toilet opening (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

Perhaps it is right that toilets in a school are a reason to be celebrated – particularly if there have been none prior.  A reader may ponder just how many student hours have been saved in the absence of “Please Miss, can I go to the toilet?” if there is no toilet to go to.

Nevertheless, most readers would expect that a nation that can provide electricity, heating, teachers and an education at a school in rural Ukraine, to also be able to provide ablutions.  Surely toilets in a school are more of an expectation than something to celebrate?

It has to be said that the blog gets invitations to various events, many of which are nothing more than the official opening of an official envelope, an hour or so of polite chit-chat and perhaps a few nibbles and away.

Not once has an invitation arrived to attend the opening of a school toilet.  Clearly the blog sits upon the wrong distribution/invitation lists for such events.  However, over the past decade or more in Odessa, there is no recollection of a ribbon cutting ceremony for a school toilet.

New school toilets (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

New school toilets (Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

Readers, ask ye not where are the doors, for no answer can be given.  Perhaps the juvenile sensitivities of rural Ukrainian pupils are far less than those of the juvenile sensitivities of its urban school children.  All things considered, perhaps this is a such a step to modernity (and sanitation) compared to what existed before.  A reader may well ask what existed before.  Perhaps the children were simply defecating in the school playground for the amusement of lost tourists passing by?

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

How many local politicians and dignitaries actually get invited, and turn up, and take part in ribbon cutting ceremonies for school toilets?  Obviously Felix Segal the current Chairman of the District Council decided it was a worthy photo op – as did several other officials.

With such a major blessing being bestowed upon the school, a reader is now wondering where the dancing girls are.  Fear not, some female students indeed put on a dance to celebrate they can now, albeit unladylike owing to the toilet design being little more than a wipe clean hole in the floor, go to the toilet.

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

(Photo courtesy of Dumskaya)

What school principle has their teenage females dancing for officials to celebrate the opening of a school toilet – something which the school should have.

How to interpret this entire event?

To be angry and dismayed that school toilets are now ribbon cutting PR events for local politicians?  Undoubtedly.  That school principles have their girls dance in gratitude for such retro-Soviet privacy-less ablutions?  Certainly.

Yet mindful of a father that forever proclaimed “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit” it is still rather difficult not to arrive at numerous sarcastic headlines.

“Pupils who couldn’t give a sh*t before, now do!”

“Ukraine takes another step toward Europe – toilets opened in schools with due pomp and ceremony!”

“Ukraine leaps ahead of Europe with the ultimate socially  liberal “no privacy” toilets for school kids!”

“Environmentally friendly Ukraine bans natural and man-made doors on school toilets”

“Scandal at Ukrainian rural school – pupils resort to wiping their arse with ribbon due to toilet paper shortage” (there’s none in the photos).

Naturally when the costs of the toilets becomes known and the inevitable budget plundering scandal rears its inevitable head, the toilet humour headlines will not end there.

In the meantime, a reader is left to make their choice of dismay that school toilets have become ribbon cutting events with dancing girls (pupils), or whether in the festive period to engage in their own headline writing for this incredibly bizarre PR event.

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Civil Service reform – 12 months later, sabotage?

December 27, 2016

One year ago, the blog lauded the passing into statute of a new civil service law, a law that addressed two significant historical issues – “…..the Ukrainian civil service has frequently appeared as a source of disillusionment and frustration.  The reasons for this have been many, but primarily relate to two distinct causes – the first legislatively, and the second functionally (as has oft been stated here…..”.

That entry however contained a caveat – “It now falls to civil society and the diplomatic corps to defend this law from politically sabotaging “amendments”, but it also now falls of the Europeans that stated they would fund the civil service reform to do so effectively not only financially, but with no small amount of leadership and determination when it comes to making the law work as it is intended.”

So where are we at 1 year later?

This entry will not concentrate upon the usual failures associated with Ukrainian policy, be that policy good, bad, or counterproductive – the usual failures of implementation.

It is sufficient to say that implementation is at the very least problematic, and also that the processes employed to deliver results/civil service appointments have been far from transparent nor the standards consistent when carrying out the basic legislative requirements of civil service appointment.

(Let us not dare speak of the seamless functioning of an effective national nervous system – which any civil service actually is.)

Shoddy, less than transparent and inconsistent implementation and internal processes aside, that such really rather good legislation has survived 12 months without sabotage is in itself worthy of note.  Those hardened souls that have several times had to scramble to man the ramparts to beat back attempts at sabotaging this statute have managed to do so – thus far.

Those battlements will have to be robustly manned once again in 2017, for sabotage is once more at the gates.

MP Artur Gerasimov has submitted Draft Bill 4370-1 which would effectively destroy much of the right-minded text within the current statute.  His proposed amendments would critically undermine the a-political and professional civil service the current legislation provides statutory framework for.

Not good when institutional independence, structure and processes have to be robust enough to repel political shenanigans if Ukraine is to move forward with a fully functioning State nervous system.

ger

Who then (and perhaps what) is Artur Gerasimov, that would seek to undo one of the very few laws of real quality that the Verkhonvna Rada has managed to pass (and that came into effect from 1st May 2016)?

Mr Gerasimov is a parliamentarian from the presidential party.  Indeed he is a recognised “presidential representative” within the Verkhovna Rada.  Ergo that the President is unaware of Draft Law 4370-1 being submitted by his Verkhovna Rada envoy is somewhat unlikely.  The question is whether Mr Gerasimov submits it (deniably) on behalf of The Bankova and by extension President Poroshenko – or not.

If not, then who does he submit such a toxic Draft Bill for?

Without providing an unnecessary curriculum vitae and full personal history, a brief outline of the last few years is sufficient to paint a picture of this legislative assassin.

Skimming over his various scandals mostly contained within the Donbas, it is sufficient to state that he is closely associated with Sergei Shakhov a dubious “businessman” (read organised crime) from Luhansk.  Mr Shakhov in turn is closely associated with former Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, part of “The Family” that formed the elite of the former Yanukovych regime.

Indeed Mr Gerasimov stood for election to the Verkhovna Rada in a single mandate seat ably supported by the shadowy team of Sergei Shakhov.  Part of that team was Igor Bezler and his organised thuggery – yes the Igor Bezler of Donbas warlord and “separatist” infamy.  That is not to imply Mr Gerasimov has any (overt) separatist tendencies.  Mr Bezler’s participation in the election campaign of Artur Gerasimov clearly occurred long before the current events within the Donbas.  Nevertheless Mr Bezler and team were employed for the purposes of intimidation and voter bribery.

The outcome however was that Mr Gerasimov came second in the single mandate vote for his constituency and therefore did not reach the Verkhovna Rada (and lobby for/defend the interests of Mr Shakhov and others in his orbit).

During that failed 2012 election campaign, Mr Gerasimov did not hide the fact that he was in the orbit of Petro Poroshenko.

A reader will not be surprised therefore that Mr Gerasimov eventually made it to the Verkhovna Rada in 2014, not by winning a single mandate seat, but via the plain sailing of proportional representation and the party list of President Poroshenko’s party.

poro

Indeed it appears Mr Gerasimov and President Poroshenko go way back – although specifically how and why remains somewhat opaque.  Nevertheless as President Poroshenko puts loyalty ahead of ability, for him to tap Mr Gerasimov as the presidential representative within the Verkhovna Rada in May 2016, there is some form of personal bond and/or understanding.

Whatever the case, unsubstantiated rumour has it that Mr Gerasimov was selling candidacy for single mandate seats, as well as for local governance, for the presidential party during the elections having been given a party list spot and the Donetsk region to “administer” for the presidential party electioneering.  (Maxim Efimov is apparently one such successful buyer and two stories broke in local media in two locations by candidates allegedly wronged.)

Also closely associated with Mr Gerasimov is MP Oleg Nedavoy.  Mr Nedavoy is inextricably and undeniably linked to the wanted and much loathed Yuri Ivanyushchenko, a close ally of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

There is perhaps no need to continue and sufficient has been written for a read to draw their own conclusions about the character and morality of Mr Gerasimov.

From this glossary however, it is difficult to see who benefits (the most) from Mr Gerasimov’s Draft Bill 4370-1 if not The Bankova, or those most trusted by the President to (deniably) misuse the system the “right way” – Messrs Granovsky, Kononenko and Berezenko.

If this draft Bill passes through the Verkhovna Rada then toxic executive political interference will once again legitimately sully and/or mortally wound the internal workings of the civil service.  The President will then either sign it into law if the cacophony of shrieks and screams from European “friends” and Ukrainian civil society prove not to be loud and rude enough, or he can veto it and the issue can be internally spun as a false flag for external consumption and “proof” of an unwavering trudge toward European normative.

If the Europeans and Ukrainian civil society have any sense however, the maximum efforts will be made to have this Draft Bill withdrawn, or smothered by the relevant Verkhovna Rada committee before it ever gets as far as a vote.  A large diplomatic stick should be wielded now – proactively.

Still, regular readers all knew that quality legislation would sooner or later be subjected to attempts at sabotage – it always is in Ukraine.  That’s why 1 year ago the blog warned that would be the case.

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The new Governor of Odessa is (not going to be a media celebrity) Maxim Stepanov

December 20, 2016

A few days ago an entry appeared listing the 31 candidates to replace Misha Saakshvili as Governor of Odessa, and within which made brief observation of the most suitable (and unsuitable) applicants.

After tests, situational tasks, and interviews a winner has emerged.

Maxim Stepanov scored the most points and is now awaiting presidential appointment.

Naturally Maxim Stepanov is not Misha Saakashvili and most readers will have never even heard of him.  The international media are unlikely to be beating down his door for an interview either.

So a few lines about Mr Stepanov.

max-stepanov

He is 42, graduated from Donetsk State Medical University in the late 1990s and then further studied International Economics at Kyiv National Economic University, completing his studies in 2004.

He has worked in both the private and public sector.  His early public sector resume consists of roles within energy.

The last decade has been spent thus; 2003/04 – Deputy Chairman of the State Tax Authority.  2004 -08, Chairman of the National Legal Union.  2008-10 Mr Stepanov was the First Deputy Head of the Odessa Regional Administration, thereafter Viktor Yanukovych came to power and he was banished from political life and exiled in a purely civil service role as the Director of Ukraine Printing Plant – the entity charged with producing passports, driving licences et al. – where he has sat ever since.

Clearly Mr Stepanov is a man well versed in Ukrainian bureaucracy and not indifferent to the politics of Odessa having previously spent 2 years within the Odessa Regional Administration.  Thus the tedious, systematic, boring and predictable work of a governor will no doubt be well within his grasp.

It now falls to President Poroshenko to appoint him and bring him in from political exile to fill the most senior civil service role in the oblast.

* * * * *

A note to readers – You are all granted a 48 hour hiatus from the daily churn of the blog as your author will be traveling.

 

 

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Local elections, the CEC, and political control by proxie – Ukraine

December 18, 2016

December witnesses local elections in several areas in Ukraine.  11th December and 18th December respectively saw voting in newly formed combined territorial communities designed to best leverage local politics (in particular budgets) within “decentralisation” – or so the theory goes.

Clearly at the time of writing the results of 18th December voting is unknown.

Results from 11th December are known.

Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party secured 123 local deputies, in part because when it comes to party outreach into local politics Batkivshchyna has always had the best party administrative set up in Ukraine.  No other party can or does come close to Batkivshchyna when it comes to the number of local and regional party offices.

A reader may ponder just how well Batkivshchyna would do if it were actually a real political party if only it could free itself from being nothing more than a political vehicle for Yulia Tymoshenko.  It could then develop some genuine policies that define what the party stands for rather than having to cope with Ms Tymoshenko’s ego, her empty populist rhetoric, and politically expedient flip-flopping.

When it comes to the number of elected deputies, second with 86 came Nash Krai, and Block Poroshenko coming third with 60 elected officials.

As regular readers will know however, Nash Krai is a technical party created by The Bankova (Presidential Administration) to split the Opposition Block (former Party of Regions) vote in October 2014.  This it successfully did and has continued to do.

That is not to imply that Nash Krai is without agency.  It certainly can and does do its own political thing and also votes in the interests of its parliamentarians (not necessarily its constituents) – ergo not always in line with the designs of the President or Government does it vote.  That however is within the parameters expected of a technical party if the facade of independence is to be projected.  When it truly counts support for The Bankova is expected.

However, Nash Krai as a technical party may prove to be problematic in the near future.  It is starting to convincingly out perform Block Poroshenko at the ballot box frequently.  Technical parties also expensive.  Not only does Block Poroshenko require financing, so does Nash Krai.  If finances are diminishing and the electorate continue to swell the Nash Krai machinery via electoral success after electoral success, then sooner or later the tail may start to wag the dog.

That tail wagging dog issue may start in the provinces, but eventually it may reach the centre.  This combined with quality local candidates preferring to run for parties other than that of the president will, by extension, make the next Verkhovna Rada elections interesting.  Even if (or when) state administrative resources are misused by the current powers that be to further their cause, how likely is it that it will be returned the largest party?

For now The Bankova’s pet project (Nash Krai) may remain loyal when required to be so – but for how long?

It is perhaps now necessary to focus upon how well it does vis a vis Block Poroshenko in every electoral vote henceforth, for losing control of the provinces because a pet project goes rouge will have an impact come larger national elections if the decentralised local budgets cannot be abused for the electioneering benefit of those at the centre of power.   Things begin to fray at the edges – and can completely unwind if care is not taken.

(Lo it is no surprise that since new legislation came into force in May 2016, new regional Governors selected by transparent “competition” have all been Block Poroshenko.)

cec

Further, these elections occur under an illegitimate Central Election Committee.  As noted in an October entry, 12 of the 15 CEC members have long since lost their legal mandates to be part of the CEC.  That elections continue under a clearly illegitimate CEC is no surprise.  (The entry also explains why the current electoral laws are unlikely to change.)

As stated in the aforementioned link – “However, despite any and all the political rhetoric that will surround the CEC issue prior to the year end, it seems extremely unlikely that those who currently compose the current CEC will be changed or be given new mandates.

Firstly the budget and other legislative matters will simply take priority.  Thus it follows that the issue will (once again) be put on the back-burner.  Sometime in early 2017 would appear to be the most hopeful (perhaps even fanciful) time frame when it will be addressed.   Secondly a reader may question any real political desire to actually do anything about changing the current CEC composition, providing doubt that early 2017 is indeed realistic.

As is always the case in Ukraine far too much attention will be given to who is put forward for the CEC positions rather than the institution, its role, and the legislation that it is charged with implementing and overseeing – and that legislation is certainly poor.”

Since that entry was written, the Chairman of the Central Election Committee, Mikhail Ohendovsky is now subject to criminal investigation by NABU (the anti corruption agency).  Thus the “fanciful” early 2017 timeline in the above quote may now be a little more realistic.  With the Chairman subject to criminal investigation and 12 of 15 committee members with mandates that expired in June 2014 it remains to be seen just how much longer this can be willfully ignored.

Thus the usually headline avoiding local elections this December may yet again avoid the headlines – but (local governance and local democracy aside) they act as a timely reminder of increasing reliance upon The Bankova technical party Nash Krai in the provinces by the Poroshenko centre and the prospect of tail wagging dog, and also the potential time frame for dealing with the still willfully unaddressed CEC issues.

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31 candidates to replace Misha Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa. Who’s who?

December 16, 2016

Although most readers will not be particularly interested in the replacement for Misha Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa, having written an occasional  few lines on the subject as potential candidates expressed interest, a full list therefore follows now that candidate applications are closed.

Surprisingly Pavel Zhebrivskyi, the former head of the Donetsk military and civil administration is not listed.  Sadly, for his eccentricity, flamboyance, questionably effeminate nature, and pure entertainment value Garik Korogodski is also absent.

Those successfully registering their candidacy are as follows (and appear in no particular order):

Igor Romanenko, Alexandr Vashenko, Alexandr Ostapenko, Sergei Pomazan, Elizabeth Pyshko-Tsibylyak, Volodymyr Levitskyi, Artem Vaschilenko, Vladislav Grigorchyk, Gennady Chekita, Dmitry Sokolyanskyi, Roman Saromaga, Anatoli Vorohaev, Volodymyr Gavrish, Yulia Melnik, Vasily Horbal, Igor Smirnov, Alexandr Tymoshenko, Valeri Stepanov, Dmitry Spivak, Maxim Berdnik, Oksana Tomchuk, Maxim Stepanov, Alexandr Vinglovskyi, Igor Skosar, Sergei Mazur, Petro Lykyanchuk, Hanna Trifan, Yevgene Chernvonenko and Yuri Chizhmar.

who

The most (in)famous among the candidates was the first to throw his hat into the ring, Yevgene Chernovenko – a member of Tymoshenko’s first government and also a former Governor.  A man that if allowed to emerge the winner will have clearly have had to strike a deal with The Bankova to do so as his loyalty to the president is not exactly robust historically.

Gennady Chekita may have no loyalty issues as far as The Bankova is concerned (he is the MP for the Malinovsky district elected under Block Poroshenko and Verkhovna Rada Economics Committee member) but it is questionable if he will to be allowed to emerge the winner as it would mean a by-election for his single mandate seat – which may not go the way of Block Poroshenko.

Another current MP in the Verkhovna Rada is Yuri Chizhmar of the Radical Party – and therefore unlikely to get the tacit nod from The Bankova to emerge as the top candidate for a region as strategic as Odessa (both geographically and by way of large, healthy, illicit money channels).

The current Mayor of Balta, Sergei Mazur is also a candidate.

Also among those holding local governance office previously are former Governor Vasliy Horbal, former Vice-Mayor Anatoly Vorohaev, a former chairman of a Regional State Administration, Volodymyr Gavrish and former City Deputy Dmitry Spivak.  Also former Deputy Governor of Luhansk Elizabeth Pyshko-Tsibylyak.   Last but by no means least from the civil service , former Odessa Deputy Governor and Deputy of the Tax Administration Maxim Stepanov.  Also former Deputy Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ihor Romanenko is noted for his inclusion, and before leaving matters military, “Cyborg” (Donetsk Airport veteran) Alexandr Tymoshenko also appears.

There are also several candidates from the current Odessa Regional Administration, Sergei Pomazan, Yulia Melnik and Volodymyr Levitskyi.

Of the remaining names of any note (without any research) Chairman of the Ukrainian Business Support Centers (and “widows son”) Artem Vaschilenko then leaves but one.

The last name is Alexandr Ostapenko a former City Deputy and former Deputy Head of the Regional State Administration.  Of all the names, prima facie, Mr Ostapenko is perhaps the individual most easily identified as suited to the methodical, systematic, bureaucratic, boring work associated with the office of a regional governor.

Nevertheless, who ever emerges from the “competition” to replace Misha Saakashvili will be ranked first and foremost by their loyalty to the president.  Any dubious history and their ability to do the job will be of secondary importance.  There is simply no way an oblast like Odessa will be allowed to have a governor that is not loyal to the president first and foremost.

All hats are now thrown in the ring and therefore a reader may perhaps tentatively decide to rank them by way of loyalty to the president, overt party affiliation (if any), and latterly ability, for within that scoring matrix is any real competition for the post.

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