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14 November, 2014  ▪  Roman Malko

Poroshenko’s Blunders

The President’s bloc is painfully reminiscent of Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party mixed with elements of Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions

The Ukrainian saying, “you can’t step into the same water twice” turned out to be false. Politicians can dive into the turbulent river of Ukrainian politics as many times as they please, and make the same blunders as well. What’s worse, nothing is learned with each successive misstep. Ukraine has already learned this lesson four times, each with terrible consequences. It’s an incredibly simple lesson, but one that hasn’t caught the attention of the country’s leaders. Rather than learn from their blunders, Ukraine’s politicians gladly repeat them again and again…

This political amnesia will undoubtedly be used in favor of the President’s Bloc of Petro Poroshenko (BPP). In the run up to the election, sociologists excitedly voiced rankings of electoral support ranging from 20.5% to 39.8%, so the bloc’s dominance remained unchanged in polls. The reason for this love of the new kid on the block is hard to explain. One need not be an expert analyst to understand that it will all end the same way it did the last time around. Love is cruel and blind. That’s how it was for National Democratic (ND) and Social Democratic parties (SDPU(o)) of Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s second president, for Nasha Ukrayina - Narodna Samooborona (Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense, OU-PSD) of the third president Viktor Yushchenko’s, and for Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions.

President Poroshenko made ​​a serious error by creating his ruling party, believes political analyst Oleksandr Solontay: “He made the same mistake as Kuchma (NDP), Yushchenko (OU-PSD), and Yanukovych (PR). He modernized the concept of the president's party with his Bloc of Petro Poroshenko. The name implies a redux of the short-lived party concept: this time for a single election. This is not even a party, but simply the name of an electoral headquarters.”

Judging from the BPP party list, every friend of the President with a desire to run and an inkling of support from the party staff was signed up. There are political allies, business partners, and fellow oligarchs, all diluted with a small number of new faces from the ranks of civil society activists and honest journalists who will most likely spend a lot of time and energy to fix their reputation after some time in power. If this project survives and stays afloat long enough, we can consider it a true miracle.

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President Poroshenko’s lack of real, reliable power has prompted him to seek allies. But UDAR alone will not suffice. Thus, he chose a losing team by partially betting on politicians against whom the entire country protested. Oligarchs, big business protégés, and politicians who use politics for business purposes - all people who know perfectly well what they want from the state. Unfortunately, today we can already say that the President’s political force is the same party of big business and nepotistic financial-oligarchic groups that view the government as a resource.Its chances are minimal, though many surprising things have happened in these difficult times, and the stellar rating of the BPP is a prime example. It began not long ago as an ordinary fake—a Polish Solidarity-style phantom party that existed solely on paper. That, however, did not prevent the BPP from teaming up with the very real UDAR, Vitaliy Klitschko’s party, and thus materializing. Today, UDAR is one of the pillars of the BPP. How long this pillar will stand depends on what model its development follows.

The latter are hardly on top of the party list, though still in the ‘safe area’ of the list guaranteed to receive parliamentary seats. There are nearly twenty obvious businessmen among the first hundred list members alone, including millionaire and fellow Vinnytsian Hryhoriy Zabolotnyi (the “caretaker” of Vinnytsia regional agribusiness), friend and business partner Ihor Kononenko, Valery Ishchenko (the second-wealthiest member of UDAR after Klitschko), businessman and banker Ihor Klymenko, Hryhoriy Shverk (partner of Chief of Staff Borys Lozhkin) pharmaceutical magnates Hlib Zahoriy and Oleh Kalashnikov, real estate professionals Mykhailo Hvozdyev and Oleksandr Hranovskyi, and controversial developer Lev Partskhaladze.

There are also lobbyists, such as Leonid Kozachenko, who allegedly represents the interests of the powerful tobacco and vodka corporations while their oligarch chiefs hide in the shadows. Davyd Makaryan is a friend of Kremlin “overseer” in Ukraine, Vadym Novynskyi, and Maksym Savrasov is associated with Oles Dovhyi, a notorious member of the ‘young team’ of Leonid Chernovetskyi, Kyiv’s one-time corrupt mayor. Ihor Palytsia and Vyacheslav Fridman are tied to oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi. Nataliya Ahafonova and Serhiy Tryhubenka are known to be Firtash’s people, while Olha Belkova (a close friend of ex-president Kuchma’s daughter Olena Franchuk) represents the Pinchuk family, and Nataliya Vasyliuk (hidden in the early-200s on the list) is the sister of Ukraine’s largest landowner, Oleh Bakhmatiuk. This is simply scratching the surface. If we look deeper, we find even more interesting characters, like the odious Davyd Zhvaniya in Odesa Oblast, or the entire clan of Viktor Baloha in Transcarpathia, including himself, two siblings and one cousin.

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With the motto “Time to unite”, it is natural to believe that the BPP’s main goal is to bring together the country’s strengths and resources for the purpose of its revival and restructuring. Or as the President’s supporters say, collect the highest-ranked pro-democracy candidates in order to minimize the number of Party of Regions and Communist members in the future parliament. But it is quite likely that there’s a less attractive side to this coin as well. This is an old and unchanging scheme that has stunted the country’s development for decades; it’s simply been reformulated and rebranded in the spirit of the time. The BPP is like a combination of Yushchenko’s democratic Our Ukraine--People’s Self-Defense Bloc and Yanukovych’s Party of Regions where there is no strict discipline and the oligarchs play first violin. But without discipline, the orchestra can hardly satisfy the demands of society, instead producing a continuous cacophony.

This whole structure was created to win elections, but without the proper conditions it can easily collapse. Cracks will emerge and it will crumble, as in Viktor Yushchenko’s party or the Party of Regions more recently. The most obvious potential defect of the BPP is the union with UDAR. It may turn out to be the strongest part of the BPP, despite talk about little reason in the integration of this party into the BPP before the local elections where UDAR members might want to run separately. In fact, many of the President’s new “dear friends” will switch parties just as soon as the political winds change.

Contrary to expectations, President Poroshenko unfortunately did not choose to be an exception to the archaic political rules of past presidents and thus created his own ruling party. Moreover, he made the uncommon choice of adorning it with his honest name. We can only guess as to why he did this and whether it was his own idea or someone’s suggestion. Most experts agree that this is a classic form of presidential majority with the pragmatic goal of concentrating all power in the hands of the president. Perhaps, Poroshenko well remembers what became of his buddy Viktor Yushchenko when he lost some of the presidential powers, so he decided to seize the moment and concentrate power in his hands now? “Time to unite!” rings out from the presidential camp, which without further ado, sets about implementing its state-building motto.

It is probably too early to judge whether the president has acted correctly. The situation in the country still requires a strong hand and a strong leader who is ready to assume full responsibility for decisions that are not always popular. This leader must have someone to lean on, and among the oligarchs, as we have seen, there may be a few patriots. The only thing is that the President now has enough powers to take decisive steps – what he needs is political will. But after months of hopeful talk, almost nothing has been done. Poroshenko’s unpopular actions have been minimized and are nearly invisible against the backdrop of popular ones. The President continues to solve problems in his own special way, without strain, using the remnants of the old system. He claims to have his own plan, but if it involves a combination of incongruous forces, then he might as well abandon it now.

One does not want to believe that Poroshenko’s goal is the monopolization of power and restoration of a “golden era” of Ukrainian oligarchy, or that as the product of business promiscuity, he is repeating the mistakes of his predecessors. The policy of reconciliation undertaken by the Presidential Administration is quite attractive, but now is unfortunately a wrong time for it. It could become a cruel joke. Poroshenko’s motley team would most likely keep him from implementing all of his wonderful promises, and reforms will have to be forgotten. Obviously, the President is trying not only to form a powerful political force but also to put his eggs in different baskets by making peace with everyone. These conclusions emerge against a backdrop of questionable manipulation and the surrender of several districts to the odious candidates from the past regime, as well as rumors of an agreement with the notorious ex-speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, or about negotiations with Serhiy Tihipko, whose Strong Ukraine some experts were inclined to see as a potential parliamentary bulwark for Poroshenko against Yatseniuk’s People’s Front.


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