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8 March, 2016  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Petro Poroshenko Bloc: fragmentation

The presidential party's approach to forming party lists and selecting candidates for single-member constituencies has divided it into a multitude of groups and even more basically independent MPs

President Petro Poroshenko and his administration are now reaping the bitter fruits of their obviously negligent approach towards forming the party for the autumn 2014 elections. Through backroom deals, they brought a bunch of politicians that are difficult to control into parliament. And the party list was drawn up by taking almost anyone who was ready and willing to invest their own resources. Now, the president is faced with the grim prospect of losing control over a large part of his faction, which could have somewhat negative consequences as a de jure new coalition is formed.

Perhaps the best-controlled faction in the Verkhovna Rada ever was the Party of Regions. It certainly had its own informal groups, whose interests, or rather the interests of the oligarchs that brought them into parliament, often differed significantly. But a single wave of the hand from Mykhailo Chechetov, former first deputy head of the party’s faction in parliament who committed suicide in February 2015, worked wonders: Akhmetov's people, Firtash's people and Yefremov's people quickly started to press the right voting buttons on all decisions dictated from the Presidential Administration on Bankova Street. Hints of discontent reared their heads only at the very end of Yanukovych's reign: firstly during the sudden quick-march towards Europe, then at the culmination of the Maidan, when MPs finally realised that they were toast. And the Party of Regions was indeed a very real party with a lot of grassroots members, not to mention administrative resources. In short, it had large reserves to fall back on.

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Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB) is the complete opposite – a virtual structure created out of thin air to meet the needs of the newly elected president. The president now has at his disposal 136 MPs who often have very different interests, methods of getting into parliament and plans. They vote accordingly. The vote for the Cabinet's resignation dispels any doubts to the contrary. The major reason for this is that the president's party has never been united and consolidated over the entire term of this parliament. This makes the Rada one of the main obstacles to reforms. Some would say that, on the contrary, all is well – "at least there's no Communist Party". But it is hard to accept the fact that a party is often incapable of reaching a common position on the issues. Although now that Mr. Poroshenko has clearly said that he will not allow early elections under any circumstances, these people will most likely come to yet another compromise, which does not at all mean that they will start to work together constructively.

Experts have identified a number of informal groups within the PPB. First and foremost is the subgroup led by the Ihor Kononenko–Serhiy Berezenko tandem with the assistance of Oleksandr Granovskyi. Until recently, the president's "dear friend" Kononenko was deputy chairman of the party, but formally left this post after the recent high-profile corruption scandals revealed with the resignation of then Economy Minister Abramovicius. But in no way did he lose his influence and effective status as the president's "enforcer" in parliament. Around 25 MPs belong to his personal influence group, which he put together over more than a year of "sorting out" business in the Rada on behalf of Poroshenko. These deputies notably did not vote for Yatsenyuk's resignation. This subgroup is almost the only one that can be called personally loyal to Poroshenko and its members are the main spokesmen for the president's interests. Interestingly, Yuriy Lutsenko, the experienced and feisty head of the parliamentary party, does not play the role in it that he would really like. Many businessmen, such as Dmytro Andriyevskyi, are not part of this group, but maintain very good relations with it. There are also several MPs that are personally aligned with the president, but are not included in Kononenko's influence group. The most striking examples are Iryna Herashchenko or ex-journalist Volodymyr Aryev.

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In addition, there is an interesting group of "farmers" – the agrarian lobby that journalists are so fond of talking about. It includes people like Andriy Vadaturskyi and Arkadiy Kornatskyi; Leonid Kozachenko is known as its informal leader. Agricultural tycoon Yuriy Kosiuk, former deputy chief of staff, is their main patron. The agro-lobby has people in other parties too, but this is just about the only group in the PPB united by purely economic interests.

Then comes the so-called UDAR grouping. Although the party itself is long gone and its brightest members dispersed to other factions, its group persists in parliament. Moreover, rumour has it that Vitaliy Klitschko himself tries to keep in touch with them. The group includes Nataliya Novak, Serhiy Alekseyev, Taras Kutovyi, who Bankova still dreams of seeing as agriculture minister, Valeriy Patskan and others. However, most of these MPs have in fact long been the president's people. For example, Oksana Yurynets, who the Presidential Administration tried to use as their candidate for the last mayoral elections in Lviv, or Oksana Prodan, who is said to have knocked on every door in search of a cushy position in the executive branch, but to no avail. Perhaps the most eye-catching representatives of this subgroup, Yehor Firsov and Viktor Chumak, initially switched to another, then recently left the PPB altogether.

After mentioning Firsov and Chumak, it is impossible not to mention the Anti-Corruption Platform that has been operating in the depths of the PPB since last autumn. Apart from these two MPs, it was joined by former journalists Mustafa Nayyem, Serhiy Leshchenko, Svitlana Zalishchuk and a few others. High hopes were put on them from the start – there were almost expectations that the "euro-optimist" subgroup would seize power from within the party. Many hoped that their numbers would grow with each passing day. But, when it was time to get down to serious business – the attempt to force Ihor Kononenko to give up his seat because of high-profile corruption allegations, the Anti-Corruption Platform was obviously in the minority. In fact, no one else in the party supported it. This was Firsov's declared reason for leaving the PPB.

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Rumours link another group of MPs in close enough contact with the UDAR group to odious Yanukovych-era chief-of-staff Serhiy Liovochkin.  These allegedly include names like Vitaliy Chepynoha, Yulia Tymoshenko and Vitaliy Klitschko's former speechwriter, ex-journalist Olga Chervakova, as well as former UDAR member Nataliya Ahafonova, among others. It is not possible to say that Liovochkin is pursuing a certain distinct policy within the PPB. He is simply a man who from the very beginning built his career not only on the position of his father – head of the Donetsk Oblast prison service – but also an ability to put his eggs in all baskets at once.

Worth mentioning is another long-time “dear friend” of Poroshenko – oligarch Oleksandr Tretyakov, who is officially the deputy head of the parliamentary party. Few MPs are directly aligned with this man – eight to ten – but they are important figures. For example, Hlib Zahoriya, who is tipped for a ministerial post in the new Cabinet. Chief-of-staff  Borys Lozhkin has protégés in the PPB too, zealously protecting his domains in both the executive branch (Ministry of Infrastructure) and the legislative.

There are some very small influence groups, such as that of controversial Odesa MP Oleksiy Honcharenko, Oleksiy Kostusyev's son. It includes, for instance, Dmytro Holubov, head of the so-called Internet Party of Ukraine, who is associated with the Darth Vader performances during election campaigns.

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The above influence groups by no means include all MPs. Most deputies in both the PPB and parliament as a whole are just a faceless crowd who solve their own little issues without having serious support or being part of a fixed interest group. Therefore, they often vote as the party leaders say. These are the aforementioned "dear friends": Kononenko, Berezenko, Granovskyi and Tretyakov. As a result, every decision that Bankova manages to get through the party has to be paid for in sweat and blood, simply because the members of the president's parliamentary branch are largely not people from his team. The whole country can feel the negative aspects of this situation, wondering why parliament is so inefficient on a daily basis. But the PPB is its largest party. So the answer seems to be on the surface. 


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