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25 May, 2016  ▪  Bohdan Butkevych

Bankova's sparring partners

Is the President Administration ready for a snap election

After President Poroshenko managed, by hook and crook, to put Volodymyr Hroysman in the Prime Minister's chair, Ukrainian political elites went quiet. Not for good, but they definitely took a break. However, this quiet is deceptive. Everyone understands, and the Presidential Administration better than anyone else, that the contradictions and problems that became obvious during the Hroysman drama have not gone away. The public disappointment and the fatigue from the government that has failed to implement radical reforms are huge and bound to result in a power shift. So, Bankova is desperately looking for options to enter the electoral cycle with some chances of success. The coming summer months will be devoted to this quest. Some developments are already noticeable.

In Ukrainian politics, the only rule is: you never know what tomorrow brings. Still, as The Ukrainian Week wrote previously, elections are not likely to be held in 2016. First of all, this applies to the early election to the Verkhovna Rada, which seemed so close just a few weeks ago. However, the appointment of Volodymyr Hroysman as Premier has shown that the life instinct of the Ukrainian elites is still strong, especially when they are one step from the abyss. Both Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk understand perfectly well that the early parliamentary election would become their political grave, or at least bury their current duumvirate of power.

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That is why they agreed on the format of the further existence of the coalition that is more or less acceptable for both, so that each gets what he wants. Yatsenyuk preserved influence and important posts, conditionally upon his formal resignation, while Poroshenko obtained the formal consolidation of all branches of power under his aegis. However, the construction of the new coalition is rather fragile. Not only because of the narrow quantity of votes available in the PPB and the People's Front factions for critical decisions, but also due to the huge internal contradictions both between the President's and former Prime Minister's teams and within them. However, today the two leaders will do everything in their power to make this construction last for as long as possible.

The next test of strength for the coalition and the end of the current truce would be the introduction of the government's package of bills, code-named 'Cooperation with the IMF.' In fact, these bills were originated not in the Cabinet, but within the walls of the Presidential Administration. Chief of Staff Borys Lozhkyn said recently: "24 important bills should be adopted by the end of May, because this would determine whether Ukraine gets $1.7bn from the IMF, €705 million from the EU and the additional $1 billion under the guarantee of the US government. Overall, by the end of the year, another 129 bills should be developed and adopted by the Parliament as part of the cooperation with the IMF and the EU, most of which are the direct responsibility of the Cabinet." In particular, these bills would grant Ministers more power to appoint and dismiss deputies, state secretaries, heads of central executive authorities and their deputies.

It will be interesting to see what exactly of the above list Hroysman will introduce into Parliament and how he will do it, since all experts and political analysts say openly that the ex-speaker has a lot of ambitions and is not going to give them up. Actually, the adoption of the above documents would provide a starting point for the countdown to the launch of political development scenarios for the coming months.

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The first scenario would be the failure to adopt the package of bills, for example, in case the People's Front refuses to vote for them, or in the case of a conflict of interests or a simple lack of votes, which may well happen in both factions. This would trigger a chain reaction, which in theory should result in the collapse of the coalition and the early elections. However, this scenario seems strikingly unrealistic. First of all, it has to be understood that the coalition today has only two forces, to which, as we have said, it is vitally important to agree, because they are well aware that 90% of them have no chances of getting into the next Parliament. And there can be no doubt that Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk would try to find a compromise. Secondly, even if the conflict does begin, we should remember that the current parliamentary session ends in July. Hardly would anyone want to solve serious issues such as early elections in summer, or they will just have no time. During the six weeks of vacation, however, many things can be resolved. So, we can identify this scenario for the summer as the least likely.

The second scenario: PPB and the People's Front quietly agree, mobilize all their MPs, find or buy the needed votes in the Vidrodzhennya and Volya Narodu factions, and adopt the necessary bills. After that, they finish off peacefully the current session and go for a vacation to the Seychelles or any other destination that is fashionable today with our political upper crust. In this case, an early election is not on the agenda. This scenario appears to be the most realistic and the most likely.

However, it should be remembered that there are three more factions in the Parliament that were part of the coalition, but then sort of went into opposition, even though in fact they continue to cooperate with the Presidential Administration. These are Samopomich, Batkivshchyna, and Lyashko's Radical Party, who are now frantically looking for opportunities to somehow restore their influence. Therefore, the third scenario is associated primarily with them. It is also important to remember the Donbas factor or, more precisely, the possibility that the bill on the election in the occupied territories is adopted.

However, the Presidential Administration that is developing the bill is not going to accelerate the process. According to the sources of The Ukrainian Week, they are well aware that introducing this bill means giving the political crisis a second breath, since the coalition's minority stakeholders will use this trump card to rock the situation and bargain further on their 'appeasement' in exchange for posts and cash flows in the executive branch. Or for bringing the situation to an early election.

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It is worth reminding that the first one to leak the information about the alleged US requirement that Ukraine urgently adopts the law on election in the occupied territories, articulated by Victoria Nuland, was a Samopomich MP Viktoria Voytsitska. Besides, there are no votes for this bill even within the coalition. The People's Front categorically refuses to vote for any bills on the status of Donbas or the elections in the occupied territory until the Russian troops are withdrawn. Rumor has it that this is Oleksandr Turchynov's personal stand. Therefore, as informed sources claim, both the PA analyst 'situation room' run by Rostyslav Pavlenko and the Berezenko–Kononenko's 'room', which is another center of influence, advise the President to play for time as long as possible and prevent the election bill from appearing in Parliament.

So, the third scenario, that of the situation rocked by the three parliamentary factions of the 'new opposition' around the bill on elections in the occupied territories, seems possible, but only if the Presidential Administration decides to introduce the bill into the session hall.

However, if we look a little further than this summer, it will be clear that playing for time, which is today the only strategy of the Presidential Administration, cannot go on indefinitely and is counterproductive. Even if they manage to avoid the threat of early election in 2017 and 2018, there is no way to avoid the election scheduled for 2019. If someone thinks that it is still too far away, they are mistaken, because the cycle of election preparation on the part of the authorities begins at least eighteen months before the date of the vote. This is the so-called period of handing out carrots, ensuring allies, and finding acceptable opponents.

This is where the intrigue begins. Bankova's main trump today is that while finding a formal alternative to the PPB at the parliamentary level is not a problem, at the presidential level Petro Poroshenko has no rivals. Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovy apparently has not yet decided whether to run, and the incumbent head of state has no other high-ranking rivals on the horizon. So, we have to look at those available. In theory, either Yulia Tymoshenko or Yuriy Boyko from the Opposition Bloc could compete with Poroshenko.

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According to the information available to The Ukrainian Week, Bankova plans to use the good old technology of securing for the second round a convenient rival, who is bound to lose. Leonid Kuchma made sure Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko gets in the second round, while Viktor Yanukovych dreamt of repeating this trick with Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok if re remained in office through 2015. Today, Bankova is thinking who could be given the role of Poroshenko's sparring partner. According to our information, they lean toward the name of Tymoshenko. Despite her growing ranking based on the populist criticism of increased tariffs, she has a limited number of supporters (as her confrontation with Yanukovych during 2010 election has shown) and a considerable army of haters, which makes her an ideal rival. 

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