Will Natalia Korolevka’s ambitions work in favor of the ruling party?
Ahead to the upcoming parliamentary election, people in former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s camp are taking great pains to keep even the slightest internal rifts away from voters' eyes. Moreover, the bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko (BYuT) was a leading force on Unity Day when key opposition groups declared they were uniting in order to coordinate actions based on agreements previously reached in the Committee to Resist Dictatorship. However, the real state of affairs is that both BYuT members and different opposition parties lack mutual understanding.
Another signal that something is rotten in the kingdom of Tymoshenko was when the BYuT-Fatherland parliamentary faction reprimanded Harehin Arutiunov, Vadym Trofymenko and Natalia Korolevska, who left Fatherland in late December 2011 to become the leader of the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party (USDP), which is also a member of the BYuT bloc. The reason cited was an alleged breach of discipline.
“This is a normal working situation. All MPs signed the statute about the BYuT-Fatherland faction. It says, among other things, that an MP must be personally present at all meetings of the faction before the plenary day and personally participate and vote in plenary sessions,” BYuT-Fatherland MP Andriy Pavlovsky said, explaining the motivation behind the faction's decision. According to him, Korolevska failed to show up at Verkhovna Rada meetings for two weeks in a row and ignored every other meeting of the BYuT-Fatherland faction as well. His fellow party member Serhiy Soboliev says that disciplinary actions against MPs are a routine practice in the faction. Moreover, apart from Korolevska, all other members of Fatherland and Reforms & Order were disciplined.
Unofficially, however, a different scenario is being discussed: the reprimand is a reaction to Korolevska’s move to USDP. Two Fatherland MPs – Yevhen Suslov, former leader of Fatherland’s youth wing, and Oleksiy Lohvynenko – followed her lead.
There is a negative reaction inside the party to Korolevska's move. “She decided that her ambitions within the Fatherland party would be satisfied to a lesser degree than if she were to lead a friendly, but different, party – the USDP. In this way, even unaware of what she is really doing, she will be working for the Presidential Administration and the Party of Regions,” Pavlovsky maintains. He surmises that Korolevska and her party will enter the parliamentary election independently and that she may run for a seat in a majority district. “The USDP cannot clear the 5-percent threshold on its own but is quite capable of stripping Fatherland of three or four seats in parliament,” Pavlovsky says. This situation inclines BYuT members to believe that Korolevska is a technical project administered by the current government.
Indirect proof that Korolevska is on good terms with the authorities may be found in the words of Ihor Huzhva, the recently dismissed editor-in-chief of Rinat Akhmetov's newspaper Segodnya. In one of his recent interviews, he said that he had received recommendations from Alona Hromnytska, ex-Director General of the Segodnya Multimedia Publishing Holding (publisher of the newspaper) on several occasions to “write good things about Korolevska.” Tellingly, Party of Regions MPs have recently spoken well of her. “A new and young generation has emerged in the opposition. Now there is [Arseniy] Yatseniuk in the place of [Viktor] Yushchenko and Korolevska in the place of Tymoshenko. In order to save Fatherland from ultimate collapse, the old generation must hand the banner over to Korolevska,” Mykhailo Chechetov said.
“I would not want to think that the reason behind Korolevska’s move is pressure on her business and her yielding to the Presidential Administration. But I don't understand why she needs a political force that cannot make it into parliament. Blocs cannot participate in the election, but I don’t think she will disband the USDP and declare the party’s merger with Fatherland,” a Fatherland MP said.
Sources in the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party itself deny that they party wants to enter the race on its own. “No one, including myself, is speaking now about the USDP entering the election on its own. It is not that the party is not ready. We simply remain in the bloc. There are ongoing negotiations about Tymoshenko’s proposal to all opposition forces to make one list of candidates,” Suslov said. However, BYuT members polled byThe Ukrainian Week were unable to clearly explain what progress has been made in this process regarding the proportional system and what criteria would be used to distribute seats among participating parties.
THE “TURCHYNOV SYNDROME”
Unofficially, politicians are hypothesizing about one reason that may prompt loyal BYuT members to intentionally or unintentionally help the Party of Regions and which BYuT-Fatherland members flatly deny when speaking on record: a conflict between party members and Oleksandr Turchynov, whose position gained a serious boost when his close associate Andriy Kozhemiakin became head of the BYuT-Fatherland faction in parliament. Analysts also point to this version, which would explain tension inside Tymoshenko’s team. Political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko says: “That Korolevska and other people are distancing themselves is an indicator that not everyone is pleased with the way Turchynov and Kozhemiakin are running the faction.” Kozhemiakin has also obtained access to Tymoshenko as her defence counsel. So, Turchynov now has influence on decisions made by Tymoshenko, who at the moment has no other channels of information except her defence lawyers. At the same time, Turchynov has become Tymoshenko's voice in the party.
Korolevska is rumored to have striven for precisely this kind of leverage as she tried to rally around herself businessmen who stayed in the party after many other rich MPs defected to the Party of Regions. She began to appear in the mass media increasingly often and attracted attention with her constant participation in protest actions against the current government. She was even called the top candidate for the No. 1 place on Fatherland’s election list if Tymoshenko were unable to participate, but Korolevska denied this information on the number of locations.
New USDP members are unwilling to speak about any disagreements with Turchynov. However, sources in the team of one of the MPs who left Fatherland confirmed to The Ukrainian Week that certain tension does exist.
Analysts believe that several politicians who have split off will not have any impact on Tymoshenko’s party’s electorate. Political scientist Serhiy Taran believes that no BYuT-Fatherland representative has electoral support when isolated from the brand of this political force. Consequently, the only harm that these attempts to spin off independent projects before the parliamentary election can do is somewhat shift the focus of attention in the information space from Tymoshenko’s unlawful imprisonment and political repressions in the country to scandals inside her party.
“They can agree to run in majority districts and the government may be setting a price for them: We will give you a chance to win in majority districts if you pretend there are internal rifts in BYuT-Fatherland. But even if one of the projects emerging in the faction is pro-government, it will not have any significant effect,” Taran says.
Analysts say that as the election draws nearer, differences in Tymoshenko’s camp will come to the surface with increasing frequency even though her political force will not suffer a major division, at least not before election day. The question of who obtains top spots on the party’s election list will be added on top of the existing tension. Experts have calculated that Tymoshenko’s party may expect to receive no more than 70 seats under the proportional system, while the current BYuT-Fatherland faction has 100 members. Those MPs who will see no prospects for themselves on Tymoshenko’s team will search for other niches to fill. Sources in the faction say that many BYuT members are agreeing to run in majority districts only if they are given a high spot on the party’s election list.