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15 September, 2012  ▪  Andriy Skumin

Strange Familiar Faces

The Party of the Regions' election list proves Donetsk still has considerable influence. The party is transforming into a pro-presidential quasi-bloc like For a United Ukraine circa 2000.

Though the Party of Regions' electoral list contains no interesting “treasures”, intrigue will still surround the political force as observers try to determine the influence internal groups will have as they jockey for position during the campaign. Taisiya Povaliy became the party’s campaigning personality. This was rather predictable, due to the Party of Regions call for “public figures” to become involved, and the Povaliy-Likhuta family is known to be connected to today's president. The party is also using its list to attract national minorities. The new language law could become an additional talking-point despite Mykhailo Chechetov's comments that Hungarians and Romanians are merely “piles of people”. The upper part of the party list contains Ivan Popescu, representing the Romanian community, and Ishtvan Haydosh, mayor of Berehove (Zakarpattia) and one of the area’s Magyar leaders.

The general course of this year’s Party of Regions campaign can be seen in the inclusion of Dmytro Tabachnyk. The current Education Minister has become a symbol of Ukrainophobia, and the party itself uses electoral games to accentuate the language schism in society and to mobilize pro-Russian (anti-Ukrainian) voters. Obviously, Tabachnyk could have been provided with a mandate to soften his removal from the current post. But such a scenario is feasible only if Yanukovych decides to bet on certain tradeoffs in the current election which could help him expand his base in the Centre and in the West of Ukraine. Still, the scenario seems unlikely since the president’s anti-Ukrainian behaviour has already gone too far.

FAMILIAR DONETSK FIGURES

Andriy Kliuyev, in his traditional role as head of the Party of Regions campaign headquarters, was made secretary of the National Security and Defence Council. Consequently, many observers  believe his position has weakened and that he may be pushed out of his traditional domain. In fact, however, his new post provides him with a wide range of opportunities to coordinate local administrative resources during the campaign, if relevant support is given by the president. The upper part of the party list contains few candidates linked to Klyiuyev’s group, less than 10%, but the presence of Nestor Shufrych there is significant, something of a “slap in the face” to Presidential Administration head Serhiy Liovochkin who had a fight with Shufrych in July 2009. Meanwhile, almost half of the candidates in first-past-the-post districts are linked to Kliuyev’s group.

Rumors of Rinat Akhmetov distancing himself from the Party of Regions, based on the ban on political agitation at his enterprises and his refusal to run for MP, seem to be exaggerated. While Ukraine's richest oligarch may be unwilling to appear on the party list in order to keep from being associated with the discredited political force, his representatives will still get around 20% of seats in the upper part of the list. This will provide Akhmetov with a considerable presence in parliament. Meanwhile, “Akhmetov’s quota” of Party of Regions candidates in the first-past-the-post districts is over 10%.

INSIDERS FIRST

So far, only a few representatives of the Dmytro Firtash-Serhiy Liovochkin group can be seen in near the top of the Party of Regions list. Representatives of Serhiy Tihipko and former members of the Volodymyr Lytvyn bloc have similar quotas. The Party of Regions list made available to journalists based on the party session results, and the list actually submitted to the Central Election Commission, differ in the upper part including Ivan Myrnyi, who is close to Dmytro Firtash. On top of the fact that the group could gain some first-past-the-post districts, it also has around fifteen spots on the Party of Regions list. Furthermore, according to The Ukrainian Week sources, Dmytro Firtash is funding the campaigns of some independent candidates and/or opposition parties’ members. He is counting on them joining his own group in parliament, at least informally.

The Party of Regions list includes many candidates not linked to principal oligarchic groups and who owe their political careers to Yanukovych himself or to certain members and/or friends of the presidential family. As long as Viktor Yanukovych is the key player in the power conglomerate, they will participate in the political process under his complete control, but should he lose that status (or be threatened with such a loss), most of them will be the first to look for new format of their own political future.

Neophytes

The 2012 Party of Regions list also includes several brand new faces. Specifically, these new candidates come on Serhiy Tihipko's quota after he “donated” one of the most successful 2009-2010 projects — the Strong Ukraine party — to the Party of Regions. At the 2010 local election, the party received 5.4% of mandates based on party lists and this apparently became the basis for determining his quota. Five party members were included in the list among the first hundred candidates (Serhiy Tihipko, Svitlana Fabrykant, Volodymyr Dudka, Oleh Shablatovych and Serhiy Viter, though Viter is 96th and unlikely to get a mandate).

In contrast to Tihipko's limited quota, former members of the Volodymyr Lytvyn bloc were awarded with a particular generosity (the rating of the People’s Party ranges from 1.5 to 2%). The upper part of the Party of Regions list includes Ihor Sharov, Oleh Zarubinskiy, Kateryna Vashchuk and Yuriy Blahodyr. Valeriy Smoliy, the director of the Institute of History of Ukraine and No.86, is also said to be Volodymyr Lytvyn’s man, despite his having tried to assert himself as a patriotic activist for a long time. The Party of Regions has practically given at least two first-past-the-post districts to former members of the Volodymyr Lytvyn bloc, putting up weak candidates against Serhiy Hrynevetskiy in Odesa and Valeriy Baranov in Berdiansk.

As for Volodymyr Lytvyn, The Ukrainian Week sources say that the Party of Regions has provided him guarantees for the use of administrative resource in order to enter parliament in his first-past-the-post district in Zhytomyr Oblast. These sources say Lytvyn paid for these guarantees with the language law. Showing the Party of Regions' gratitude for that law, Lytvyn's representatives were included in the party list and consequently the Party of Regions may count on the majority of People’s Party voters. Its electorate continued supporting the party even after it entered the coalition with the Party of Regions in 2010. Some observers consider former members of Lytvyn’s political force to be a potential reserve of the Liovochkin-Firtash group, though in fact they dilute the available Party of Regions “group” structure and enhance its quasi-bloc nature.

Most party switchers who obtained spots on the Party of Regions list may play similar role. These include Yevhen Sihal from BYuT and other former sponsors of the Batkivshchina party, namely Mykola Bahrayev, Tariel Vasadze, Andriy Verevskiy and others. Volodymyr Oliynyk from Cherkasy Oblast merits a special comment. He had tried to assert himself as a Ukrainian patriot for a long time, and supported the Orange revolution, but later he became a turncoat and is gradually turning into one of the key Party of Regions spokesmen.

The analysis of the list of the Party of Regions list proves Donetsk's influence is growing with the help of new representatives of the power conglomerate. The party in power has practically established a quasi-bloc a la Leonid Kuchma. The Communist Party may be the only political force in the current parliamentary majority that is outside of this bloc. Representatives of the Party of the Regions will have very different opinions as to the strategy and tactics of state policy, especially in light of the potential involvement of “independent” first-past-the-post candidates in the faction. Therefore, should the president's own position weaken, the Party of Regions risks an uncontrolled split among "its" MPs in parliament.


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