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11 March, 2019  ▪  Roman Malko

Round 1: A warm-up

Parliament and Ukrainian presidential election: action and reaction

The presidential race is in the home stretch. Bets have been placed, deals cut, popcorn bought, and beers uncapped. What’s left now is to see who makes it in the first cut. Some surprises are still likely. The battle among the top candidates and their support groups is seriously underway, scandals are catching everyone like water thrown from a bucket, and Temporary Investigative Commissions are trending again. Still, Ukraine is unlikely to see any major tectonic break in the political boardwalk. The best indicator of this is the way the Verkhovna Rada is playing dead in the face of this battle. For one thing, it’s already thinking of its own reincarnation and no one’s about to force the situation with the result of the presidential election so much in the air.

In contrast to Ukraine’s voters, who have been tossed more than 40 candidates from among which they should choose, the task for politicians is much more straightforward. They understand perfectly well that the final choice will only be among three names that can realistically make it to the second round. And they are the three on whom bets are now being made. Of course, not always visibly or publicly, but then openness is really not required – all the more so when it comes to players in the top league who typically place their eggs in various baskets.

Yet it’s becoming harder and harder for them to do this. Access to Yulia Tymoshenko is relatively easy because she herself stated in so many words that she’s “ready to talk with everyone.” The president is also open to communication because he’s interested, like no other, in the best allies possible or, failing that, at least a non-aggression pact. But getting a feel for Person-Ze, who is only present in virtual reality and could prove to be a real comic surprise for everyone, is possible only through the intermediation of his patron, Ihor Kolomoyskiy.

Right now, parliamentarians are sitting tight and the defections among parties that were once such a predictable feature are nowhere to be seen. Everyone has already declared for one candidate or another. And those who say “None of the above” are already busy putting together their own projects. With the exception of UDAR splinter groups, BPP is confident that its boss, Petro Poroshenko, will be inaugurated. There are no other options. UDAR seems to be sitting on its hands and not getting involved because it doesn’t believe, or even really want, to see the incumbent extend his career for another five years. Apparently this is the reason why, The Ukrainian Week’s sources say, UDAR’s boss, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko did not participate in the forum where Poroshenko declared his candidacy. He sent a video greeting, but did not come in person, supposedly on the advice of political spin doctors. What was behind this is not hard to guess, given that Klitschko and his allies have been linked to exiled chemicals tycoon Dmytro Firtash, who is being sued for money-laundering by the US, and former Yanukovych Chief-of-Staff Serhiy Lyovochkin, who has been connected to the Mueller investigation. If Poroshenko is re-elected, UDAR could well remain in the Poroshenko Bloc and continue to play its role as the white crow. If not, UDAR will go into the VR election as a separate team and so it’s obviously better to wait and see before making a move.

Volya Narodu, meaning the Will of the People, is on Poroshenko’s side for now, and has moved significantly to the right, judging by its rhetoric. For their level of patriotic messages, these MPs will soon be competing with Svoboda, but that should not fool anyone. The incumbent also enjoys the support of a small splinter group in Vidrodzhennia, or Renaissance, which gravitates towards scandalous Kharkiv Mayor Ghennadiy Kernes. Whether or not this situational support is really there is not clear, knowing the political character of the mayor. However, judging by certain points in his life, he could well owe Poroshenko one or two, just like the odious Odesa Mayor, Ghennadiy Trukhanov.

RELATED ARTICLE: A rough take-off?

After everything it has gone through in the coalition with BPP, Narodniy Frontis also now in waiting mode, having set as their goal to do the best they can in the VR elections this fall. What form this will take will depend on who wins the current election. However, despite fairly polarized views among the party allies – Oleksandr Turchynov, Andriy Parubiy, Serhiy Pashynskiy and their team gravitate towards the president, while Arsen Avakov and his supporters are more inclined towards Tymoshenko – the party does seem, if only pro forma, to be a unified entity and the conflicts that once raged between the two candidates don’t seem to bother NF at all. Indeed, whoever becomes president, Tymoshenko or Poroshenko, it will not have a fatal impact on Arseniy Yatseniuk’s project. He might lose a little ballast, but that’s all. Things will be worse if Zelenskiy wins. Then the entire playing field will change radically and the party will have to reorganize in order to survive.

In terms of party discipline, Samopomich, whose leader withdrew in favor of a fellow candidate, will now support Anatoliy Hrytsenko. Knowing his chances of winning are very slim at best, it’s unlikely that Andriy Sadoviy will throw himself into the thankless job of campaigning for Hrytsenko. Instead, he will also focus on the Rada elections this fall. So far, it’s not clear whether Samopomich will actually form a coalition with Hrytsenko’s Civic Platform, as they have not announced any formal agreement yet. Even if they do, it will likely be only after the election of the president – if that.

Batkivshchyna stands behind its “roly-poly doll” leader. Tymoshenko herself doesn’t have many allies, but she has a solid base of support. And until the results of the first round are clear, it’s unlikely that any “new friends” will appear. Whoever she could persuade and draw to her side, she has already persuaded and drawn to her side. Everybody else is watching the ratings and is in no hurry to embrace her and being left holding the bag. Among Tymoshenko’s allies there are obviously the majority of Vidrodzhennia, whose “shareholders” include Ihor Kolomoyskiy. His main and ideal protégé is, of course, Zelenskiy, but a Tymoshenko presidency would suit him, too. His persistent twin goals of removing Poroshenko and getting his hands back on PrivatBank would be equally well reached with either candidate. However, the former will be considerably cheaper and easier.

In terms of solidarity against a Poroshenko victory, Tymoshenko can also count on the “radical” Oleh Liashko. His party members pretend that they believe in their leader’s victory, but are mainly focused on the Rada elections, working on the mission of their main sponsor, oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.

RELATED ARTICLE: Uncertainty mode

The substance of the name Opposition Bloc seems to have come down to the process of dividing up fractions, with the result that this once-monolithic faction now has on its roster a number of candidates that despise each other. This kind of “multi-vectoral” approach is a real boon to all the frontrunners, and for some it’s even a bonus in the form of several percentage points in their ratings.

In the end, the main intrigue for both the majority of political parties and for the oligarchs will be less the presidential race than the VR one. After all, Ukraine is a parliamentary-presidential republic and, important as the role of the Head of Sate is, it’s the Rada that makes laws and forms the Government. Whoever is lucky enough to get a seat in the legislature and its ultimate configuration will determine a lot more than who of the current three frontrunners is in the presidential seat. Of course, the result will affect the later election, leading to a centrifugal or centripetal reaction, but that will be later on. Moreover, voter behavior is different in the two ballots, and that cannot be ignored.

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

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