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31 January, 2020  ▪  Andriy Holub

The Servant of the People: Sexy CPSU

2020 local elections will be more of a challenge for the Servant of the People party than the parliamentary campaign

The party in power is undergoing changes. The party congress, which took place in the capital on November 10, elected a new chairman of the political force. Instead of the current speaker, Dmytro Razumkov, Sluha Narodu (The Servant of the People) will be headed by Oleksandr Kornienko, the current deputy head of the faction in parliament. This is only the beginning. The congress did not end, however, announcing the break until February. During this time, they should adopt a new statute, and possibly re-standardize the entire political field of the country.

On that note, the only but extremely successful year in the political history of Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his team ends. The incumbent president first publicly announced his political engagement on the night of January 1, 2019. He is now the most popular politician in the country, and his political force has gained sole majority in the parliament. It would seem that the mechanism is well established and any interventions are superfluous. However, the year of easy victories is being replaced by a year of serious trials. Nationwide local elections are a key problem which the part of Zelenskiy’s comrades involved in party building is raking their brains over. 

The success or defeat of the Servant of the People in future races will depend on a number of variables. The party will definitely not be able to rely on the trump card of 2019 – an electoral blitzkrieg. One can still argue about the reasons for Zelenskiy’s popularity, but a large part of the population blindly (given the almost complete absence of specific promises) trusted the candidate.

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Of course, this is not 73% of the country’s population. Zelenskiy’s support figure in the second round of the presidential election has become a meme used by both supporters and opponents of the new government. The former use it to justify any actions and decisions, the latter use it to assert themselves in the niche of “intellectual opposition”. In fact, Zelenskiy was supported by 13.5 million voters out of more than 30.5 million eligible to vote. For comparison, Viktor Yanukovych did not have much less votes in the successful 2010 elections – 12.5 million. Just the competition in those political races was fiercer. The main thing is that the team of Zelenskiy fully used the auspicious moment. Therefore, they dissolved the Verkhovna Rada of the 8th convocation, without waiting for the autumn elections. The assumption was successful. The party, which had nothing but a name at the beginning of the year, won 6.3 million votes and a clear first place. The success in the single-mandate districts was remarkable. The Servant of the People won more than half of them, leaving behind politicians who had been “preparing the ground” for years. There were ideas on the wave of success to hold fast local elections across the country or at least in major cities. This did not happen and could not happen in principle, because the Servant of the People did not exist as a party in the institutional sense.

So the local race campaign will be long and tiresome. Most likely, the vote will take place in the fall of 2020, although the party in power still has not finally rejected the idea of ​​elections in the spring. The resolution of the issue there is linked to the completion of the decentralization reform. At the same time the effect of the open-hearted charm and novelty of Volodymyr Zelenskiy has already been exhausted. This is recorded by sociologists. According to the Razumkov Center, from October to November the balance of trust in the president decreased from 48% to 43%. Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk’s balance of trust generally became negative during this time. Speaker Dmitry Razumkov’s balance deteriorated from 26% to 21%.

The share of those who believe that the events in Ukraine are moving in the right direction fell from 45% to 37.5% in the same month. Those who think the current government is better than the previous one were 48% in early October and 43% in November.

The Servant of the People is aware of the risks, but still hopes to maintain a high rating. It melts against the backdrop of quarrels and scandals within the political force itself. That’s what the new party chairman Oleksandr Kornienko said at a November congress when he used a neologism “sexy party”. Being sexy is first and foremost to keep a rating that can attract decent candidates on the ground. According to Oleksandr Kornienko, they will join, only “if by that time (at the beginning of local elections – Ed.) we will not have caused our rating plummeting with everything we are doing for it”. To avoid any doubt, the party leader said that he meant “scandals, internal squabbles, voting for what people do not want”.

However, to voice the problem does not mean to solve it. Less than in a week after the congress, new scandals and showdowns broke out in the party’s ranks. And on November 15, deputies of the ruling political force decided to exclude the first two colleagues from the faction in the Verkhovna Rada: Anna Skorokhod and Anton Polyakov. Ironically, Polyakov, who had won at a single-mandate district, was solemnly included in the party ranks at November 10’s congress. He was proposed as a non-party candidate.

Technological problems are added to the image and common human problems of the Servant of the People. The Political Party General Information section of the latest quarterly report to the NACP (NAZK, National Agency on Corruption Prevention) is blank. There is no information either about the staff or the offices at different levels. Compared to other political forces, the Batkivshchyna, for example, have submitted reports of eight district organizations from only Kryvyi Rih, the native city of President.

People's Deputy Oleksandr Kachura is responsible for legal issues in the Servant of the People. His law firm was concerned with the interests of the political force and the Kvartal 95 brand before the election. According to the deputy, the party registered regional offices in all regions including Crimea and Sevastopol. However, in a conversation with The Ukrainian Week, he acknowledges that district offices have not yet covered the entire territory. He adds that they are working on changes to their party statutes as well as to the Law on Political Parties. The idea is presented in the context of further digitization. They say that in the modern world, district offices have become obsolete, and party members can jointly (at least at the oblast level) make decisions in special applications without protocols and seals.

Under current law, candidates for local elections are nominated by a party office of the appropriate level. However, they can already take many forms. For example, the form of a legal entity, and then the office reports to the NAPC. Alternatively, they may not take the form of a separate legal entity if the party statute so provides. This practice is common among many new political parties and has been criticized by the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU) for several reasons. First, such offices are not capable of conducting full-fledged economic and financial activities, and secondly, this situation allows party leadership to fully control the events on the ground. “In accordance with the legislation, local party organizations nominate candidates in local elections. But since they do not have the status of legal entities, they cannot really form and approve the list of candidates”, – he CVU noted two years ago. In other words, candidates are approved where the main seal is stored.

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You can understand the desire of the Servant of the People to control the situation on the ground. During the parliamentary elections, they took great pains to select 400 candidates who did not bury the political force at once with their reputation. The first scandals in this motley crew began in a month of joint work. However, during the midterm elections for the JTC (Joint Territorial Communities) on 22 and 29 December 2019, the party nominated about 1,800 candidates. According to David Arachamia, about 150,000 candidates will have to be found for the general local elections. To bury the sexy-rating of the Servant of the People, there will be enough hundreds of people with frankly tarnished reputations. The only chance is to try and fix the situation at least to some extent in the manual correction mode.

However, this approach must somehow be combined with theses on democratization and people power. “It is no secret that all parties in power in Ukraine have experienced the same. They started on the hopes of the people, very nicely and actively, and six months later they turned into the CPSU (Communist Party of the Soviet Union – the ruling party during Soviet regime - Ed.). “No matter what party you are going to make, you will get the CPSU in the end”, – one Russian politician once said. And that is unfortunately true”, said Kornienko during his speech at the November congress. The main reason for the fall of the CPSU was the declaration of democracy under full internal dictatorship. The “Servants” will have to at least partially solve the difficult equation: at the same time to maintain a democratic image and control over local affairs on the ground. They may even show an acceptable result in local elections. The former ruling party BPP (Bloc Petra Poroshenka) succeeded in this at its worst times. However, local races in 2020 will clearly show that the meme of 73% is hopelessly obsolete.

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