A Crack in the United Opposition?

8 February 2013, 19:23

Instead of the creation of a single party on the basis of political forces which joined together into a united opposition during the last parliamentary election, confrontations have lately been ever more noticeable among yesterday’s opportunistic allies. The battle for mutual destruction that has threatened the opposition since before the election has not begun yet, but the preconditions for it are already in place.

The single election list of the Batkivshchyna All-Ukrainian Union was intended to be an attempt by the opposition to stand against the “ruling power”. It became a classic pre-election conglomerate. However, this notion disappeared almost immediately after sociological surveys showed that the united opposition does not stand as a single alternative to the existing regime, and even more so when election results showed that the Batkivshchyna election list gained only half of the total votes given to opposition parties. From then on, centrifugal tendencies in the united camp have only escalated and overflowed into more or less public dissatisfaction with the activities of their leaders, first and foremost, those of Arseniy Yatseniuk, on the part of the old-guard BYuT members, Anatoliy Hrytsenko as head of the Hromadyanska Pozytsia (Civil Position) and others.

But last week, the conflicts tumultuously spilled over, becoming the number one headline in the media. First of all, the “2000” newspaper published an interview with Anatoliy Hrytsenko, in which he harshly criticized Arseniy Yatseniuk and Oleksandr Turchynov for their authoritarianism and for ignoring the positions of other MPs, particularly himself. Secondly, the conflict between Oleksandr Bryhynets, currently bipartisan, but who is considered to be a representative of a group of MPs in the Batkivshchyna faction who are close to Petro Poroshenko, and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, who had attempted to establish his own political project, For Ukraine!, prior to merging with the united opposition, has become public. Bryhynets criticized renewed membership in For Ukraine! by Kyrylenko and three other Batkivshchyna MPs and threatened to demand his resignation from the position of deputy leader of the faction.

Vyacheslav Kyrylenko also stated that this conflict is related to the selection of just one candidacy from the opposition for the position of Kyiv Mayor: in other words, Bryhynets belongs to the group that supports the candidacy of Petro Poroshenko, while Kyrylenko belongs to those who support Vitali Kitschko’s candidacy. Finally, the European Party of Ukraine, headed by Mykola Katerynchuk, another MP who was elected at a first-past-the-post district as a candidate from Batkivshchyna, has nominated its leader for the position of Kyiv Mayor. Clearly, if the local Kyiv election were to be held this year, it would be a bone of contention between opposition forces.

According to The Ukrainian Week’s sources, a number of MPs from Batkivshchyna alone have their eye on the mayoral position. Another is Petro Poroshenko, who has recently been actively contacting opposition forces. The manifestation of this was the nomination by Batkivshchyna of his son, Oleksiy for a position in the Vinnytsia Oblast Council and discussions on the possibility of Poroshenko himself being nominated as the only opposition candidate for Kyiv Mayor. The Ukrainian Week’s sources state that trading for seats in the Kyiv City Council is just as aggressive.

However, the fact that the conflicts in the Batkivshchyna faction have become public, can also be attributed to the reaction of some pretentious players to Arseniy Yatseniuk’s active promotion of the idea of the establishment of a single party, rather than the fact that the Kyiv local election is drawing nearer. By the way, in the weekly newspaper, 2000, Hrytsenko stressed that for various reasons, none of the political forces in the Batkivshchyna faction are ready to merge into a single party. One of the deputy leaders of the faction, Serhiy Sobolev, said in an interview that it is not the time for discussions on the candidacy of Yatseniuk as the only candidate from the united opposition in the future presidential election. He stated that the decision that such nominee is Yulia Tymoshenko remains in force and that she is the only one with the right to conduct negotiations on the approval of a single candidate with other political forces.

It’s worth mentioning here that the issue of the establishment of one or several factions made up of MPs elected under the Batkivshchyna list was already raised at the beginning of the first session of the new parliament. At that time, both Yatseniuk and Turchynov were able to secure its formal unity, but differences within the faction only deepened, particularly after the allocation of positions in parliamentary committees. Today, a number of players, who got into parliament on the “united” list for just one purpose –to make the threshold – are striving to regain their status as independent players.

At the same time, to a certain extent, Arseniy Yatseniuk can feel as if he is a hostage of the situation. When joining the ranks of Batkivshchyna, he clearly counted on transforming it into his own political force. To a large extent, this explains his recent promotion as “the father of Batkivshchyna”. He is probably concerned about the possibility that his allies in the united opposition will select a different candidate for the presidential chair in the 2015 election. Being aware of losing the prospect of becoming the only opposition candidate, could nudge Yatseniuk into searching for alternative scenarios, more specifically, creating a new political force rather than struggling (with doubtful results) for control over the conglomerate of the united opposition, with its representatives that are both diverse and overfilled with ambition. Viktor Baloha, who rejected battling for control over Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine) in favour of creating his own project, Yedyniy Tsentr  (United Centre), acted in the same manner in his time. However, what differentiates the two is the fact that Yatseniuk has a high personal rating.

The fact that the government has inflated the conflict in the ranks of the opposition in the media is clear, because it is particularly interested in doing so right now. The Segodnya and 2000 publications are playing a particularly active role in fueling the conflict. For example, the latter conducted a scandalous interview with Hrytsenko, while the former circulated information about his expulsion from the Batkivshchyna faction. Political analysts who are close to the government, continue to peddle the theory that Yulia Tymoshenko “cannot support Yatseniuk as the single candidate from the opposition, and even if she is supporting him, she is only doing so because she is making a mistake”. This could signal a broader trend that goes beyond Batkivshchyna alone. For instance, UDAR’s MP Pavlo Rizanenko has informed the media that his false blog on korrespondent.net was re-launched, publishing materials intended to provoke the conflict with Batkivshchyna. It is also hard to miss the fact that the publication in the media of the conflicts (undoubtedly existing, even if quite old) coincided with the well-coordinated actions of the opposition regarding the extraordinary session of parliament, the battle against violations of the voting procedure and particularly the blocking of the Verkhovna Rada’s work.

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