A toxic en­vi­ron­ment:

The present and fu­ture of the Pres­i­dent’s party

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ye­hor Firsov

The present and fu­ture of the Pres­i­dent's party

In the 1990s, when first po­lit­i­cal par­ties were formed in Ukraine, there was a say­ing: "What­ever the name, any party is the com­mu­nist party." To­day I'd put it oth­er­wise: what­ever the name, any party is the Party of Re­gions. This is es­pe­cially true for the cur­rent rul­ing party, Petro Poroshenko Bloc.

I wit­nessed the cre­ation of PPB in 2014. It was ob­vi­ous that the party build­ing process had many flaws, and that just about ev­ery­one was ad­mit­ted into this po­lit­i­cal force. But in that sit­u­a­tion, the vot­ers had to turn a blind eye even to the very ob­vi­ous flaws of politi­cians and par­ties. While pub­lic at­ten­tion was riv­eted to the front line, pol­i­tics seemed a se­condary is­sue. We all re­mem­ber why Ukraini­ans voted for Poroshenko in the first round: the goal at that time was to elect a le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment and to over­come the po­lit­i­cal cri­sis of the win­ter of 2014 as soon as pos­si­ble.

As a re­sult, we have a Pres­i­dent who in fact had no po­lit­i­cal force of his own in the Par­lia­ment. To be more pre­cise, Vi­taliy Kl­itschko’sUDAR fac­tion be­came such a force, but it was ob­vi­ously not enough. That’s why the old Par­lia­ment had to be dis­solved and snap elec­tion held. It was sched­uled for Oc­to­ber 2014, and the newly elected Pres­i­dent be­gan form­ing the elec­tion list of his own party.

Very dif­fer­ent peo­ple ended up on this list. Af­ter Poroshenko's vic­tory, all sorts of op­por­tunists quickly threw away their old party mem­ber­ship cards and rushed to the new leader. In fact, the new party be­came a haven for all kinds of mon­ey­bags and peo­ple with some ad­min­is­tra­tive re­sources. They were all united by a com­mon goal: to en­sure the re­sult. That is, to win the elec­tion and achieve the ma­jor­ity in the Par­lia­ment. Af­ter the race, nu­mer­ous win­ners of the elec­tion at first­past-the-post­dis­tricts joined the fac­tion. Such peo­ple al­ways tend to join the party that is presently in power as they count on var­i­ous pref­er­ences they can get as a re­sult.

The fi­nal party was a patch­work unit­ing promis­ing young politi­cians, such as Mustafa Nayem or Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk, with out­right crooks, who pre­vi­ously were in the Party of Re­gions and even voted for the dra­co­nian anti-protest laws on Jan­uary 16, 2014, such as Vla­dyslav Atroshenko, the cur­rent mayor of Ch­erni­hiv, or Oleh Ne­dava from Ye­nakiyeve, the home­town of Vik­tor Yanukovych in Donetsk Oblast, who re­cently found him­self in the heart of a scan­dal af­ter voic­ing his sup­port for Yuriy Iva­niushchenko, an ex-crime boss and cur­rent ty­coon known by the name of Yura Ye­nakiyivskyi.

Those who ex­pected new rules in pol­i­tics af­ter the Maidan were un­happy with how the new po­lit­i­cal force was formed. I and other Maidan par­tic­i­pants on the PPB list had a sim­ple choice: to ei­ther with­draw from the elec­tion as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple, or to run on the same list with rather du­bi­ous can­di­dates. At that point, we thought that once in Par­lia­ment, we could pro­vide some kind of a coun­ter­weight and would be able to con­tain the "bad guys." Un­for­tu­nately, this cal­cu­la­tion was wrong, and our re­sources were in­suf­fi­cient. The cor­rupt en­vi­ron­ment ei­ther neu­tral­ized or ab­sorbed the young politi­cians.

With time, PPB be­came in­creas­ingly sim­i­lar to the Party of Re­gions. Same as PR, Poroshenko's party unites many dif­fer­ent peo­ple and groups. Most of its MPs have ab­so­lutely no prin­ci­ples and think of a party ide­ol­ogy as some sort of a su­per­sti­tion. Ev­ery­one un­der­stands that PPB in pol­i­tics is a tem­po­rary phe­nom­e­non, same as PR was, and that in the fu­ture they would have to change their party card­sagain, should they want to re­tain their man­dates.

Hav­ing said this, the main dif­fer­ence between PPB and PR and, at the same time, the main flaw of Poroshenko's party, is the lack of so­lid­ity. We all re­mem­ber how eas­ily and quickly Yanukovych's party col­lapsed in the spring of 2014, even though it seemed ev­er­last­ing shortly be­fore. The col­lapse of PPB will prob­a­bly be even eas­ier. Even to­day, the Pres­i­dent has trou­ble con­trol­ling his fac­tion. Many PPB mem­bers are openly un­happy with what is go­ing on, and hold a grudge against Poroshenko's "dear friends," namely, Ser­hiy Berezenko, Ihor Kononenko and Olek­sandr Hra­novsky, who to­day, thanks to their prox­im­ity to the Pres­i­dent, spoon off the cream and dam­age the rep­u­ta­tion of ev­ery­one in the pres­i­dent’s fac­tion.

PPB's prob­lem is that some of its mem­bers are al­lowed al­most ev­ery­thing, while others have to beg the Pres­i­dent for at least some­thing. MP Hra­novsky can eas­ily and in front of the whole coun­try raid SkyMall shop­ping cen­ter fromEs­to­nian in­vestors. Hence the re­sult: some PPB mem­bers are sneak­ily di­rect­ing their eyes to Yu­lia Ty­moshenko’sBatkivshchyna party and hurry to es­tab­lish a con­tact with the party leader.

It is not so easy to find peo­ple within PPB will­ing to de­fend the party's stand on TV. To­day's speak­ers, who can be of­ten be seen on TV screens, sound un­con­vinc­ing and of­ten act as whip­ping boys at dif­fer­ent talk shows. Other MPs un­der var­i­ous pre­texts evade show­ing up on TV, even though the fac­tion lead­ers are now scratch­ing their heads over how to im­prove its rep­u­ta­tion in the me­dia. As a re­sult, PPB rank­ing is grad­u­ally drop­ping, while the com­pet­ing pop­ulist par­ties are gain­ing strength.

Can the cur­rent neg­a­tive trend be re­versed? Gen­er­ally speak­ing, it is still pos­si­ble, but I don't be­lieve that Poroshenko will go for it. PPB's draw­backs are mainly due to the neg­a­tive per­sonal qual­i­ties of the Pres­i­dent, such as greed and dis­trust. They made PPB a frac­tion of un­equal op­por­tu­ni­ties and un­equal peo­ple. The re­luc­tance of the Pres­i­dent and his en­tourage to fight cor­rup­tion and pur­sue un­easy and un­pop­u­lar re­forms may soon turn PPB into a sink­ing ship. If the cur­rent neg­a­tive dy­nam­ics of Poroshenko's and his fac­tion's rank­ing con­tin­ues, there may be noth­ing left of it by 2019.

From the be­gin­ning, the Pres­i­dent had every chance to make PPB a party with a real ide­ol­ogy. This could have been ei­ther a lib­eral po­lit­i­cal force or a Chris­tian­demo­cratic one, like the Ger­man CDU/CSU. He should have formed the party list much more care­fully. Ob­vi­ously, he could have done with­out the con­tro­ver­sial MPs from the past. This was the strat­egy cho­sen by Samopomich, led by Lviv Mayor An­driy Sadovyi. Yu­lia Ty­moshenko also brushed up Batkivshchyna's party list sig­nif­i­cantly, ex­pelling all con­tro­ver­sial and doubt­ful fig­ures and re­plac­ing them with young politi­cians who have no neg­a­tive track record. Un­for­tu­nately, Petro Poroshenko lim­ited him­self to just a few new fig­ures who were soon ei­ther squeezed out or ab­sorbed by the toxic PPB en­vi­ron­ment.

PPB fac­tion mem­bers might have well re­quired from the Pres­i­dent to im­ple­ment rad­i­cal re­forms and fight cor­rup­tion but some­how they don't do it. To­day it is clear that re­peat­ing the 2014 suc­cess for PPB will be im­pos­si­ble. If it man­ages to en­ter the Par­lia­ment af­ter the next elec­tion, it will be with a largely down­sized fac­tion. This means that the po­lit­i­cal ca­reers of many of the fac­tion's MPs will be over, un­less they join other po­lit­i­cal projects.

To­day, many PPB mem­bers no longer see their fu­ture with this party. Ser­hiy Kaplin is spin­ning his own project, the Party of Com­mon Peo­ple. MPs Vic­tor Kryvenko and Pavlo Kishkar want to re­vive Nar­o­d­nyi Rukh, thes Peo­ple's Move­ment of Ukraine. Mustafa Nayem, Svit­lana Zal­ishchuk and Ser­hiy Leshchenko will con­tinue their ca­reers with the Demo­cratic Al­liance.

Ob­vi­ously, PPB will keep los­ing its mem­ber­ship. I have no doubts to­day that the end of this party will be sim­i­lar to that of Vik­tor Yushchenko’s Nasha Ukray­ina, or the Party of Re­gions. The ac­tions of those in power show that they are not able to learn from the mis­takes of their pre­de­ces­sors and to change.

THE PRES­I­DENT HAD A CHANCE TO MAKE HIS PARTY INTO ONE WITH A REAL IDE­OL­OGY. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A LIB­ERAL PO­LIT­I­CAL FORCE OR A CHRIS­TIAN-DEMO­CRATIC ONE, LIKE THE GER­MAN CDU/CSU

In the foot­steps of pre­de­ces­sors. The Petro Poroshenko Bloc risks tak­ing the path of the Party of Re­gions, or Vik­tor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine which no longer ex­ists de facto

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