Muckraker quits investigating politicians to become one of them
Dmytro Gnap has challenged nearly every top politician in Ukraine on his investigative television show. Now he wants to clash with them on the ballot.
The 40-year-old journalist, famous for his investigations of the political establishment and corruption in law enforcement, stunned his viewers on June 25 by announcing that he will end his career in journalism and move into politics.
And he won’t start at the bottom either. The journalist says he wants to run for president of Ukraine in the election scheduled for March 2019.
“It’s a crazy idea,” Gnap said in his announcement. “But only crazy ideas change the world.”
Gnap’s decision comes as prominent politicians are throwing their hats into the ring. The leading candidate for the presidency, former prime minister and Batkivshchyna Party leader Yulia Tymoshenko, unofficially launched her campaign at a mass forum of her supporters in Kyiv on June 15.
Ukrainian media reported that the move unnerved the camp of President Petro Poroshenko, who hasn’t announced his bid for re-election, but has hinted he will run. Recently both he and Tymoshenko filled the streets of Kyiv with political ads, with Tymoshenko announcing a “new course for Ukraine” and Poroshenko advertising the achievements of his presidency.
The latest polls, published on June 25 by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, show Tymoshenko in the lead with the support of roughly 22 percent of voters. Several per- centage points behind her is a tight cluster of competitors: ex-Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko, Radical Party leader Oleh Lyashko, and Opposition Bloc leader Yuriy Boyko.
At the tail of this frontrunner group is Poroshenko himself, with 10.5 percent support.
All these candidates have one thing in common: they are political mainstays who have previously run for president, parliament, or both. All but Lyashko have held top government posts.
This is where Gnap thinks he has an advantage: he is new.
Gnap understands that most of the country is oblivious to his existence. A journalist's fame is minuscule compared to that of political stalwarts who have frequently appeared on national television for decades. Next to that, Gnap’s audience of some 80,000 Facebook followers is small.
“It’s both a disadvantage and an opportunity,” he told the Kyiv Post in an interview on June 27. “It’s an opportunity because people want the new faces.”
He cites a survey published in January by the Razumkov Center that showed 67 percent of Ukrainians want new personalities in politics.
In his years as an investigative journalist, Gnap has exposed dozens, if not hundreds of officials to be corrupt.
But it never led to anything: no one was prosecuted and punished, and corruption continued. Eventually Gnap couldn’t take it anymore.
“I can do 1,000 more investigations and expose 2,000 more corrupt officials,” he wrote when announcing his foray into politics. “But I see how they feel more and more relaxed every year, how they laugh in our faces.”
So Gnap decided to step into the ring and try to change the system from the inside.
“It’s like when you see someone getting mugged and you either do nothing, shoot a video to share it online, or interfere,” he says. “Until now, I was the one standing aside and shooting a video. Now I’m interfering.”
Sitting in a cafe in downtown Kyiv, Gnap passionately explains his reasons for running, occasionally banging a fist on the table. With his deep voice, friendly manner and emotional delivery, he is easy to picture on the parliamentary rostrum. But getting there won’t be easy. Gnap does not yet have a formalized political platform or experience in public service. But in the current situation, he believes it is more important for a leader to have integrity than skills.
“The most important thing (for a candidate) is to be motivated to use the high office to change the country, not to enrich oneself,” he says.
The cornerstone of his agenda is to stop corruption — in all of its manifestations.
“Corruption is Ukraine’s biggest problem. Not even the war, but corruption,” says Gnap, who himself comes from Donetsk, a city in
eastern Ukraine that since 2014 has been occupied by Russia.
As a newly minted politician, Gnap doesn’t have a party, but has an idea of where to find one.
He doesn’t want to enter any of the existing blocs, but looks to join a new alliance of democratic forces.
Such an alliance would unite the reformist politicians who are either independent or looking to switch their party allegiances — including Poroshenko Bloc lawmakers and former journalists Sergii Leshchenko, Mustafa Nayyem, and Svitlana Zalishchuk, and the head of the Democratic Alliance party, Kyiv City Council member Vasyl Gatsko.
Gnap wants democratic politicians to hold a primary to choose a single candidate for the 2019 presidential election. The idea of primaries, new for Ukraine, is currently being widely discussed among opposition politicians.
If he doesn’t win the nomination in the primaries, Gnap will join the team of the winning candidate and be in charge of reforming the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU, and the Prosecutor General’s Office. Many of his investigations focused on prosecutors and SBU.
Gnap says that, since his announcement, no political parties or oligarchs have contacted him in search of an alliance.
Publicly, his announcement has met a mixed response.
Serhiy Vlasenko, a lawmaker with Batkivshchyna party and a close ally of Tymoshenko, said politics should be left to professionals.
“When I hear of another journalist going into politics, I have a simple question: is our journalism at the highest possible level already?” he wrote on Facebook. Others welcomed Gnap’s decision. “Here, in the jungle, it’s simple,” wrote Leshchenko. “The more there are normal people, the fewer there are bastards.”
Waiting for elections
With presidential elections still eight months away and parliamentary elections set for October 2019, Gnap will now focus on building his public profile.
He is about to launch an advocacy campaign to stop the law enforcement agencies — and especially the SBU — from harassing businesses.
His other focus prior to the election is to talk to people about how corruption isn’t abstract, but directly affects everyday life. A good example, Gnap says, is utilities’ prices. As people struggle to pay their bills for water, gas, and electricity, a lot of what they pay is stolen through corrupt schemes, he says.
Because he has little chance of getting on major TV channels, which are controlled by oligarchs, Gnap thinks this campaign will help him gain some much-needed renown.
He hopes that more people like him will soon take the leap into politics.
“The more there are of us, the harder it will be to break us,” he says.
Dmytro Gnap rides the subway in Kyiv on June 27, two days after he announced he quit journalism for politics. He wants to participate in the presidential election set for March 2019. (Volodymyr Petrov)