Closing for repairs?
An overhaul of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc – reasons and goals
The lifespan of a party in power typically hangs on the fate of its leader. Every single political project that has had power in Ukraine is irrefutable proof of that: SDPU (o), Nasha Ukraina and Party of the Regions. The same fate could await the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (BPP).
Of course, the death of a brand does not necessarily mean that its product has disappeared into Neverneverland. That the majority of the members of the dying organization flee to a newly born one ensures the continuity of the political system in Ukraine to a greater or lesser extent. Needless to say, there is little long-term good in this. It simply underscores the lack of real party-building in the country and the serious ideological forces that are the sign of a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is unlikely to change any time soon, either.
As long as Petro Poroshenko himself is in power, nothing will happen, despite the baseless skepticism of observers about the BPP’s real solidarity and monolithicness. But the minute there is an election, and especially if the party does not win, it will fall to pieces. Therefore, the BPP will do everything it can to postpone this moment as long as possible, of course, and so radical therapy has started.
Lately, the country’s most influential party has given plenty of food for thought. On March 23, its faction leader, Ihor Hryniv, resigned. On April 4, MP Vladyslav Holub left the party, saying that he had received threats and feared for his life. Rumors of a smoldering conflict between the president and Premier Groisman have been circulating for several months, with some hints that it could blow up and lead to the PM’s departure. More minor disagreements and misunderstandings are not worth listing, but they always contribute to the chaos.
In fact, the Poroshenko Bloc has never been a monolith. Plastered together from a number of scraps, it’s like a colorful, mysterious quilt under which who knows who is hiding and you never know what surprise might pop out. If anything, it is the party of opportunists, including those who support us, those who don’t, those who believe in us, those who couldn’t care less, those who need a cover, and those who simply want better opportunities for their own ambitions. Last but not least, those who grew tired of skulking around the back rooms flashing their press cards and wanted to sit comfortably for a change.
That the presidential party is filled with haphazard individuals is something that party members themselves recognize. When Poroshenko decided to run for the presidency, he didn’t have his own party and had to turn to his partners in UDAR for support. What the terms and conditions of this partnership were is a different matter. Some say that a significant role in attracting all these dark horses was played personally by #1 on the party lists, Vitaliy Klitschko, who brought a number of interesting individuals in on his quota. Whether he did so consciously or at the advice of friends is an open question, but payback was not long in coming: the Poroshenko Bloc absorbed UDAR completely leaving the Mayor of Kyiv and still nominal head of the presidential bloc without a trace of his own party. Today, former UDARists who remain loyal to Klitschko’s ideals play no role in the running of the Poroshenko Bloc and are not even really active in it. In fact, there is obvious antipathy between them and the main membership.
Under Poroshenko’s own quota, a number of very “original” folks also joined the bloc, only to turn into internal dissidents, euro-optimists or silent saboteurs. Some wicked tongues even claim that during ballots on issues important to the party, votes have to be bought from its own deputies. Maybe not for money but quid pro quo—which doesn’t make it any less painful.
Similar things are happening at the bloc’s local branches. Too many members see the party in power as a roof for building up their own careers or as a source of enrichment. Obvious manipulations with lists of members, for instance, some of whose
existence is questioned even by the party’s own leadership, and attempts to inflate requests for party funding to rent offices or reception centers. The need to eliminate all this chaos and to streamline the operations of the party organization so that when the time comes they don’t discover that there’s nothing there has pushed the leadership to take a fairly original step: to hire outside specialists to handle its internal audits and monitoring.
What led to this was a switch to public funding of BPP’s statutory activities. Someone obviously decided that it would not do for the president’s party to fritter away taxpayer money, and so all the smallest local branches are now threatened with a blind audit with serious consequences in case of... The audit itself will be very simple: people disguised as ordinary citizens will go around the regions and will report on any violations they see. Oversight is promised to be strict so there isn’t any squandering of money. In the meanwhile, the party will work more actively and launch new projects.
This reform strikes the observer as preparations for an election, whether scheduled or snap. In fact, no one is talking about a real race at this time, other than maybe local elections. Still, certain steps, such as training activists and leaders at regional branches, are already in motion.
Sources close to The Ukrainian Week confirm that this could be tied to a referendum on joining NATO, whose shadow is growing taller and taller on the horizon. The initiative was submitted by MP Iryna Friz. Not long ago, BPP even organized a roundtable called “Myths about NATO and how to overcome them,” which was attended by top officials and representatives from the Alliance. It’s quite possible that by the end of summer or early fall, such a referendum will take place say people in BPP. And why not hold it now, when security is such an urgent issue for the country?
This is where Ihor Hryniv comes in again, who apparently was not happy being leader of the faction in the Verkhovna Rada, because it raised his profile higher than he was used to. There are also rumors that, as one of the elders of Ukrainian politics, Hryniv is getting ready to leave the game altogether. However, it’s unlikely that he will. Given the real shortage of human resources, the president is unlikely to play lightly with someone of Hryniv’s stature. Even finding a new faction leader was not easy. Many were interested, but the only someone who might possibly suit all sides and be able to pull the shaky faction together again was Artur Herasymov. How well he will be able to complete this mission should become clear very soon.
BPP is a standard model of the Poroshenko brand. The nominal head, Klitschko, has no influence at all and he should have been replaced long ago, but hasn’t been. Some have been predicting that Groisman will replace him, but a party convention hasn’t been called, either. Indeed, it’s not that clear at all who is really running the party or its VR faction, and how much influence Poroshenko himself has on any of this. The president obviously is not in charge of all party processes in his usual hands-on style—nor is he keeping at arm’s length from them. He has his hand on the pulse through the people he trusts, like Ihor Kononenko, Serhiy Berezenko and that same Ihor Hryniv, if only to agree positions.
How effective this is, is another matter altogether. Not very, it would appear. But there are few alternatives, given the nature of Poroshenko himself, who works with people of exceptional dedication. Those in his inner circle can confirm how complicated it is for him to make a decision. He wants to hear as many people as possible, he is open to being persuaded, and he is not one of those who think they know everything. The question is how all of this is filtered in his mind. Some gossip in the Rada back rooms that he’s heading for the same fate as Yanukovych because his inner circle has managed to restrict access to him and to keep those capable of offering a critical opinion completely isolated from the president. Possibly. However, it’s hard to believe that things are as totally bad as this makes it sound. For one thing, he’s on familiar terms with the internet and can read for himself what people are saying about him.
Sources that know how the process of reforming BPP is going say that Berezenko is behind it as one of the party’s leading functionaries. It’s clear the party is going in the wrong direction and if things
BPP IS A STANDARD MODEL OF THE POROSHENKO BRAND. THE NOMINAL HEAD, KLITSCHKO, HAS NO INFLUENCE IN IT. SOME HAVE BEEN PREDICTING THAT GROISMAN WILL REPLACE HIM, BUT A PARTY CONVENTION HASN'T BEEN CALLED YET
are not remedied now, while it’s still in power, it will be too late. And so Berezenko has decided to intervene, but not without a green light from higher up, obviously. He has hired a team of Georgian reformers led by Giorgiy Vashadze, a one-time Deputy Minister of Justice in Georgia. Vashadze was the author of that country’s reforms in eGOV/GovTech ID, biometric passports, Palaces of Justice, electronic signatures, an e-healthcare system and e-self-government, and has been the inspiration behind Ukraine’s ProZorro, the Hotovo! Document service and NABU itself. Now his task is to transform a typical ruling party with all its underwater reefs into one modeled on European parties, that functions properly and has an honest, dedicated and active membership that is not just there to sit and get paid to lobby its own interests, but to work for an idea—something that BPP also lacks.
What kind of idea ever drove any party in power in Ukraine? What’s more if we consider that the new BPP position sounds like “a party without a leader,” just a dedicated group of people who have come together to bring the Ukrainian dream to life, then the thought of seeing these ambitious plans come to fruition becomes actually interesting.
No matter how you slice it, BPP is still hanging on a single rod called Petro Poroshenko. And as long as he’s there, trying to bring order and function in this baroque court will be anything but easy.
A new face. On April 3, Artur Herasymov was elected head of the BPP faction in Parliament