Clos­ing for re­pairs?

An over­haul of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc – rea­sons and goals

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Ro­man Malko

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


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

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