Po­lit­i­cal free-for-all:

The strange mul­ti­pli­ca­tion by divi­sion of po­lit­i­cal par­ties in Ukraine and their in­ternecine in­fight­ing

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­skiy

The in­ternecine in­fight­ing of the new par­ties in the run-up to the 2019 elec­tions

There are ac­tu­ally times when Ukrainian politi­cians and jour­nal­ists pri­vately re­call the Yanukovych era with nos­tal­gia. Be­cause things were much sim­pler in pol­i­tics back than, and much eas­ier to fig­ure out. There was Evil, per­son­i­fied by Party of the Re­gions, the com­mu­nists and the Yanukovych fam­ily— and in or­der to re­main on the side of Light, you had to stand up to them. A strong com­mon en­emy forced politi­cians from the na­tional demo­cratic camp to set aside their dif­fer­ences and work to­gether. Every­one who was against Yanukovych had the sym­pa­thy of the op­po­si­tion and could count on the moral sup­port of a large chunk of or­di­nary Ukraini­ans. The coun­try’s pro-Ukrainian vot­ers were ready to for­give the flaws of those politi­cians who con­fronted the Re­gion­als.

But the days of emo­tional al­liances are now in the past. Af­ter the fall of the Yanukovych regime and his flight to Rus­sia, the sit­u­a­tion changed rad­i­cally. Since 2014, it’s every­one out for them­selves in Ukrainian pol­i­tics. Whereas the coun­try had been pre­vi­ously di­vided largely into two camps that took turns be­ing in power and be­ing in op­po­si­tion, there be­came con­sid­er­ably more than just two af­ter 2014. The op­po­si­tion split into sev­eral branches: the old op­po­si­tion, the “Young Turks,” the na­tion­al­ists and the old pro-Rus­sian guard, that are as likely to squab­ble among them­selves as to fight those who are in power. The sit­u­a­tion is fur­ther com­pli­cated by the fact that even these groups are not mono­lithic but con­sist of num­ber­less com­pet­ing teams who could break away or, equally pos­si­bly, join forces to es­tab­lish yet an­other party in the run-up to the next elec­tion.

The first group in­cludes the veter­ans of Ukrainian pol­i­tics, such as Yu­lia Ty­moshenko whose Batkivshchyna party has man­aged to be both in power and in op­po­si­tion over the course of nearly two decades, hav­ing sur­vived sev­eral ma­jor crises and found it­self once again on the rise. Pun­dits have buried Ty­moshenko re­peat­edly, but every time she has man­aged to pick her­self up again and reach solid rat­ings while her op­po­nents went into col­lapse. To­day, she is the fron­trun­ner among pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, even if only with slightly over 24% in the first round ac­cord­ing to a March poll by the Kyiv In­ter­na­tional In­sti­tute of So­ci­ol­ogy so far, and so feels no need for her party to join forces with any­one. For in­stance, dur­ing a joint press con­fer­ence back in Fe­bru­ary 2016, the Batkivshchyna leader an­nounced that she planned to run to­gether with an­other po­lit­i­cal veteran, one-time SBU Chief Va­len­tyn Na­ly­vaichenko, but even­tu­ally the two went their sep­a­rate ways. To­day, Ty­moshenko’s po­si­tion is far stronger, as Na­ly­vaichenko trails among the out­siders.

The Young Turks more-or-less in­clude in­di­vid­u­als who be­came po­lit­i­cally ac­tive af­ter the Revo­lu­tion of Dig­nity: Samopomich and a num­ber of smaller par­ties along the lines of Peo­ple Power, Move­ment of New Forces, DemAl­liane, and The Wave. Every­one in this co­hort claims that they are re­fresh­ing the Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal scene: their first pri­or­ity is fight­ing the cor­rupt sys­tems that will not be brought down by those in power or by Yu­lia Ty­moshenko, should she win. De­spite the prom­ise of this niche, these young politi­cians are hav­ing enor­mous prob­lems find­ing com­mon ground. Mul­ti­ple at­tempts to join forces into a sin­gle party have so far not led to any­thing. This could mean that the Young Turks will end up look­ing for com­mon ground with oli­garchic par­ties once again, and will cut deals to be placed on their lists—just as they did in 2014.

The na­tion­al­ist niche was taken over com­pletely by Svo­boda back in early 2010, but to­day there is the Na­tional Corps led by Azov com­man­der and cur­rent MP An­driy Bilet­skiy. Of all the par­ties in Ukraine to­day, NC seems to be the most de­ter­mined to ac­tu­ally build a real party from the ground up. It’s been ac­tively re­cruit­ing young peo­ple this past year, or­ga­niz­ing con­certs and mak­ing its pres­ence felt all the time, putting up posters and hand­ing out fly­ers in all the ma­jor cities. Both par­ties nev­er­the­less in­tend, so far, to run for the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion as a com­mon front. In March 2017, NC, Svo­boda and Praviy Sek­tor signed a man­i­festo that they were join­ing forces.

The pro-Rus­sian camp is mostly rep­re­sented by the rem­nants of the once-mono­lithic Party of the Re­gions, which fell apart days af­ter Yanukovych and his co­hort fled Ukraine for Rus­sia in Fe­bru­ary 2014. Although this flange was strongly uni­fied in the past, now it demon­strates the same merry


messi­ness that the demo­cratic camp al­ways did. A num­ber of new elec­tion projects are ac­tive in south­east­ern Ukraine these days. The big­gest of these, the Op­po­si­tion Bloc and the Za Zhyt­tia party en­joy rel­a­tively strong rat­ings and are com­pet­ing with each other for the pro-Rus­sian voter. Op­pBloc is un­der two fa­mil­iar oli­garchs, Dmytro Fir­tash and Ri­nat Akhme­tov. The sec­ond one, say in­formed sources, is un­der Putin koum and leader of the Ukrainian Choice move­ment Vik­tor Medved­chuk. Yet an­other party on the pro-Rus­sian side is Vidrodzhen­nia or Re­nais­sance, run by an ex-Party of Re­gions’ Vi­taliy Kho­mu­tyn­nyk, who is ap­par­ently also con­sid­er­ing a run for the pres­i­dency, and Serhiy Taruta’s Os­nova or Foun­da­tion, who has also been col­lect­ing for­mer Re­gion­als and peo­ple con­nected to them. The prospects for Nash Krai or Our Land, are less clear: it’s ap­par­ently a project of the Poroshenko Ad­min­is­tra­tion and is be­ing han­dled by Deputy Chief-of-Staff Vi­taliy Ko­valchuk. Be­cause of in­ter­nal con­flicts with oth­ers in the Poroshenko Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Ko­valchuk is cur­rently in mid-air, and with him Nash Krai.

The main ad­van­tage of the pro-Rus­sian forces in the past was that they were con­sol­i­dated. It helped them win in the 2014 elec­tion, but this has been lost since then. More­over, Rus­sia’s oc­cu­pa­tion of pro-Rus­sian re­gions of Ukraine has se­ri­ously weak­ened their po­si­tions. In­deed, the frag­men­ta­tion of the for­mer Re­gion­als greatly re­duces the risk of a come­back by pro-Rus­sian forces and the com­ing to power of a new Yanukovych. Still, the risk re­mains overly high and has a chance of com­ing to pass. Poll numbers for Op­pBloc and Za Zhyt­tia make that pretty clear. Should they de­cide to join forces and front a sin­gle can­di­date or party, their chances of win­ning will be that much higher.

Things are look­ing messy on both sides of the aisle: in the op­po­si­tion and in the rul­ing coali­tion. In­deed, the strains in the coali­tion are eas­ily as high. Re­la­tions be­tween the pres­i­dent and his cir­cle, and pretty much all po­ten­tial al­lies have been dam­aged. For in­stance, talks about join­ing the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko and Arseniy Yat­se­niuk’s Peo­ple’s Front are in stale­mate. There seems to be lit­tle com­mon ground with Premier Volodymyr Groys­man, as well, who is on much bet­ter terms with top cop Arsen Avakov, also with the Peo­ple’s Front, and Yat­se­niuk than with his boss. In fact, there has even been talk that he might make a run for the pres­i­dency. These back­room squab­bles could lead to sur­prise com­bi­na­tions with var­i­ous par­ties in the op­po­si­tion, which has clear chances of com­ing to power down the line. Lately, there have been many ru­mors about a pos­si­ble join­ing of forces be­tween Ty­moshenko and Avakov, who is see­ing the pres­i­dent’s prospects slowly dwin­dle and is look­ing for other ways of stay­ing in power.

His­tory has shown, time and again, that Ukrainian politi­cians, like Ukrainian so­ci­ety, tend to unite only when un­der threat from a strong en­emy. This is what en­abled them to con­sol­i­date in 2014, to get be­hind a sin­gle can­di­date and al­low him to come to power with­out a run-off. But in the run-up to the 2019 elec­tions, the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in Ukraine is ex­tremely frag­mented, in a kind of “war of every­one against every­one” that verges on a melee at times. The ex­treme cri­sis of 2014-2015 is al­ready be­hind and now politi­cians are look­ing to find their spot un­der the sun. The re­sult will de­pend on how ca­pa­ble its par­tic­i­pants will be to reach a com­pro­mise and what kinds of al­liances they can forge among them­selves.

The all-in­clu­sive op­po­si­tion. Ukraine's cur­rent op­po­si­tion spans from the gen­er­ally pro-Euro­pean par­ties that sup­port re­forms to the pro-Rus­sian ones, like Za Zhyt­tia led by Vadym Rabi­novych and Yevhen Mu­rayev, that crit­i­cize any trans­for­ma­tions

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