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The “Oligarch Party” – One for the conspiracy theorists?

August 7, 2015

Last week, the odious Mikhail Dobkin of the Opposition Block, had his people submit documentation dissolving the “Law & Order” party structure in Kharkiv Oblast and registering it as a regional office of the “Opposition Block”.  A procedure it is claimed by Mr Dobkin, that will take approximately 2 months and would theoretically perhaps prevent the Opposition Block contesting the local elections in Kharkiv should the new law on local elections be signed prior to the completion of this glacial bureaucratic process.

Yesterday President Poroshenko signed into law the new local election laws passed by the Rada on 14 July.  257 votes seeing the Bill pass several weeks ago.

Once again, Article 94 of the Constitution of Ukraine which obliges the President to either sign, return a law to the Rada for improvement, or veto it within 15 days has seemingly been taken as a “guideline to timeliness” rather than a Constitutional obligation – a recurring issue under President Poroshenko.

Thus, if Mr Dobkin is to be believed, the Opposition Block will not be contesting the local elections in Kharkiv – albeit few would believe anything Mr Dobkin has to say prima facie.

That said, the Opposition Block remains extremely toxic in Ukrainian national politics amongst the voting constituency.  It is not helped by being the political home to the most odious of political remnants from the defunct Party of Regions (the likes of Mr Dobkin).  It is further undermined by the Kremlin illegally annexing Crimea and then starting a war and seizing a large part of what would have been a core voter base for the Opposition Block.

Thus within what remains without Kremlin intervention on the ground nationally, the Opposition Block is toxic and without a core voter base of any size.  It is doomed on the national scale for the foreseeable future to fully live up to its party name – opposition in the near term (and possibly extinction in the medium term).

This has not been lost upon those that financed and overtly or covertly have an interest in a return to the “oligarchical politics and economics” of the Party of Regions past.

However, the next elections may be national in scale, but they are local elections.  They are elections for mayors, oblast councils, city councils, town councils, village councils etc.  The voting constituency may vote one way nationally, but not necessarily the same way locally.

By way of historical and current example, Odessa twice returned an “Orange Mayor” in Eduard Gurvitz whilst returning entirely “Blue” Regionaires as Rada MPs simultaneously.  Currently the Rada MPs are split between ex-Regionaires and pro-President.  The Oblast Governor and Oblast Rada Chairman are pro-Poroshenko, whilst the current Mayor is an ex-Regionaire, openly associated with well-known mafia personalities and business, who whilst prima facie acts as if “on-board” with the prevailing “Poroshenko reformist winds” very much has his own agenda upon which neither the President nor Oblast Governor can (or should) rely.

Indeed, though there was much surprise about the arrival of a reformist Governor in Saakashvili, if due consideration is given to the fact that there were no perceived reforms – or even reformist intentions – in the Oblast prior to his arrival, then it is possible to argue that his appointment was in no small part a way of preventing the October local elections simply heading back toward the “old guard/Opposition Block and associates” by virtue of nothing changing (imaginary or real), so why not go back to what the voting constituency knows?

If nothing else, the Saakashvili appointment,  his apparent energetic “whack -a – corrupt whatever” (and let the law catch up if acting beyond his remit) approach has probably stemmed that line of societal thinking – so far.  This despite no major structural changes that can rightly be attributed to the Governor (rather than the centre or externals) currently.

That his approach of publicly whacking the low hanging fruit whilst failing to articulate to the electorate the proposed structural changes, the expected outcomes, their benefits and by when is a collective PR failure on the part of the Governor and Oblast Administration.

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Nevertheless, the oligarchy and vested interests behind, or sympathetic toward the Opposition Block clearly recognise its failure, and thus we come to movement behind the curtain and alleged events that make for a conspiracy theorists dream.

There is currently a strong rumour that last weekend there was a meeting at the Hyatt Hotel in Kyiv.  The meeting was allegedly arranged by Rinat Akhmetov – although he personally did not attend, sending others to represent his interests.  Also in attendance, the rumour goes, were representatives of other oligarchs.  It is said that those present included Sergei Taruta, Yuri Kosyuk, Konstantin Zhevago and Angelica Labunskaya – all of whom represented various oligarchs and their interests.

Not present, it is claimed, was Ihor Kolomoisky, nor was there anybody there representing him.  This due to the fact he has already launched the “Ukrop” political party, and this “Hyatt meeting” apparently was to discuss forming a political party that represented an “oligarchical fightback”.

The rumour goes on to state that it was agreed that the Opposition Block model would be a distinct failure – again.  Any new party would be modeled upon the Samopomich Party model – specifically a party that contained no historically odious political figures, but a new unblemished generation that could be well financed collectively and pursue a “business” (read oligarchy) friendly political line.

It seems rather unlikely that any new party, if agreed upon (and if the “Hyatt meeting” actually occurred), would be registered in time for the local elections in October – and indeed local elections would be of little use for a party that would be formed specifically to act on behalf of the oligarchy upon the national political stage – where it would need to function to be effective for those behind it.

Perhaps the case for legislation requiring open party lists and transparent political party funding – or even State only election funding – gathers yet more strength if this rumour has any legs whatsoever – although the fact such draft legislation has been sat gathering dust prior to the current President and Rada being sworn in and no real will to blow the dust off the draft Bill speaks for itself.

The outcome of this alleged Hyatt gathering, however, is not entirely clear.

Was agreement reached to form a new “business/oligarchy” friendly party?  One that mirrors, at least in part, the Samopomich model of no odious or previously disgraced candidates?  When will such a party be registered?  Has it been registered already?  By whom?  Are we about to witness a lot of oligarch control businesses see their middle management suddenly and en masse, decide to enter politics?  Could such a party actually work to the benefit of all of those varied and occasionally aggressively competing vested interests behind it?

One man’s lobbyist is another man’s advocate surely, but an oligarchy built, special purpose political party vehicle that fights for them all (less Mr Kolomoisky and his Ukrop vehicle) in equal measure?

An interesting rumour certainly, and perhaps even entirely true – but could such a party function to the contentment of all behind it and pick up sufficient traction with the Ukrainian constituency to become anything like a robust political force?

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