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And so begins an internal political Maidan? Maybe

November 26, 2015

Many times this blog has opined over the past year that the next “Maidan” would probably fall within and not without the walls of the Verkhovna Rada.

The last 48 hours has seen some interesting announcements and developments from those within the two largest coalition parties – President Poroshenko’s Solidarity Party and Prime Minister Yatseniuk’s People’s Front.

Firstly the People’s Front announced an impending “coup” designed to unseat Prime Minister Yatseniuk.  If there be such a “coup” then it is perhaps not without political justification.  The Prime Minister is mired in corruption and cronyism allegations ranging from delaying signing off on appointments to important positions within SOEs, defending and stymieing investigations of his friends – most prominently Martynenko who is under investigation in several European nations for possible criminality etc.  There is no need to list everything, the issue is raised.  This notwithstanding the People’s Front deciding not to take part in the local elections of October 2015 due to the fact it was almost inevitable they would fail to pass the 5% threshold – in any Oblast.

The point of the party stating it would support no other Prime Minister than Mr Yatseniuk is perhaps to call the bluff of the coalition partners, as a complete lack of support from all People’s Front deputies would make the Verkhovna Rada more or less unworkable – if all People’s Front MPs acted in unison.

The question is how many are truly loyal to the Prime Minister, and how many are “for rent”, happy to move across to Solidarity (or others)?  There is no ideological boundary as there is no ideology, so how many are immovable from the party ranks?  As an educated guess, less than 30, which is perhaps not enough to hold the coalition to ransom.  The question for the Prime Minister is to how many he would say “Et tu Brute?”  Too many?

But would not an early Verkhovna Rada election have the same dire electoral results for the party as the local elections which they decided to forgo?  Quite probably – certainly if they passed the 5% threshold nationally their numbers would dramatically reduce within the Verkovna Rada.  A dangerous game perhaps.

Could the People’s Front party put forward an alternative candidate for Prime Minister?  Naturally so, but volunteers at this moment may be few with so much prickly legislation still requiring to be passed, and there are potential schisms appearing within the Solidarity Party that if gather momentum could force an early Verkhovna Rada election anyway – thus endangering the People’s Front regardless of its own posturing and deterrence strategy.

The issue with any deterrence strategy is that it only works if it deters.  If it doesn’t deter then there are consequences that must be faced.

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Of the possible schism within Solidarity, there is the appearance of a formal “Anti-corruption platform”, comprising thus far of  Sergiy Leshchenko Svitlana Zalіschuk, Igor Fіrsov, Vladislav Golub, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Olexiy Mushak, Pavlo Rіzanenko, Yuriy Solovey Olga Chervakova, Oleksandr Chernenko and Oksana Yurinets – under the stewardship of Viktor Chumak and Mustafa Nayem.

Whether others will join, and whether this will remain a purely internal affair within Solidarity, or whether the former activists, civil society members, journalists and cultural icons so desperately placed on otherwise odious party lists by all parties will begin to make this a cross-party affair remains to be seen – however, should it occur, or should early Verkhovna Rada elections prove to be necessary, there is a real possibility that this internal schism could become a political party in its own right – or at least threaten to do so and force the cleansing of the Solidarity Party lists.  The former seems more likely and would undoubtedly bring across the disillusioned reformers swept into the Verkhovna Rada across all party lines when the parties were trying to provide the public with a thin veneer of change to their respective structures.

This formal creation and announcement was naturally swiftly met with a shot across the bows from the party leadership, and confidant of the President – Igor Kononenko.

Mr Kononenko described the situation as absolutely normal – however he went on to say that if the group conduct work on splitting fractions, then “we will draw conclusions”.  Mr Kononenko stated further that there would be no pressure put upon the MPs that formally announced their participation in the “Anti-corruption platform” but then warned the newly established group of MPs to “stay away from demagoguery, to respect facts and constructively work primarily within the faction.”

A statement that perhaps contradicts himself and certainly may conflict with the aims of the “Anti-corruption platform” within the Solidarity Party.  Viktor Chumak has clearly stated its aims are to fight against corruption “inside the Parliament, both within the parliamentary faction Bloc Petro Poroshenko, and outside.”

Clearly a political head to head within Solidarity is potentially on the horizon, and also more broadly within the Verkhovna Rada itself when these MPs are necessarily noisily washing dirty linen publicly, refusing to back down, and feel forced to take actions that will effect the smooth running of the Solidarity Party and the coalition when the numerous corruption issues they will raise are simply ignored.

There is then the quiet opening of a “satellite office” of “Team Saakashvili” in Kyiv – under the auspices of promoting the “Odessa Package” of desired reforms cooked up within the Governor’s advisory team in Odessa.  It is, nonetheless, the opening of “Team Saakashvili’s” physical presence in Kyiv, and it is a team that has openly called for Prime Minister Yatseniuk to resign numerous times.   It is a team that regularly openly names the corrupt at the highest levels and has traction in the psyche of quite a large part of the national Ukrainian constituency.

“Team Saakashvili”, should early Verkhovna Rada elections occur, will become a political party – for few within are fond of Solidarity or any other existing political entity – and “Team Saakashvili” has a very long list of previously vetted, western education Ukrainian citizens free of corrupt deeds following its recruitment appeal in Odessa that drew applicants from all over.  There are several hundred pre-vetted “clean” Ukrainians to put on a party list that will easily garner far more than the required 5% threshold to enter the Verkhovna Rada.

The biggest political losers if this were to happen would be Solidarity and the People’s Front for their is the voter base most susceptible  – albeit “Team Saakashvili” would be loyal the President Poroshenko, it would not be President Poroshenko’s party as Solidarity is.

Thus there are several storms brewing not only within the People’s Front and Solidarty Party rank and file in and of themselves, but also between the People’s Front and Solidarity – neither of which will benefit from early Verkhovna Rada elections with “Team Saakshvili” awaiting its chance in the national legislature.

Likewise none would want to see Prime Minister Yatseniuk removed until the most prickly issues are passed through the Verkhovna Rada, allowing any replacement a more gentle public reception – yet keeping him when enveloped by a deep fog of corruption and cronyism will become much more difficult with a very public and noisy Solidarity Anti-Corruption platform, many well known to the public and many who have the support of external “supporters of Ukraine” that will, to some degree, have their backs.  As long as the “Anti-Corruption platform” shoot straight and hit big targets, it is rather difficult for the external “supporters of Ukraine” not to back these MPs having proclaimed innumerable times corruption is the main enemy of Ukraine.

To hold it all together will take careful management – failure to manage this well will result in either the next “Maidan” occurring within the Verkhovna Rada (rather than outside it) where the reformers simply go head to head very publicly with the old corrupt faces and schemes, or early Verkhovna Rada elections – or perhaps one will lead to the other.

How feasible it will be to manage the ambitions of the “Anti-corruption platform”, or the brinkmanship of the People’s Front, or the unpredictability of Samopomich, or the ego of Yulia Tymoshenko, or the inevitable momentum and national seepage of “Team Saakashvili” now it has opened an office in Kyiv?

Or perhaps the questions should be just how feasible the ambitions of the “Anti-corruption platform”, brinkmanship of the People’s Front, how unpredictable is Samopomich, and how great the patience of “Team Saakashvili” actually are, will probably all be answered by Easter 2016.  (There’s nothing that can be done with Yulia’s ego or populist nonsense.)

Are the seeds of a new “Maidan” within the Verkhovna Rada now sown for germination in 2016,  or will the dark lords and grey cardinals ride to the aid of a corrupt Mordor (and de facto save Prime Minister Yatseniuk in the process)?

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