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Politics. like comedy, is about timing – Saakashvili’s momentum

March 7, 2016

The previous two entries have pondered the appointment of Natalie Jaresko as the next Ukrainian Prime Minister and a new Cabinet of Ministers in an effort to prevent/delay early Verkhovna Rada elections. They briefly outline both the difficulties and the opportunities that would be presented – though it is still unclear if/when Prime Minister Yatseniuk will go.

If he goes voluntarily (or at least prior to any personal vote of no confidence in him), then it will be a matter of a week – maximum.  If he forces a vote of no confidence in him then perhaps a little longer (it appears the number of votes to remove him are there or thereabouts) depending upon the swiftness of the Verkhovna Rada to organise the vote.

As stated in the entries linked above, a PM Jaresko will certainly see an interim duration of 6 months minimum, perhaps 12 months, before any Verkhovna Rada elections could be seriously contemplated again, unless she and Cabinet resign en masse voluntarily prior to that.

None of that means there will be a workable Verkhovna Rada for that length of time after any appointment however.

Nevertheless, if it comes to pass that she become the next Prime Minister, and there is then a minimum of 6 months of her tenure, may be 12 months (or more), what then for Governor Saakashvili whose political momentum has seemed to be gathering pace in anticipation of early Verkhovna Rada elections well before the year end?

misha

Politics, like comedy, is about timing.

When he was appointed in May 2015, the President’s “unveiling speech” to the constituents of Odessa contained a curious statement regarding assessment in a year – which is now not far over the horizon.  There are numerous reasons for that caveat to be have been made at the time (however surprisingly during a public appointment) with both positive or negative connotations.

Odessa has certainly not noticeably suffered under his governorship, and does not yet seem ready to see him go/move on – though to be blunt, since he embarked on national anti-corruption tours the capable hands of Maria Gaidar have held the reins (and done the Oblast work).

It is also clear that a slow burning scandal within the police in Iliychovsk/Chernamorsk may well be, or may be manipulated to be, a public death by 1000 cuts for Giorgi Lortkipanidze the Oblast Police Chief (who is beyond doubt the most transparent and public spirited Police Chief in the modern history of the Oblast).  Further there is likely to be an increased campaign against Davit Sakvarelidze the Odessa Prosecutor launched soon over the lack of successful prosecutions in the Oblast (despite no reform of the corrupt judiciary, and with “lustration” of the local judiciary simply not occurring – which puts any prosecutor at a disadvantage).

The plan to remove Governor Saakashvili by certain political forces/actors clearly includes trying to remove those around him and further frustrate any efforts at confronting vested interests before the “1 year and what has he achieved campaign?” reaches a crescendo.   The thinking is that if either Mr Lortkipanidze or Sakvarelidze be toppled, Misha will throw in the towel in an tantrum claiming “impossibility of progress” under such onerous and nefarious conditions.

How well such a plan will work against what are two of the most unsullied civil servants the Oblast has ever had remains to be seen – but such a plot there certainly is.

This notwithstanding the public trashing of the “Odessa Customs experiment” (and by extension Yulia Marushevska’s efforts) publicly in Kyiv.

How effective the Oblast reforms have been, is of course a matter of perception (hence the political dark arts are concentrating for Misha’s first anniversary).  The results are undoubtedly not what they could be, however the resistance of the entrenched vested interests in both Odessa and Kyiv should not be underestimated vis a vis the actual powers Governor Saakashvili legitimately can wield.

Fortunately for Governor Saakashvili, being able to point to several tangible reforms is far more than any predecessor could do – which undoubtedly he would highlight.  There are also the intangible perceptions to consider within the constituency – which remain mostly positive toward the Governor for the aforementioned reasons.

That said, politics is a grubby business and grubby deals, particularly with regard to Odessa airport, have already been struck by the Governor with the relevant nefarious interests – albeit those deals not necessarily being unlawful, they are certainly questionable regarding their integrity for many.

Indeed there seems to be something of “an on-going issue” regarding the interests of a certain notoriously nefarious character, “Lamposhka” Galadilnik who is believed to own the “City Center” shopping mall, and be involved in ownership of Privos, together with the redeveloped Arcadia beach – and is associated with Mayor Trukhanov – all of these assets “coincidentally” which seem to have fallen under the prosecutor’s eye for reasons that may not have anything directly to do with the almost certain dodgy issues surrounding any of these assets.  Rumour circulating both within “the underworld” and some political circles, claim such pressure is applied to allow the Governor to force the release of 25% interest/ownership in Odessa airport supposedly held by those very close to the aforementioned individual.

Another rumour that will not currently die is the sale of Defence Ministry property and land on Fransuski Boulevard to a certain developer (who built the Islamic Centre here) in return for PR throughout his media institutions and also funding for “campaigns”.  To be clear, it was the Governor’s responsibility to “sign off” on an already agreed sale of State (and not municipal) property/land – it is the PR and funding rumour as the price of that “signing off” that now burns along side the previous grubby airport deals and current claims of selective pressure.

Also increasingly problematic for the Governor is that as a Presidential appointee, and old chum of the President, he is seen as the “President’s man” (albeit one he struggles to control) – yet it becomes increasingly clear that the President is not exactly assisting reforms as he might, nor shedding his entourage that are clearly intent upon doing business in the same odious and corrupt manner that it was done pre-Yanukovych ouster.  How long can he remain both quiet and/or give the perception of loyalty to a President whose anti-corruption talk is far from being matched by his anti-corruption walk even within his own Presidential Administration?

If Natalie Jaresko becomes PM, then assuredly the “deposed” Arseniy Yatseniuk without early Verkhovna Rada elections will become a “Grey Cardinal”, and also far more at liberty to enter a public and very dirty spat with the Governor when freed from the constraints of “high office”.  Oligarchy media space will be amply provided.  (Indeed Mr Yatseniuk’s “reform credentials” may be tested more outside office than within, should he assume the odious “Grey Cardinal” role.  If he is to reinvent himself for a political comeback as they all seem to do, staying clear of that role would seem appropriate – albeit very unlikely.)

With a newly installed PM Jaresko and Cabinet, the Governor will also need a new “anti-corruption” target to retain his national campaign momentum – the current target of Mr Yatseniuk and Cabinet will have gone.

If early Verkhovna Rada elections remain his goal, then the next corrupt political establishment after Mr Yatseniuk and his Cabinet, as well as discounting his friend the President (for now), plus the necessary grace period given to a new PM and Cabinet, leaves only the parliament itself.  That means the oligarchy that is behind the parties and numerous individual parliamentarians.  It seems to be the only immediate choice.

The alternative is to slow the momentum, or even pause it, in the hope of gathering momentum once more some time in the future – whilst perhaps getting tarred with a Presidential brush of worsening hue, unless Poroshenko actually changes his current flaccid stance toward corruption.  If the next Presidential appointment as Prosecutor General is nothing more than a president-loyal chained dog, rather than a generally accepted competent, independent character, can Governor Saakashvili continue to remain supportive of President Poroshenko?

Ideologically, such as any political ideology actually exists in Ukrainian politics, Governor Saakashvili, and many of those that surround him, are far more comfortable bedfellows with Samopomich than the President’s party Solidarity.  Currently whatever political vehicle Misha may employ should early Verhovna Rada elections occur, it seems almost certain a coalition between it and Samopomich (and the Democratic Alliance) would result.

It may be possible to slow his current momentum for the (first) 6 months of any PM Jaresko Cabinet without any serious political or electoral consequences, but should she last 12 months or longer (which she may do), would it be as easy to regain the current momentum – whether still “with” President Poroshenko, or being Governor – or not?

Can he keep his powder dry, or will it prove to be the case of having gone off half-cocked already?

Mr Saakashvili is a wily politician, but there can be little doubt that the longer early Verkhovvna Rada elections are delayed, the more problematic it will become for the timing of his current preparatory maneuvering and clear societal momentum.

For the local political class of Odessa, it also means something of a state of purgatory, as all wait to act once they know what he will do – and when.

His anti-corruption theme will remain constant, but the personality focus upon which it is so often concentrated (and gains resonance) will have to be redirected in the absence of PM Yatseniuk (and Interior Minister Avakov) should they leave centre stage if momentum is not to be lost.

Perhaps more will become clear by the summer.

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