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The political soup – Ukraine

April 15, 2016

In yesterday’s entry outlining the gargantuan tasks facing Prime Minister Groisman and his new Cabinet of Ministers, it was stated – “If all of this seems a gargantuan task, it is made all the more difficult with a coalition majority vote of 227 at the time of writing, when it requires 226 votes to pass even the most basic of statute.  To be sure of passing necessary but unpopular legislation, that vote count provides for only a single coalition parliamentarian to be absent if all others without the coalition are against.”

That 227, to be entirely honest, was an unofficial parliamentarian count by this blog – yet having counted several times, that remains the figure it arrives at.  It may be that the figure is higher, but 227 is a solid number and certainly the official parliamentarian vote count for the new (wafer thin) majority coalition is not less.

One of the significant dangers raised within the aforementioned entry was that of populism – “It will also have to deal with rampant, feckless and unhinged populism now that The Radicals and Batkivshchyna (and Samopomich to a lesser degree) will undoubtedly noisily promulgate henceforth.

Indeed Ms Tymoshenko, who has tacitly and subliminally been electioneering for some weeks, is very likely to push to the fore a “National Salvation Front” comprised of professionals and civil society members that meet and support her populist agenda – rather than have them create an alternative, sensible agenda for Ms Tymoshenko to promote.

To be entirely blunt what the nation actually needs salvation from, is the type of populist flapdoodle that Ms Tymoshenko peddles. Ne’er has it done Ukraine any favours historically, and ne’er will it in the future.

Another danger, both to the current/new coalition and also to the designs of Ms Tymoshenko, will be Governor Saakashvili should he quit or be sacked from his post in Odessa in the immediate future.  Civil society, political activists and a large part of the national constituency are likely to gather under his banner when it is eventually raised officially upon the Ukrainian political landscape.”

With such a wafer thin majority coalition, it is perhaps worth pondering what would have occurred should that 227 actually have turned out to be 225 or less – forcing early Verkhovna Rada elections.

At the time of writing those elections still seem almost inevitable, albeit now 6 months away due to statutory limitations with regards to votes of No Confidence in a new Cabinet, and the unlikely unraveling of the 227 coalition majority during that same period.

Nevertheless, without a radical uptick in reforms both qualitatively, speed of adoption, and thorough implementation, few would give the new Cabinet more than 12 months at a maximum.  Spring 2017 may now look more favourable than Autumn 2016 for new Verkhovna Rada elections, but without serious policy progress and tangible results within the constituency, one or the other appears unavoidable.

An opinion poll published in Ukrainsky Pravda on 15th April unsurprisingly predicts a dismal outcome for the current coalition.  The People’s Front would be emphatically put to the political sword and President Poroshenko’s Solidarity gathers a meager 11%, equal with Samopomich and the Opposition Block, and behind Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna on 13%.  (The Radicals with 8% and Svoboda with 5% the only other parties to clear the 5% threshold).

Ukr pol bez Misha

So what would have happened if the 227 coalition parliamentarians had not been found and elections had taken place instead?

Ms Tymoshenko would clearly have expected to become Prime Minister, yet to do so would require a majority coalition under her leadership.  It is debatable which parties would join a coalition that would place Yulia Tymoshenko as Prime Minister.  It is one thing to be in a majority coalition with her when she is a minor partner (in terms of parliamentary votes she controls) but quite another to be in a coalition that she believes she leads.

With Ms Tymoshenko, you either work for her or against her.  She doesn’t do “with her”.  Thus to work in a coalition led by her, it is necessary for all coalition partners to willing swallow her populist flapdoodle that she tries to pass off as sensible policy – and sensible policy it has ne’er been, is not now, and ne’er will be, for populist politics serve not the nation but only the populist in charge.

With Mr Lyashko now trying to form a “United Opposition”, a reader may ponder whether it would firstly include the still toxic Opposition Block – toxic as far as many voters for Batkivshchyna and Samopomich are concerned, making such an alliance unsavory  – and whether Ms Tymoshenko could function within a United Opposition any better that she did in a majority coalition.  Probably not unless she leads it to the angst of Mr Lyashko.  It is far more likely now she be in electioneering mode, that she will forge an entirely independent path politically and via her “National Salvation Front” in the civil society space.

Indeed, Ms Tymoshenko has for some months been trying to form a coalition/alliance with both Governor Saakashvili and also Samopomich behind the curtain during her less than subtle current yet unofficial electioneering.  Both, quite wisely, have refused her flattery and courtship.  Neither Andriy Sadovy, nor Misha Saakashvili are naive enough to have any faith in a lasting relationship with a personality such as Yulia Tymoshenko – and even a temporary alliance has perhaps more risk than reward if being directly associated with her nonsense.

soup

So from the opinion poll soup above, where would a functional, stable coalition be found if nothing appears stable when it includes Ms Tymoshenko, as contemporary Ukrainian political history including deals made with critical external institutions like the IMF, then subsequently broken by Ms Tymoshenko, be a guide?  (Indeed a Tymoshenko leadership would swiftly end IMF lending if she pursued her currently promulgated economic codswallop that is meant to pass as policy.)

What then if Governor Saakashvili eventually pulls the inevitable trigger on a political party?  Does it add more possibilities for a coalition of substance, longevity and functionality?

Ukr Pol c Misha

A Saakashvili party would gather 10% according to the poll.  Batkivshchyna again gets 13% (which perhaps demonstrates a loyal (if gullible) constituency base), Opposition Block also gets the same vote percentage of 11% (via another loyal voter base) regardless of a Saakashvili party or not.  Samopomich garners the same 10% of constituents as that of Governor Saakashvili, the President’s Solidarity getting 9%, with The Radicals 7% coming in last.  (The 4% of Svoboda falls under the 5% threshold but obviously well within any margin of error to pass it.)

As has already been stated, not only is Mr Saakashvili wisely refusing the political advances of Ms Tymoshenko, but for those that know either/both personally, there is simply no way they could work together for any period of time.

With the President’s party coming in a weak 4th, and President Poroshenko undoubtedly keen to avoid a Prime Minister Tymoshenko scenario (as any President would), he would be reliant upon Mr Saakashvili’s party, or Samompomich, or both, recognising the perils of a Batkivshchyna coalition that believes itself (or better put herself) the rightful (authoritarian) coalition leader (regardless of any “team” rhetoric to the contrary).

As written in this blog on innumerable occasions, the likelihood of a Saakashvili-Samopomich coalition is quite high compared to any other.  Of the existing mainstream political parties, Samopomich is the closest to the Saakashvili thinking – and vice versa.  Such an alignment also suits both Andriy Sadovy and Misha Saakashvili when looking to the political horizon.  Andriy Sadovy has made clear since 2014, his eye is only upon the presidency.  Mr Saakashvili will not have been a Ukrainian citizen long enough to run for the presidency at the next elections and is thus no competition for Mr Sadovy.

Ms Tymoshenko will undoubtedly run for the presidency, thus a Sampomich-Batkivshchyna coalition (with or without others) would suffer the fallout of its leaders campaigning against each other – for an ethical, policy based campaign would be very unlikely.

Mr Saakashvili would be a significant cheerleader for any candidate however, and Mr Sadovy is currently quite likely to get his support (at the time of writing) unless President Poroshenko begins to actively back him in his current role in Odessa (though come Verkhovna Rada elections it seems almost certain Governor Saakashvili will quit and form a party regardless).

Many of the team surrounding the Governor currently in elected political positions would have chosen to run upon the Samopomich ticket had it not been necessary to firstly show so loyalty toward President Poroshenko after appointing Mr Saakashvili Governor, and secondly accounting for the political realities of Odessa that would have had less predictable electoral outcomes in choosing Samopomich over Solidarity during the electioneering of October 2015.

However, it is clear that Governor Saakashvili is no longer prepared to pretend he has been getting the support from Kyiv that in reality has been very noticeable by its absence but which he had thus far chosen to ignore, if elections were held now, clearly none would sit on the Solidarity/Poroshenko ticket.

As already stated, both Sampomoch and the Odessa Governor are refusing the advances of Ms Tymoshenko, as all but her loyal supporters see the Empress has no political clothes.

Is it likely that a coalition of 2nd, 3rd and 4th placed parties, or namely a Samopomich, Saakashvili and Solidarity (as the junior partner) would work?

Neither Sampopomich nor Saakashvili would entertain the Opposition Block for a second, and if Batkivshchyna is also out due to the obvious leadership issues/clashes that would doom a coalition from day one, then a coalition based upon the polls above would seem to require The Radicals and/or Svoboda, and/or a reasonable number of independents to be sure of crossing the 226 majority finishing line.

As of yesterday, the current Cabinet has a 227 majority by this blog’s count.  How much stronger would any new, post elections coalition actually be, and (disregarding specific policy) would it be any more functional?

Perhaps an alternative coalition would be far more aggressive and swift in fighting corruption, the issue that tops domestic demands – then again perhaps not when considering some of those required to form any majority.

Indeed perhaps only Mr Saakashvili can take any comfort from such polls, for it clearly identifies a space for his party in the mix as and when it emerges, albeit with support insufficient to force through results without a coalition of mixed repute and dubious political will in some cases.

The question therefore, with a minimum of 6 months before the next internal Verkhovna Rada cramps can remove the new Cabinet, is how far and how visible can it be in “reforming” both on and off the statute book before the Ukrainian constituency – thus presenting the possibility of delaying almost inevitable early Verkhovna Rada elections.

The political soup on display above in either poll (with or without Mr Saakashvili) seems to provide a “muddle through somehow” outcome at best – not so very different from the current arrangement which will also try to “muddle through somehow”.  The policy outcomes in any scenario are far from certain too.

All of that said, it does not mean early Verkhovna Rada elections are necessarily a bad outcome as and when they inevitably come – depending heavily upon the electoral laws in place when they occur (the adoption of open party lists etc., would be a “must” to change party composition) – but it is equally important to realise that any coalitions that will certainly have to be formed thereafter, are just as likely to be dysfunctional and fractious.  Further as one swallow does not make a summer, one opinion poll does not necessarily equate to much either.

Perhaps the day will come when the political parties in Ukraine are bigger than their leaders, rather than the leaders being bigger than the parties, and as such (some form of) ideology takes precedence over personality politics.  Maybe coalitions would become slightly more easy to manage.

Meanwhile – enjoy the soup!

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