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Two weeks to reshuffle regional governors – Ukraine (1st May looms)

April 20, 2016

A few days ago an entry appeared regarding the Ukrainian political soup and the possible outcomes of what seem to be inevitable early Verkhovna Rada elections – on the presumption Prime Minister Groisman and Cabinet do not, or cannot, push forward with reforms and their implementation at sufficient speed and of qualitative substance to prevent them.

Within that entry, naturally the pulling of the political party trigger by Odessa Governor Saakashvili was mentioned, for it had an effect upon coalition outcomes – “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.”

A question to be answered is how and when Governor Saakashvili pulls the trigger on his next project?

When pondering such timing, it is perhaps necessary to consider the new law on the Civil Service that comes into force with effect from the 1st of May.  From 1st May the law changes curtailing the President’s ability to simply appoint and dismiss.  From that date onward the law dictates that Governors are to be selected from open competition.

shuffle

If President Poroshenko wants to place or reshuffle his currently appointed Governor pack as he sees fit and without any possible upsetting of his preferred outcomes, he has to do it between now and 30th April.

Ergo, if it is apparent, and it is, that Mr Saakashvili will pull the political trigger on his next project the moment it becomes clear early Verkhovna Rada elections are unavoidable and imminent, thus resigning as Governor to pursue this project, perhaps President Poroshenko would prefer to replace him between now and 30th April with somebody that will remain, perhaps until the next Presidential elections some years from now, rather than have to suffer open competition for the post.

Indeed any changes of Governor nationally are probably best done now to avoid messy and uncertain open competition for the posts come 1st May from a presidential point of view.

In pondering this scenario, the question that therefore presents itself is who would replace Governor Saakashvili in Odessa?  Whomever it may be will be perceived by some as a backward step regardless – and indeed if this blog were to draw up a shortlist, in some cases that is undeniably the case.

Notwithstanding some real surprises, that blog shortlist would be as follows (in no particular order):

Vadim Rabinovich, Gennady Moskal, Alexandr Pressman, Vitaly Barvinenko, Viktor Bondar and Vasily Gulyaev.

With one, perhaps two exceptions on that shortlist, the perception would be that President Poroshenko will have given up on Odessa and that a different city, perhaps the capital Kyiv, will then become the location for “pilot projects/experiments” rather than Odessa.

Mr Saakashvili would then have to aim at gathering in somewhere between 15 – 20% of the popular vote in any early Verkhovna Rada elections to have a commanding presence in coalition building – for few (if any) parties will pass the 15 – 20% constituency capture figure.

How Governor Saakashvili leaves his post may also dictate the chances of a majority coalition between his political vehicle and that of President Poroshenko (as well as others) – the presidential party may well come in 5th behind Batkivshchyna, Samopomich, Mr Saakashvili’s party and the Opposition Block.

If he is fired by President Poroshenko, after receiving such little support despite promises made, he may decide not to enter into any coalition with the President – unless becoming Prime Minister is on offer.  If he resigns without giving President Poroshenko sufficient time to appoint a replacement before the 1st May law comes into effect, it seems unlikely he has any intention of a coalition with the presidential party post any early Verkhovna Rada elections.

As it is becoming ever clearer by way of lacking support from Kyiv that it has lost interest in the “Odessa experiment/project”, and indeed seems content to watch matters reverse, it is unlikely that Governor Saakashvili will be prepared to try and continue to justify that lack of support to the local motivated reformers.  He will have little political choice but to do all he can to push for early Verkhovna Rada elections and then fight the fight on a different battleground – within the national legislature.

As Ms Tymoshenko is already electioneering, and both Opposition Block and Samopomich are also pressing for early elections too, a vote of “No Confidence” in the new Cabinet sometime between October 2016 and March 2017 looms large.

There will surely be UDAR MPs who if certain of a place on a Saakashvili party list would vote for early elections once his political vehicle is launched – enough to undo the wafer thin current majority coalition that would attempt to beat down any “No Confidence” vote.  Perhaps one or two MPs from the People’s Front too for similar reasons.

Whatever the case, with 1st May rapidly approaching, any governor reshuffling/dismissing/appointing by the President to avoid the new Civil Service legislative requirements have to occur within the next 10 days.  With Governor Saakashvili’s ambition abundantly clear, either by default or design, fair means or foul, be it the Governor’s or President’s decision, it should come as no surprise to see a change in Odessa.

The only preventative solution would seem to be the lack of support from Kyiv swiftly and overtly reversed, with President Poroshenko accepting an open competition for the position of Odessa Governor once early Verkhovna Rada elections can be delayed no further in exchange for a Saakashvili coalition partner thereafter.

To be blunt, it would be perhaps remiss if the President passed up the opportunity to simply appoint a reliable replacement by 30th April to avoid a lottery – however the risk of being perceived to have given up on the Odessa experiment carries the electoral risk of the local constituency giving up on the President and his party the next time those in Odessa head to the polls.  One may wonder just what those unpublished but consistently conducted opinion polls say in this regard.

If the polls look grim, then a perceived “lottery” in line with the new legislation entering into force may well be the better option for the President – particularly as it depends upon who and how candidates for the open competition are decided – and who decides who decides which candidates run.

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