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Misha quits – Whose hat will be thrown into the replacement ring?

November 7, 2016

The 7th November saw the inevitable resignation of Mikhail Saakashvili as Governor of Odessa (although at the time of writing it is unclear whether President Poroshenko will accept it).

It was a long time coming, but hardly a surprise.  In June, when in his company, it became clear he was going to move on before the year end.

Mr Saakashvili was joined in his resignation by Giorgi Lortkipanidze the police chief, leaving Yulia Marushevska as the last publicly recognisable face standing from “Team Saakashvili” in high regional office.  The tenure of Ms Marushevska at the ports is now clearly limited.  It is a question of how long Roman Nasirov leaves matters before he sacks her (and swiftly rolls back her anti-corruption efforts), or before she too resigns.  Days, weeks, or a month?

Naturally there will be a public post mortem over the achievements (or not) of Misha Saakashvili as Governor.  Whether those achievements will be measured in the strictly tangible, or whether they will include the intangible remains to be seen.  Did he underachieve?  He would probably say he did – but then he perhaps underestimated the robust forces he would be up against and the lack of support from Kyiv when he took the role.  After all, he had no additional powers to any other governor – and those powers are limited – so expectations (self and public) required management that was never forthcoming.

Whatever the case, he came, he did what he did (some of it well and some of it poorly) and has now moved on.

The question is who will replace him?

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It is no longer officially a matter the president picking somebody fiercely loyal to him and appointing them – regardless of their ability,  The legislation changing in May 2016 now requires a process of examinations and interviews before a panel for those applying for the position.  Upon the panel recommendation President Poroshenko may then appoint that individual (or perhaps not).

The point of the legislative changes were to increase transparency and provide the perception of corrupt/crony appointments becoming political history.  A reader should note however, that a transparent process is not necessarily the same thing as a public process.

Who sits on the assessment/recommendation panel and decides upon candidate ability/ranking therefore matters.  Who decides who decides who sits on that panel matters too.

It also matters who applies for the role and their political affiliation – even though a reader may think that should be of no consideration if the new legislation is supposed to place ability before political loyalties.

The new legislation has witnessed this process occur several times since in came into effect.  Would any reader be surprised to discover that the winners in both Kharkiv and Mykolaevskaya Oblasts came from the presidential BPP faction?  (The successful candidate for Mykolaevskaya Oblast is definitely not the sharpest tool in the tool box, so a reader may ponder just how testing the examinations actually are.)

Let us be blunt, whether or not the successful lady in Kharkiv was the best applicant or not, for various and different reasons there was no way President Poroshenko would have been comfortable with an Oppo Block or People’s Front candidate being recommended for appointment in Kharkiv.  Likewise the Oppo Block getting any governor in a southern oblast is not something President Poroshenko is going to entertain easily, so Mykolaevskaya also saw a BPP applicant come out on top.

Clearly Odessa, an oblast of some wealth generation, bountiful corruption money channels, and of strategic national value is not going to see an Oppo Block candidate be recommended for Governor – even if they are by far the best candidate by way of ability (unless grubby deals are struck in Kyiv).

If it is a coincidence that both Kharkiv and Mykolaevskaya Oblasts saw BPP winners, then perhaps that coincidence will continue?

It therefore matters which BPP affiliated candidates throw their hats in the ring.

Alexie Goncharenko is an obvious candidate, but he doesn’t want the role.  He is quite happy acting as President Poroshenko’s Deputy Faction leader in the Verkhovna Rada.  When speaking to him it is quite apparent he is clearly enjoying the role and would not seek the Governor position by choice – at least not now.

However, if President Poroshenko tells him he wants him to become Governor (and thus he will win the process) it is likely he would (begrudgingly) accept.

There are however other locals who are BPP affiliated and who would be happy to throw their hat into the Governor of Odessa ring and go through the transparent (not public) process – to probably emerge the winner (if coincidences are to continue).

Both Messrs Alexander Potapsky and Misha Shmuchkovych fit the BPP candidacy bill and are considered loyal.

Both of these candidates are deemed to be “Goncharenko people”.  Mr Potapsky is the current Speaker of City Hall (and becomes acting Mayor if Mr Turkhanov is long term sick – or worse) and Mr Shmuchkovych was acting Oblast Rada Chairman following Alexie Goncharenko’s departure from that role when he entered the Verkhovna Rada.

For the record, the current Oblast Rada Chairman, Anatoli Urbansky is also deemed to be a “Goncahernko man”.

(Full disclosure, the blog is acquainted with all those named.)

If Alexie Goncharenko can avoid (and it is an “if”) being asked to “apply” for the Governor’s post, the most obvious candidate for him to advocate/lobby before President Poroshenko is Misha Shmuchkovych – for it leaves the “Goncharenko verticle” with Number 2 in City Hall and Number 1 of the Oblast Rada, whilst inserting a loyal Governor too.

Quite who else throws their hat into the ring from other parties remains to be seen.  Mykola Skoryk a former Governor and current parliamentarian for Oppo Block is under investigation (and next to have his immunity stripped after Mr Novinsky).    Those other known political personalities such as Sergei Kivalov have little to gain by becoming Governor and surrendering Verkhovna Rada parliamentary immunity.

The snakes and weasels such as Oleg Brynduk, Shandryk, Kotlyar, Kalinchuk and Orel are very unlikely to leave City Hall for the position of Governor, for they are all in City Hall for a reason – representing the interests of those behind them and their interests in the city.

At the time of writing it is difficult to arrive at any candidate that would challenge the credibility of the transparent process that produces yet another BPP Governor – by coincidence – unless those throwing their hat into the ring have done so and a major surprise is among that number.

A cynical reader will perhaps expect “coincidence” to be somewhat like London buses – there are none for a while and then three (Kharkiv, Mykolaevskaya being the first two) arrive.  Will any reader bet against another coincidence in the form of another BPP applicant winning a competition for Governor of Odessa?

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