Archive for November 13th, 2017

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Posturing – Groisman at the Yatseniuk Party conference

November 13, 2017

There appears to be something of a small political stir among some of the Ukrainian social media relating to Prime Minister Groisman attending the party conference of Arseniy Yatseniuk’s People’s Front party on 11th November in Kyiv.

Not only was Prime Minister Groisman unabashed with praise for his predecessor, Arseniy Yatseniuk, but Prime Minister Groisman is not a member of that political party.

In fact he is not a member of any political party, despite being seen by many as a President Poroshenko prodigé – Not that party membership necessarily has much correlation as to who actually rents any particular politician’s soul and vote.  What appears white may be black, or what is black may be white – and generally most Ukrainian politicians can be expediently grey.

Well, prodigé perhaps he is – up to a point (and the student is not yet ready to overtake his mentor).

Truth be told, for as uninteresting and lacking in charisma as Volodymyr Groisman may be, he is proving to be a fairly effective Prime Minister, and one that is clearly attempting to be seen as his own man.  Something he attempted to achieve from the first day as Prime Minister by refusing certain Bankova desires relating to certain personnel they would like to slip into his Cabinet.

In short, after more than a year in office, Prime Minister Groisman is gaining in political weight, and if not overtly championed by the voting constituency, he is certainly not ridiculed or vocally disliked by large numbers of voters either.  If particularly good words about him are lacking in the public discourse, then so too are particularly bad words about him.  A particularly polarising and divisive figure within the Ukrainian constituency he is not.

Why then, was Prime Minister Groisman attending Arseniy Yatseniuk’s party conference?

First and foremost there are reasons of protocol.  He was invited as a guest of honour.  He is the Prime Minister and not a member of any party – so why not?

Secondly, the People’s Front remain the coalition partner to President Poroshenko’s party, which together, form the (slim) majority coalition.  As such his Cabinet of Ministers reflects that coalition.  Ministers for the Interior, Education, Finance etc., hail from the People’s Front.

Prima facie then, the question is not why was he there – but rather why shouldn’t he be there?

It is perhaps the glowing terms he employed with regard to his predecessor and the People’s Front party in his speech that has really stirred public comment rather than his attendance – particularly as noted by the blog many, many months ago, that there was a deliberate public wooing of Prime Minister Groisman by Arsen Avaokov and Arseniy Yatseniuk beginning.

It is perhaps doubtful that Espresso TV (People’s Front TV) will run anything negative about Prime Minister Groisman for the foreseeable future whilst ever these public overtures are necessary.

However, with speeches it is not what you say but what they hear that counts – and it is also not always about what is said, but what is not.

Having outlined some obvious reasons for being wax-lyrical about a coalition partner, there are also some that are less obvious (to some anyway).

President Poroshenko and The Bankova, like most anticipated presidential candidates, are already in pre-election electioneering campaign mentality.  The Bankova appears to be in unashamed power consolidation mode in  preparation to control (and no doubt (ab)use) administrative resources to the benefit of President Poroshenko.  The Rule of P applies – Planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.

Clearly The Bankova are not expecting the best of performances, so preventing a piss poor one ranks highly upon the presidential agenda via “ways and means” if necessary – and it appears they believe it is probably necessary so better to prepare now.

As such, in the immediate term between now and the presidential elections in March 2019 (and beyond to the Verkhovna Rada elections in October 2019), part of that power consolidation poses a seriously threat to Prime Minister Groisman’s Cabinet of Ministers and its composition.

While the President generally gets his way, he doesn’t always get his way – and naturally it is either Prime Minister Groisman or Interior Minister Avakov (and occasionally the Finance Minister) that tend to be the ones to tell The Bankova what it doesn’t want to hear – “No”.

Any votes gained by any People’s Front presidential candidate, or for the People’s Front party with regard to the Verkhovna Rada elections will come from only one voting constituency – that of President Poroshenko.

People’s Front votes will not come from any other political constituency.  Whatever percentage of the vote that may be, even if 3% or 4 %, if opinion polls are to be believed, that lowly percentage may make a very big difference to the fortunes of President Poroshenko in March 2019, and to the Poroshenko party in October 2019.

Hence President Poroshenko cannot engineer the sacking of Arsen Avakov as Interior Minister lest it collapse the coalition and force early elections, and after Prime Minister Groisman’s display at the People’s Front party conference, sacking his one time prodigé to employ a temporary and entirely compliant Prime Minister is not particularly palatable should MR Groisman then join the People’s Front and act as a small vote multiplier for them – further eating into the Poroshenko vote.

In sum, the display given by Prime Minister Groisman at the People’s Front party conference can be interpreted as a warning to The Bankova not to attempt to steamroller the Groisman Cabinet in pursuit of consolidating power.  By the same token that protects those like Arsen Avakov who has a particularly frosty relationship with President Poroshenko (because he leads the only “power ministry” not headed by a loyal Poroshenko appointee, as well as occasionally saying “No” to The Bankova).

Thus attending this party conference does not signal Prime Minister Groisman choosing a political party home – yet.

Any such decision will certainly not be before the summer Verkhovna Rada break in 2018, or perhaps even later, when Volodymyr Groisman formally joins a political party prior to the Verkhovna Rada elections of October 2019.

Whether or not he joins the People’s Front (or whatever it will be re-branded as) remains to be seen – as does the importance whatever small percentage of the national vote he takes with him where ever he goes.

Whatever the case, Prime Minister Groisman’s presence and oratory was not about lauding the recent years and how well the Yatseniuk government did in such difficult times, and nor was it about his or the People’s Front electoral future.  It was a message about the “here and now” to The Bankova and the Groisman red lines relating to Cabinet interference during otherwise on-going preparatory pre-election power consolidation.  The message is fairly clear, such actions will have electoral consequences – prodigé or not!

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