Archive for December 17th, 2017

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The October Palace incident – Quo Vadis?

December 17, 2017

In 2015 when Misha Saakashvili became Governor of Odessa, many people here in the provinces received far more frequent visits from the diplomatic community in Kyiv than was normally the case – this blog included.

It became quite clear during the numerous (on-going) conversations held since then that the general position was one of being unsure as to whether to hug him close and attempt to keep his more “emotional” and “spontaneous” nature and “occasional exaggerations” under control, or due to that very same “emotional” and “spontaneous” nature, to keep him at arms length.

Arms length won the day then, and clearly remains the policy now.

While there was no doubt a collective international “tut” from the diplomatic community heard in every capital when President Poroshenko revoked Mr Saakashvili’s citizenship while he was outside Ukraine, there was also a collective “tut” when he forced his way across the Ukrainian border in Lviv too.

The international response to his recent detention for allegedly criminally conspiring with those wanted in Ukraine  drew the correct response – one that essentially stated that Mr Saakashvili should be dealt with in strict accordance with the best possible due process.  For as long as that be the case, the matter would be purely an internal matter for Ukraine.  Thus the granting of bail was no surprise.

Nevertheless, there is a right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech – and a reader does not need to have any liking for Misha Saakashvili to have sympathy with one or more of the causes he appears to be trying to lead.

As previously stated in the link in the above paragraph – “Thus, one of the demands of the protesters will probably be met – and probably would have been met regardless of the protest occurring – that of anti-corruption court legislation being submitted.  A fully functioning court however, is perhaps unlikely before 2020 due to political expediency.

The second reading of the Electoral Law perhaps should not really occur until and unless those that support it can be absolutely certain that they have the minimum 226 votes in the same place and at the same time to get it through.  A self-inflicted failure is to be avoided if at all possible.  It is a question both they and the demonstrators will have to consider before forcing the matter onto the agenda – if they can force it onto the agenda between 19 – 22 December.

To be entirely objective with due consideration to the balance of powers, it is very unlikely that any impeachment law will pass without simultaneous attention to the severe curtailing of parliamentary immunity (and current impunity).  If and when that occurs, expect an “effective date” to be after any elections in 2019.

The forcible removal/resignation of Mr Lutsenko is not likely to occur particularly quickly.  If he goes it is likely to be of his own volition late Spring or Summer of 2018 to facilitate a return to politics in 2019.”

Unfortunately Ukraine has yet to move beyond the “cult of personality” when it comes to politics.  There are very few political parties that are anything other than a vehicle for their leader (and ego), and thus the leader is perceived as bigger than the party, rather than the party being bigger than the leader – unlike most mature democracies.

That is further complicated by every Ukrainian president, including the current incumbent, stepping well beyond their constitutional responsibilities and treading rudely upon the constitutional turf of parliament.  It therefore becomes unclear whether Ukraine is a presidential-parliamentary system or a parliamentary-presidential system.  The net result is that the President is perceived to be responsible for everything – good or ill.  A situation, to be blunt, each and every one has brought upon themselves while holding office.

It follows therefore that due to the “cult of personality” rather than policy and ideology leading Ukrainian politics and its political parties, that leaders are equally perceived to be responsible for everything involving their party – again for good or ill.

Thus the ugly incident surrounding the supporters of Misha Saakashvili breaking into the October Palace in Kyiv with the intention to set up his political HQ therein will be firmly seen as the responsibility of Mr Saakashvili.

Storming public buildings to set up a political HQ is not a blueprint to removing a sitting president.

The Revolution of Dignity/EuroMaidan participants of 2014 did not seize buildings until the stand-off turned particularly bloody – indeed deadly.

More to the point, storming public buildings is not a vote winner – and as of the time of writing, there is 15 months until President Poroshenko can be voted from office.  His removal via the ballot box certainly seems far more likely than any prior impeachment – and even if impeached that does not necessarily mean removal from office.

As a result of the storming of the October Palace, at least 17 police officers and 15 national guards were injured.

Needless to say, the diplomatic community publicly expressed its displeasure that the right to peaceful protest had been violated by the storming of the October Palace.

Mr Saakashvili need take care.

The images of his forced entry at the Lviv border did not play particularly well to the larger Ukrainian constituency outside his supporters.  Young men and women in uniform being forcibly brushed aside at the Ukrainian border caused dismay.  His forced release from an SBU vehicle a few days prior to his eventual arrest also painted a dim picture relating to his regard for rule of law for many too.  The storming of the October Palace by his supporters on 17th December further frames him as a destructive force with scant regard for the rule of law in the eyes of many potential voters.

There is the issue of “means justifying the ends” rather than “the ends justifying the means” – and how that is perceived beyond his supporters.  That perception matters, for his supporters are not enough in number to challenge any leading (or even average) Ukrainian political figure at the ballot box.

Misha Saakashvili cannot be elected at the ballot box during the 2019 elections.  A politician, among several requirements, must have been a Ukrainian citizen for 5 years.  Having been granted his Ukrainian citizenship in 2015, clearly he is ineligible to stand until May 2020 at the earliest.  He can however, be appointed to a Cabinet position as the former Yatseniuk Cabinet proves.  (That said, Mr Saakashvili has recently stated he finds the position of Mayor of Odessa attractive in the future.)

His political party, if consisting of eligible Ukrainians can enter parliament – but such are the current opinion polls that it would have to significantly expand its attractiveness to the Ukrainian constituency.  To be very, very blunt those votes are not going to be so easily won while the young men and women of the patrol police, border service and national guard are consistently seen to be disrespected and/or injured during his political activities.

Naturally Mr Saakshvili will claim the situation of 17th December was a provocation.  Well perhaps.  However if that be so it is one that he should have anticipated – particularly as it would give the appearance of a continuing trend when it comes to law and order – or the lack of it surrounding him currently.  It is just as likely however, given Mr Saakashvili’s “emotions”, “spontaneity” and occasional penchant for “exaggeration” that he let something become known and was then unable to control the aftermath.

As such it remains to be seen when situational allies such as Yulia Tymoshenko will drop him like a hot potato.

For now he is a useful battering ram against President Poroshenko and The Bankova.  But as written dozens of times during the many years this blog has been running, you either work for Yulia Tymoshenko, or you work against her – you cannot work with her (for long).  That is the type of woman she is, and that is why so few agreements and coalitions last when she is involved.

(In the meantime it appears that a situational alliance between Oppo Block and Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna party continues to develop in Odessa within District politics.  Presumably her summer visit to Vienna was reasonably successful and now brings some results.)

For Ukraine as a nation and a people, this latest incident does nothing more than further damage the image of the country – and it is a society that is clearly far more mature than the political class if recent events be any guide.

The festive season arrives imminently.  Time will very swiftly tell whether Mr Saakashvili will attempt to keep his “impeachment marches” going to retain momentum during this period – or not.

However the festive season would seem like an opportune moment to stop and think.

There will have to be a strategy beyond gathering several thousand people for an “impeachment march” every Sunday.  There will need to be some forethought to curtail and/or prevent the public (dis)order that now seems to attach itself ever-increasingly to each Saakshvili PR/political incident.

Mr Saakashvili has to find a way to gather traction with a much, much larger section of the Ukrainian constituency.

If the plan is to become so populist and destructive as to make Ms Tymoshenko appear almost electable in comparison, then how to take the Lyashko/Radical votes?  The rural community tends to be the backbone of both Tymoshenko and Lyashko.

Yet harder to overcome is not the numbers who will vote for Ms Tymoshenko, but the far greater number who will vote for anybody except Ms Tymoshenko.

It is somewhat unclear whether Mr Saakashvili simply seeks to bring down President Poroshenko, or whether he actually has any political plan thereafter with regard to the Verkhovna Rada elections and his party.  Very soon questions are going to be asked regarding his party funding – just as those questions appeared in Odessa when he was Governor.  Further, if history be any guide, it seems unlikely that any situational alliances he may currently have are going to last.

The question for Mr Saakashvili in the political sense, and one the voting constituency will ask, is Quo vadis?

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