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Four things to know about the new political season in Ukraine

Saakashvili supporters forcefully drag the politician across the border from Poland to Ukraine. Photo:
Article by: Olena Makarenko
Edited by: Alya Shandra

Autumn is a hot time for politics. On September 5, the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (Parliament) got back to work. Also, in Ukraine, autumn is a period of activated discussions about early parliamentary elections, no matter whether chances for them are high or meager. Still, in general, Ukrainian politicians act like the next elections are just around the corner: no need for strategical decisions, it’s all about ratings and self-promotion.

The beginning of the season was also spiced up by the scandal over ex-Georgian president and ex-Odesa Oblast governor Mikheil Saakashvili whom President Poroshenko deprived of citizenship a month ago, and who entered the territory of Ukraine by force on 10 September 2017.

Saakashvili is an ardent devotee of early elections. But does his political force really have power? Euromaidan Press collected some facts helpful to understanding the processes happening in Ukrainian politics.

What the ratings say

Over two post-Euromaidan years, the ruling coalition lost its positions. Image: Euromaidan Press. Note: the poll quoted in the further text is a more recent one, from April 2017.

First of all, let’s take a look at what Ukrainians think about politics and politicians. According to the poll of the Razumkov Think Tank conducted in April 2017, the Parliament has an extremely low level of trust among the population. Only 9% of respondents said that they trust this institution and 86.6% said that they do not. Only 1.9% fully support the actions of the Parliament and 67.5% do not. Talking about political parties in particular, 83.5% of respondents do not trust them.

The majority (60%) see the political situation in Ukraine as being tense, 30% as being critical, and only 6% as being calm.

The relative majority supports holding the early parliamentary elections, but a fairly large share (35%) does not think it is a good idea.

There are several factors which can precipitate early elections. If plenary sessions aren’t opened for 30 days, if the government cannot be formed for 60 days, or if the coalition in parliament breaks and the new one can’t be formed within a month, the President of Ukraine has the right to dissolve parliament and announce early elections.

So far, the official coalition is represented by Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc and Narodniy Front, the party of ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk.

The fight for ratings is tough and Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna is so far the leader.

According to the mutual research of Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation and Razumkov Think Tank, the ratings the following:

  • Batkivshchyna – 11.2%
  • Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc – 9.3%
  • Hromadianska Pozytsia – 8.3%
  • Opposition Bloc – 8.4%
  • Za Zhyttia – 7.7%
  • Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko – 7.3%
  • Samopomich – 5.8%.
*The data represent the opinion of those who are ready to come and vote

The rest of the parties do not reach the 5% threshold needed to get into parliament. Coalition member Narodniy Front gets only 1.7%. And Rukh Novyh Syl, the political party of Saakashvili, currently unrepresented in Parliament, gets only 1.8%. However, his party already has strong allies.

New forces and coalitions

Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, Georgian ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili, Polish member of the European Parliament Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, after Saakashvili’s entrance to Ukraine. Photo: Denis Kazansky,

During his Skype press conference from the US on the situation with his citizenship, Saakashvili announced that the mobilization of Ukrainian pro-democracy forces is planned for autumn.

Among the strongest allies of Saakashvili’s Rukh Novyh Syl is actually Batkivshchyna. Its leader Yuliya Tymoshenko herself expressed her support to the ex-governor of Odesa Oblast, visited him in Poland, accompanied him on his forceful journey across the Ukrainian border, and said she is going to coordinate her actions with Rukh Novyh Syl.

It is unacceptable for a president who came to power through a democractic uprising to fight his opponents in such a way. We will support the return of citizenship to Mykheil Saakashvili,” said Tymoshenko.

This partnership helps both forces to advocate for early elections. With its relatively high ratings, Batkivshchyna has a real chance to increase the number of their MPs in case new elections take place.

After breaking into Ukraine, Saakashvili traveled to Lviv, where he met with Samopomich leader Andriy Sadovyi (here shown in a Lviv cafe). Photo:

Also, Saakashvili has been talking about a political alliance with Samopomich, led by Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi, another party represented in parliament.

“This [union] has to happen and I am certain that it will happen,” said Saakashvili just before Poroshenko announced his controversial decision on Saakashvili’s citizenship.

The leader of Samopomich Oleh Bereziuk confirmed that the talks on that indeed took place, however, he does not see sense in such union:

“On which base should it happen? You can rally around an idea – to fight for the anti-corruption courts or new electoral legislation. You can ally in a majority constituency when a number of parties is united and shares the influence in a constituency.”

Another reason why the unity of Rukh Novyh Syl and Samopomich might not happen is that in spring 2017 the party Volia joined Saakashvili’s force. Some time ago, Volia had a conflict with Samopomich.

Saakashvili and Hrytsenko in Chernivtsi, 9 March 2017. Photo: screenshot from video
Saakashvili and Hrytsenko at a Rukh Novykh Syl rally in Chernivtsi, 9 March 2017. Photo: screenshot from video

One more potential ally of Saakashvili is Anatoliy Hrytsenko and his Hromadianska Pozytsiya. Hrytsenko is an old-timer of Ukrainian politics. In 2000s, he held the position of Minister of Defense. In 2014, he ran for presidential elections and got only 5.48% of votes. Later that year, his Hromadianska Pozytsia didn’t reach the 5% threshold during the parliamentary elections. However, now his ratings are quite high. According to Hrytsenko himself, since March of this year, he is an organizer of the negotiation process on the union. He names Samopomich, Rukh Novyh Syl, European Party of Ukraine and others among the forces which it will include.

“I received a mandate from Hromadianska Pozytsiya on holding such negotiations and permission to lower the flag of our party before the flag of another, bigger political force, if needed. We are ready to take away any ambitions, related to personified, personnel etc., only to make this union happen,” said Hrytsenko.

Despite the high ratings, the experts do not expect that during elections Hrytsenko and his party alone will gain a lot.

“Hrytsenko has a formed image. He is ancient. He does not need any changes or adjustments. However, during the elections there are less people who vote for him than those who have a good attitude towards him,” says Oleksiy Antipov, the head of the Sociological Group Rating.

The expert explains this phenomenon by the existence of other forces which are brighter, more convincing, and with have more resources, in particular, with more of advertisement. However, the situation with Hrytsenko is different in the period between elections, when the players do not really advertise themselves and just are present in the information field. Ukrainians’ total disappointment in other politicians plays out negatively for Hrytsenko, as he during his period in power had not discredited himself.

Not only the so-called coalition of democratic forces has noticeable players. The ratings of the party of Vadym Rabynovych, Za Zhyttia, are also growing. Officially, Rabynovych is still a member of Opposition Bloc, a party represented in parliament which is the successor of the Party of Regions of runaway president Viktor Yanukovych. If Hrytsenko does not promote himself, Rabynovych uses every opportunity for that, by giving endless interviews to NewsOne, a TV channel created by him and now owned by another MP, and another loyal channel 112, and by spreading his populist messages on billboards.

Populism is the main strong point of Rabynovych. His electorate is people who are disappointed in the Opposition Bloc. Za Zhyttia promotes “peace at any price,” promising to end the four-year conflict between Russian-led separatists in eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian army, even if it means Ukrainian capitulation, and is quite loyal to Russia. In the past, the party organized protests demanding the resignation of the head of the National Bank Valeriya Hontareva. The goal was not reached, but the party received a lot of media coverage. Some experts say that the Administration of the President acted in support of the protests to drown out more dangerous opponents, like Batkivshchyna.

Also, there are some movements within the so-called right forces. Two outsiders of the last elections, Svoboda and Right Sector, and the new party Natsionalnyi Korpus, created out of the members of the Public Organization Azov, united to pursue common goals, the first of which is the fight against Russian business.

How parties spend their money

A promotional billboard for Radical Party leader Oleh Liashko shows him promising to return Crimea to Ukraine. Photo:

Recently, Ukraine made an important step towards transparency by adopting the Law on Preventing and Counteracting Political Corruption. According to it, parties started receiving state funding in order to stop being oligarch projects. So far, the funding is available to only those who got to parliament. After the next elections, the parties which are supported by at least 2% Ukrainians will be able to receive funds from the state, too. However, for that, parties should report on their expenditures. Results from the first six months of 2017, however, show that for some parties self-promotion is a number one priority.

Still, some parties are funded not only by the state.

The state funds are allocated proportionally according to the results of the party during the elections. The results for the second quarter, according to the parties reports, voiced over by the NGO Сommittee of Voters of Ukraine:

  • The Radical Party of Oleh Liashko spent nearly $500,000, some $492,000 of which came from the state. The party spent 45% of all funds on TV-advertisement.
  • Samopomich spent $760,000, 98% of which came from the state budget). The biggest share (29%) went for the party’s newspaper. Also they spent over $38,000 for TV and Radio ads.
  • Opposition Bloc received state money for the first time. According to their report, they spend the least amount: $115,000, of which $50,000 came from the state. They spent ⅓ on ads.
  • Batkivshchyna spent $165,000, of which nearly $154,000 was state money. The biggest share, ⅓, went to pay for rent.
  • Presidential Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc used only state funds – nearly $850,000. 62% was used to develop the regional network.
  • And Narodnyi Front over three months spent $818,000 ($718,000 came from the state) – 36% for salaries, 37% for rent, and 24% for taxes and fees.

Oleksiy Koshel, the head of the Commitee of Voters of Ukraine, called Oleh Lyashko’s and Samopomich’s practice of spending state fund for self-promotion a “shameful practice:” “Instead of developing local organizations and educating members of the party, these political forces continue to buy ads, in fact wasting the money of taxpayers.”

“Instead of developing local organizations and educating members of the party, these political forces continue to buy ads, in fact wasting the money of taxpayers.” The expert also noted that

The expert also noted that that his organization developed changes to legislation which forbid to spend state money for political advertisement.

“It is necessary to note that our parliament does not correspond to the requests of society and all main political forces are preparing to the next elections,says Andriy Vydyshchenko, the expert of the Kyiv Center of Political Studies and Conflictology. According to him, the situation is difficult for both coalition parties, Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc and Narodnyi Front, which try to strengthen their positions. Particularly, Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc attempts to consolidate its power in the regions.

Why elections can’t change the political situation significantly

Image: Euromaidan Press

Whether there will be early or regular elections in Ukraine, it is very unlikely that they will significantly change the situation in the country, first of all, because of the existing electoral rules and conditions.

Among the main obstacles for fair elections and electing good leaders there are:

The mixed voting system which in Ukraine includes all the drawbacks of the proportional and majority voting systems. In particular, it opens the doors for using administrative resources, can let winners have an absolute minority of votes. Also, the system does not encourage the renewal of political elites. Discussions on the electoral reform had started long ago. However, so far the reform is promoted mostly by activists.

The Old Central Election Commission continues to work, despite the expiration of its term. If the situation is not changed, it might undermine the legitimacy of the next elections.

Among other obstacles, there are the numerous violations during elections, the overall poverty of the population and resulting popularity of populism, as well as the lack of conditions for a new generation of politicians to enter the world of big politics.

Last but not least, the country is still ruled by oligarchs, and any major political decisions indulge their interests.

One of the main oligarchs in Ukraine is actually its president Petro Poroshenko. According to Opendatabot, he is second in the list of Ukrainians owning the largest amount of companies – 76. The richest oligarch in the country, Rinat Akhmetov, is number one, with 303 companies. Officially, these two represent completely different political forces. However, recently Ukrainian media point to the collaboration between Akhmetov and Poroshenko more and more often. Especially when talking about the energy sector, which is almost monopolized by Akhmetov, despite the de-oligarchization announced by the president.

The policy of the president which increasingly starts being referred to as an usurpation does not score him any positive points. According to the above-mentioned poll, 51.7% of respondents do not support his actions, 71.9% do not trust him, while only 22% do.

There are also positive aspects in the fact that Ukrainians are disappointed by those who are in power. It means that neither the president, nor parliamentarians can be totally safe. Apart from fulfilling their own interests, they also have act on behalf of the country to gain some approval.

The new season is a time for battles and compromises.

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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