An internet party to win?
In the interview to LB.ua, Ruslan Stefanchuk, “head in the sphere of ideology” of the party confirmed, that as for May 2019 the party still had no party lists of candidates, not enough regional offices and has been active practically nowhere. However, “we will have a slightly different approach – we will use an untraditional matrix to form a party. As for now, the working version includes the use of IT technology for people who want to join the team.”
In fact, Sluha Narodu, named after the famous TV series in which now-President Zelenskyy starred as a history teacher who by the will of fate lands in the presidential seat, turns out to be an internet-party. It tries to make the voice of everybody public and influential through social networks and, in that way, presents itself as a totally different party, in opposition to “old” parties.
Two web-instruments were already presented.
The interactive web page of the party enables people to register as “a participant of the party” and influence who will be included to the list or even put forward their candidacy from one of the 225 districts, where voting will be held by the majoritarian system. Ukraine has a mixed electoral system: half of deputies is elected by the proportional system of party lists and the second half is elected in the majoritarian districts.
“The Lift” (“Elevator”) web-platform, opened on May 29, allows people to share their ideas or products related to the improvement of public policy; open list of vacancies makes it possible for everybody to apply.
It’s too early to determine the efficiency and results of these web-tools. However, it’s definitely a new approach to Ukrainian politics.
The Lift platform enjoys overwhelming popularity. Over 100,000 people visited the web-page in the first ten hours, when the platform did not yet contain much useful information. During the same first ten hours, Zelenskyy’s team received 510 ideas mostly related to the development of the digital state and renewable energy. 324 CVs were sent, although The Lift had published only one vacancy. According to the Facebook page of Ze-team, people were sending their CVs to be considered for future vacancies. Also, 201 projects were proposed, mostly related to the implementation of Zelenskyy’s idea of the “state in a smartphone.”
Look under the wrapper: is it possible to implement the announced plan of de-facto party primaries?
From the PR viewpoint, Zelenskyy and his party acted brilliantly. One might wonder what prevented other parties from starting similar web-platforms, informing people, and, most importantly, listening to them?
Quite telling is the video of Zelenskyy as President visiting soldiers on the frontline. Unlike Poroshenko, who used to ask quite formal and abstract questions e.g. “how are you?”, Zelenskyy took a tour of the barracks, tried different coaches on which the warriors sleep, checked the water in the washbasin. That was what people wanted first of all – to feel that the president is like them, listens to them, and hears them.
Although the communication of the party Sluha Narodu is attractive and bright compared to other parties, skeptics ask about the output.
As of now, over 22,000 people have registered as “participants of the party” to engage in elections as observers or as candidates on 225 majoritarian districts. The party had no regional offices, so this is the only method of finding enough candidates who will participate in the majoritarian part of the elections.
Oleksandr Korniyenko, the head of the election headquarters of the party, presented what was called “a radical change in the political system.” Although Ukrainians will still vote according to the old system, with voters voting for a closed party list, the Zelenskyy team proposed their supporters try their luck and compete for the position of a candidate in one of 225 districts.
According to Oleksander Korniyenko, party candidates running on the majoritarian districts from Sluha Narodu will be chosen among all those ordinary people who applied on the party’s web-page. The selection procedure will include three steps plus an interview:
- documentary check. Security specialists will check the candidates’ past, their personal ties so that anyone who is suspected of corruption won’t pass;
- check of integrity and values;
- professional assessment of qualifications and skills by international HR companies;
- finally, interviews with selected candidates are planned, as well as the assessment of their three draft laws which were submitted as a part of the application.
The party will have only 10 days to complete these steps with, let’s say, 450 candidates if only two persons compete per place. Candidates should be chosen prior to 10 June, according to the decree of the Central Election Committee. Is it possible to access well so many candidates within so limited time? Dmytro Razumkov, the head of the party, told that dozens of experts work in several groups 24/7 to accomplish the task. Whether they are successful will soon be seen by the quality of the candidates.
The candidates running in a single party list can be removed from the list by the end of June. Korniyenko announced that it’s possible for anybody to comment on any candidate online. If there are reasonable arguments against a certain candidate, he or she will be removed. But the final decision on the removal should be voted upon by the party meeting.
Look deeper: party finances and policy
What is the ideology of the party? Answering this question “the head in the sphere of ideology” Ruslan Stefanchuk told:
“I, maybe, will say it in a primitive way: to create a normal state, which has political will and normal relations between citizens and the state, where a person has the highest value. […] The main mission is to break the system and offer a new model of the economy, where the state becomes a service offering another quality of services, where private initiatives in all areas have judicial protection; where the investor comes and receives guarantees, creates jobs.”
When asked to name any of the classical ideologies, R. Stefanchuk mentioned libertarianism. He emphasized deregulation and digitalization as the main priorities, however, didn’t elaborate on details.
Dmytro Razumkov, the head of the party, avoided answering similar questions and only told that party meeting on 8 June will approve their program and then he will be able to comment on it. That means that when all candidates going from the party are already elected, the discussion about the policies will only start.
Also, the personality of Dmytro Razumkov is quite ambiguous. When commenting on the campaign of Zelenskyy, he told that language and identity questions should be taken out of the equation. In the press conference, as the head of the party, he spoke in Russian, which not only violates the law and Constitution but also disrespects the state language and the majority of Ukrainians who define Ukrainian as their mother tongue. Razumkov started his political career as a member of the pro-Moscow Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych, the ex-president pushed from power by the Euromaidan protest in 2014.
The party itself, as Ruslan Stefanchuk admitted in his interview, has no clear policy preferences but is “for all the good against all the bad,” and the main goal is to bring new people to power.
Although it was claimed that the party is financed by a large number of individuals who support it, only 30 individuals were listed in the party’s financial report for the first quarter of 2019. Those 30 individuals donated UAH 26 mn UAH (US$1 mn). Also, one newly-registered NGO donated UAH 2 mn.
Running for the monopoly of power
Currently, 37% of voters are ready to support Sluha Narodu, while 40% of voters support all the other parties that appear to pass the 5% threshold. Much depends on the majoritarian districts, but the general trend shows that the party of Volodymyr Zelenskyy is very close to secure the majority of seats alone.
If it happens so, Зresident Zelenskyy will achieve such immense political power that nobody else, except for Viktor Yanukovych, had in the history of independent Ukraine. Having such a strong influence, Zelenskyy will be able to accelerate reforms significantly – or turn out to be a second semi-dictator pursuing his own and oligarchic interest, Few dare to make predictions with certainty which of these scenarios will prevail.
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