Games of populists

Ukraine's political elite seems to have totally floated away from reality. Putting the word “reform” on an indefinite loop, which has long become annoying, the authorities stepped on a quicksand of “reformatting” the Coalition and the Cabinet.


The MPs have been mulling the issue of “kamikaze” Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s dismissal for quite some time. No one seems to be happy with his performance, but no one can name a potential nominee of Yatsenyuk’s potential successor. Actually, this was the reason while we didn’t witness the expected dismissal after the Cabinet’s informal report late 2015..

The new year marked a new round of the struggle “for reform,” but rather for the chairs in the executive branch and the cash flows, respectively. During the first plenary week, the Verkhovna Rada mired in political bargaining, ultimately striking a deal that the Cabinet will submit its report to Parliament before February 5. The thing is that on December 11, 2015, the “report” of the Government can’t be named as such, according to Rada Speaker Volodymyr Hroisman: "It was the government's information. And now we come to the Government report the way the law stipulates it,” he said.

The pro-presidential BPP faction claims that it’s not about getting a basis for expressing non-confidence in the Government. "We just want to separate the black and the white sheep in the Cabinet’s herd. Those who can continue to fulfill their functions for the implementation of the coalition agreement, imposed by parliament, will remain on posts; while those who appeared to be unable to work or those who personally wrote the letters of resignation must go," said faction leader Yuriy Lutsenko, adding that "we are not talking about war with the prime minister," but about the need to assess the work of the Cabinet in the past year.

Whether it’s war or just a drill maneuvers, the Cabinet report has been submitted to the Verkhovna Rada. For preliminary consideration. Then, the Cabinet will address the Rada on February 5.

The expendables

While the government is preparing to come into the spotlight, the pro-presidential faction on Monday decided to discuss the dismissal of the prime minister anyway (according to the BPP deputies, they have enough votes in parliament to pass the motion) and the possibility of appointing a technical prime minister (as there are no candidates for this position, as mentioned above, and not enough votes for its approval). In addition, complete reformatting of the Cabinet was discussed, with the eternal "kamikaze" remaining in office.

The faction also approved a list of potential candidates for moving to the executive branch.

"They are not candidates for ministerial posts... These are the candidates to be discussed within the coalition," Yuriy Lutsenko said during the faction meeting.

Anyway, the list has caused a public outcry. Yevhen Nishchuk nominated for Minister of Culture caused the least discussions, as he has already held this chair in one of the former compositions of Yatsenyuk’s "kamikaze government," with some success. Nomination of Oleksiy Honcharenko for Health Minister was a real information blast, resulting in heated popular reaction. That is because the faction’s youngest MP (earlier, a deputy of pro-Yanukovych Party of Regions) has nothing to do with health care despite all his possible "talents."

The BPP has approved a list of potential nominees for ministerial posts / Photo from UNIAN

A whirlpool of public outrage in relation to the "list" forced the faction to find excuses. "The faction has taken no decisions on the nomination of certain individuals from the BPP for ministerial posts, neither has the faction taken decisions on the dismissal of certain ministers... Public reaction indicates that yesterday's discussion was superficial and frivolous... Once again, I am asking my colleagues to consider that we are not talking about employment, it’s about enhancing the Cabinet’s capacity," Lutsenko wrote on Facebook.

Thus, the leader of the BPP only confirmed speculation that this whole story with a list of candidates for positions in the Cabinet is “probing the soil,” while the candidates themselves are just expandables in yet another bargaining.

"Preparations for the Cabinet report in the Verkhovna Rada is not intended to reformat the composition of the government," said political strategist, a director of Berta Communications Taras Berezovets.

According to him, neither it’s about the dismissal of Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Besides, the "list" of candidates was most likely not agreed wth the President’s Administration and may be fully revised. "Out of all the candidates mentioned, only Vitaly Kovalchuk has chances to be submitted as nominee," he said.

Director of the Ukrainian Barometer sociological service Viktor Nebozhenko agrees, saying that the BPP intends to introduce Kovalchuk to the government as an expert in "major political intrigue and conflict." "If the parliament and the prime minister allow Vitaly Kovalchuk to become first deputy prime minister, it will be possible to say that both the Presidential Administration and President Poroshenko himself chose to walk in the footsteps of Yushchenko instead of a direct conflict with the prime minister... In order to wear Yatsenyuk down in heavy tactical battles by May," he said.

This is necessary, including in the context of possible early elections in the autumn.

The Cabinet with or without Yatsenyuk

By the way, the other coalition factions have not yet put forward their nominees to the Cabinet, although they have been talking about it for weeks. Moreover, it seems that the coalition members have not decided what they actually want: the change the entire structure of the government along with the dismissal of the prime minister, or a change of individual ministers with Yatsenyuk retaining his post, but also (with a high probability) with "strengthening" of the government with the President’s confidants. For example, the BPP and the Popular Front both shift toward the second option. "The idea of reformatting the government is not new. Back in autumn, the prime minister has already called on coalition factions to submit their nominations for the vacant positions in the government. I think this is one of the main issues that the coalition must resolve in the nearest future," said Maksym Burbak, the leader of the Popular Front faction.

According to him, “weak” ministers must be replaced, while the vacancies must be filled.

Coalition members have not decided what they actually want: the change the entire structure of the government along with the dismissal of the prime minister, or a change of individual ministers with Yatsenyuk retaining his post, but also (with a high probability) with "strengthening" of the government with the President’s confidants.

The fact that the pro-presidential faction agrees with this approach is rather strange. Criticizing in the recent past the inefficiency of the prime minister and collecting signatures in the Rada for his dismissal, the faction is now preparing to send its "best people" under Yatsenyuk’s rule on the other… In other words, if the team fails to do its work, the leader is also responsible. And if the team leaves, the leader can’t remain on post.

At the same time, the BPP can’t fail to understand that the resignation of the prime minister, together with the Cabinet, in the absence of nominees for replacement and  the votes for such candidates in the Verkhovna Rada will leave all the defendants in the government, but with the "Acting" note. International financial institutions, including the IMF, from which Ukraine expects to receive the next tranche this spring, will most likely not entrust the distribution of financial flows to the "acting" ministers. Even if they are renowned legionaries and technocrats.

The Samopomich and the Batkivshchyna want the resignation of the entire government / Photo from UNIAN

Other members of the coalition - the Batkivshchyna faction and the Samopomich favor the first option. "It is impossible to replace several ministers and retaing the rest of the government. This government leads the country to a collapse," said Batkivshchyna leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

“The Samopomich faction decided that we express non-confidence in the government, we demand its full dismissal, including the resignation of the prime minister," said Samopomich MP Tatiana Ostrikova.

The MP added that otherwise, the fraction can withdraw from coalition. "The question of quitting the coalition if the government is not completely reformatted, will be dealt with separately, depending on whether and how we are represented in this government," she said.

It’s not the first day the faction has been voicing such threats. Considering the latest statements, the recent recall of earlier nominated Agrarian Minister Oleksiy Pavlenko (in general, one of the most effective members of the present Cabinet) looks completely illogical. However, rumor has it that Samopomich asks for three ministerial positions in exchange for continuing with the teamwork. Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party is reportedly ready to return to the coalition in exchange for the same amount of Cabinet seats, although such a return seems unlikely.

Hybrid coalition war

However, since last year it has been evident that there is no actual coalition in the parliament, either with Lyashko and Samopomich, or without them. The coalition agreement signed by five factions in November 2014, is merely implemented. Too often, the bills that are the basis for the expected reforms fail to gain the required number of votes, even after a dozen of "signal" votes, bypassing the regulations of the Verkhovna Rada.

In addition, from time to time, some strange provisions that block the reform process somehow find their way into systemic legislative acts that are voted in the evening hours or even at night. This was the case with the notorious "Visa Waiver Amendment" (a norm on postponement from 2016 until 2017 of the submission of electronic tax declarations of state officials spelled out in the state budget). By the way, the MPs tried seven times to include a bill to abolish this norm in the parliamentary agenda in the last plenary week, but the motion was only gaining 200 votes on the average, which is not enough.

There is no actual coalition in the Rada / Photo from UNIAN

In fact, in light of the bidding for a place in the Cabinet, the MPs should be aware that, if the coalition fails to form a new government, it thereby confirms the obvious fact that the parliamentary majority exists only on paper. This may result in the need for reformatting of the coalition, and in case of the intransigence of a number of factions, it may cause the dissolution of parliament and snap elections.

No one wants snap parliamentary elections here and now. But it’s quite possible to harvest higher ratings before autumn, using traditional populism.

In this context, "large factions" have started the talk about the need to rewrite the coalition agreement. According to the leader of the Popular Front, Maksym Burbak, a working group is drafting an upgraded version. The MP believes that the addendum to the coalition agreement must be signed, in order to spell out a clear sequence of steps and deadlines for the implementation of its provisions, to be mandatory for the MPs, the committees, and the ministers.

BPP, which initially opposed this idea, agreed to it upon the president’s will. It’s just a matter of time, whether the "large factions" of the coalition are able to get their "junior" partners to agree.

No one wants snap parliamentary elections here and now. But it’s quite possible to harvest higher ratings before autumn, using traditional populism or giving up on ineffective partners.

However, all coalition members should be reminded that the coalition agreement already has deadlines for almost each provision (a total of 511 in 17 sectors of the reforms). However, while the MPs have failed to pass the bills over three sessions in a row, none of the faction leaders drew their attention to this fact, for some reason.

Tatiana Urbanskaya

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