Presidential elections are merely a prologue to the dramatic overhaul of political landscape
The elections of the head of state, the result of which was always going to be a foregone conclusion, are little more than a prelude to the more drastic shakeup of Ukrainian political scene. Its new outlines are to be shaped in accordance to public’s expectations as to the new president’s first steps at the office, the timeframes for early parliamentary campaign and the way the situation in Donbas influences the voting in that region. With the above in mind, one should look beyond the name of the future president and instead view the chances of carrying out the necessary state-strengthening reforms only in the light of the results of early parliamentary elections and the subsequent changes in the government.
The key to change
Today early elections to the Verkhovna Rada are welcomed not only by the majority of citizens (according to Rating Sociology Service, in early April 2014 68% of respondents supported the idea, only 21% were against), but also most major candidates for presidency. And this concerned not only the juggernauts like Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko but practically all the contenders whose popularity rating was above 1% (with the exception of the Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko and the Party of Regions’ ex-Governor of Kharkiv Oblast Mykhailo Dobkin).
Petro Poroshenko, even before his chances of dominating presidential elections became too obvious, announced that Verkhovna Rada should be dismissed and re-elected. Opinion polls are highlighting a significant lead of the political alliance between Poroshenko’s Solidarnist (Solidarity) and Vitaliy Klitschko’s UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform) party in the hypothetical parliamentary vote. The opportunity to get the most powerful party in Verkhovna Rada is much more attractive than cobbling together an unstable coalition out of unaffiliated MPs that can hardly be relied on. Moreover Poroshenko will have to work within the frameworks of the state system reformed into parliamentary-presidential or, perhaps, even purely parliamentary republic that some are trying hard to lobby into constitutional amendments.
At the same time, according to our sources, Yulia Tymoshenko was in no illusion about her chances for presidency and saw her presidential campaign as a launch pad for the future parliamentary elections. By opposing Poroshenko until the end in this campaign she was hoping to mobilize at least 30-35% of her electoral base to try and regain the status of the opposition leader. And after the Verhovna Rada is reelected, perhaps, even the leader of parliamentary coalition, which in future may become considerably more powerful that the head of state. On top of that, early parliamentary elections provide a good opportunity for Tymoshenko to replace her current faction pieced together during her time in prison with a much more coherent and dependable selection of politicians.
On the other hand, Yulia Tymoshenko would benefit from parliamentary elections being somewhat delayed in time. In such a case Petro Poroshenko will inevitably lose a considerable portion of public support as a person associated with the authorities in power. The phenomenon of Poroshenko's rapid ascent in popularity ratings can be explained with the traditional for Ukraine demand for new (or somewhat forgotten old) faces. Thus from a dark horse popular for features attributed to him by the voter, Poroshenko is to become president that makes real decisions, a known quantity. Inevitably the support will drop, as to a large extent Ukrainian society maintains messianic and frankly unrealistic expectations about politicians, even after generating two civic protests within one decade, both of which were significant enough to go down in history as "revolutions".
While poll data is indeed suggesting that 71% of Petro Poroshenko’s supporters are one way or another prepared to “live through some difficulties today if it brings positive change to their life in the future”, there’s a catch: one would still have to persuade people that current hardships will in the long run help change things for the better. Whereas in reality optimism tends to arise when social and economic problems are barely eating into the "safety margin".
When it comes to unpopular economic reforms, another unrealistic demand of the public, at least with the current parliamentary convocation, would be putting a fair share of this burden onto the big business, the oligarchs. 42% of Petro Poroshenko's supporters are in favor of nationalizing all the large enterprises owned by oligarchs, additional 40% support the idea of confiscating at least those enterprises that were illegally acquired. Being an oligarch himself, the man often referred to as the Chocolate King (Poroshenko ventures include but are not limited to well-known confectionary business – Ed.) is unlikely to begin redistribution of property let alone re-privatization on a mass scale. At the same time his ties with the "old" elites are too obvious not to see the temptation of finding some kind of a "board compromise" with the former officials "for the sake of stabilization in the country". This will inevitably upset the public that voted for Poroshenko in hope for a "total reboot of the country".
Petro Poroshenko already promised to normalize relationships with the Russian Federation within three months. This issue will become a litmus paper for the new president. The percentage of those who feel negatively about unequal cooperation with the eastern neighbor is rather high among his supporters: 89% believe that Ukraine is paying artificially high prices for Russian natural gas. Even for Oleh Tiahnybok's and Yulia Tymoshenko's supporters this percentage is lower (86%), lower still for Serhiy Tihipko (67%) and around 50% for Mykhailo Dobkin's electorate. 81% of Poroshenko's supporters are prepared to save gas and heat if that helps to bolster Ukrainian position in the negotiations with Moscow (the respective number for Tymoshenko is 78%, 73% for Tiahnybok, 55% for Tihipko and 33% for Dobkin). 80% of Petro Poroshenko's supporters are in favor of reducing or even stopping the procurement of Russian gas altogether (only 50% of Tihipko's and 33% for Dobkin's supporters agree). Therefore the overwhelming majority of Petro Poroshenko's voters are expecting something more than normalization of relationships with Russia, there's no longer room for "business as usual". Instead the public is expecting Kyiv to take a stronger and more independent stance in the talks with Moscow.
One can't help but notice that the pro-European camp is undergoing an insurgence of the "orange" flank that is retaking the positions gained by Yulia Tymoshenko's political force in 2006-2009. First the trend manifested itself through the growing importance of Vitaliy Klitschko's "UDAR" party which harbored plenty of refugees from Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine) party. In the meantime Tymoshenko's own Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) was being taken over by former "orange" politicians led by Arseniy Yatseniuk, Mykola Martynenko and Vyacheslav Kyrylenko. And now the "orange" revenge is crowned by the rise to power of one of Nasha Ukrayina's most principal backers Petro Poroshenko.
As The Ukrainian Week already noted in one of the previous publications the struggle between the camps of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko will become the biggest confrontation of the next few years. Among the factors that will untie their hands in a way is the fact that pro-Russian political forces are looking weaker than ever. First of all, the pro-Eastern camp is lacking unity and is likely to be represented by two or three political entities. Secondly, these parties will find it hard to go through to the Parliament without the traditional support of Crimean voters, or, perhaps, even the voters of Donbas. The confrontation between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko may even prompt these two camps to seek alliances beyond the pro-European parties and look towards those who will inherit the electorate from the Party of Regions.
Based on current popularity ratings the potential bloc made out of Poroshenko's Solidarnist and Viltaliy Klitschko's UDAR (the alliance between the two has been announced together with Klitschko's support of Petro Poroshenko's candidacy in presidential elections) could gain 35.3% of support among those who are going to vote in the parliamentary elections. The rating of Batkivshchyna isn’t even half that (15.1%). By adding those numbers we can see those two forming a steady majority in the Verkhovna Rada. However, in such a case the role of coalition leader and Prime Minister would have to go to none other than Yulia Tymoshenko. Poroshenko would rather not venture for such a move, if only to discredit Tymoshenko by letting her carry all the load of "responsibility for the social and economic situation in the country". But in this case we are likely to witness a sequel of the 2005 situation with Tymoshenko's crusade against Yushchenko's "corrupt dear friends" (now labeled by her "the alliance of oligarchs") and the subsequent completely unpredictable aftermath as regards to electoral support of the pro-European demographic.
Another question as to the above-mentioned triumvirate is whether the alliance of UDAR and Solidarnist is solid enough. The key risk factor here is the influence of the notorious oligarch Dmytro Firtash on Klitschko's party. His latest statements made from under house arrest in Vienna only reaffirm the view that this figure is playing in favor of Kremlin's scenario of Ukraine's development (federalization, nonaligned status, etc.). So far Firtash is expectedly supporting Poroshenko, as the enemy of his enemy (Tymoshenko). This, however, comes at a cost: allegedly Firtash is promised a considerable number of seats in the future parliament within the new bloc. Should Poroshenko disagree with this scenario, Firtash may try to lobby the idea of UDAR running for Verkhovna Rada independently.
Age of the neophytes
Thus potential problems of cooperation with Batkivshchyna and the uncertainty of alliance with UDAR will force Poroshenko to look for alternative options to assemble his own coalition in the Verkhovna Rada, without which the president will be unable to determine the development path for Ukraine. Having this in mind, one other fact caught our attention: according to electoral polls most of the second-tier presidential candidates turned out to be "spoilers" for the tally of Petro Poroshenko more than anyone else.
The aforementioned poll results state that if the presidential elections needed the second round (should no candidate have taken more than 50% of votes in round one, the second round would be announced where the winner of round one would compete against the runner up – Ed.) in round two Poroshenko would count on the votes of 65% of Anatoliy Hrytsenko's supporters, 58% of Oleh Tiahnybok's supporters and 49% of Oleh Liashko's supporters. In that case Tymoshenko would get only 19% of votes from the supporters of Tiahnybok and Olha Bohomolets, 16% from Liashko and 6% from Hrytsenko. This means that in future the above-mentioned politicians are more likely to win over the voters of Poroshenko rather than Tymoshenko. For instance Anatoliy Hrytsenko is currently the #2 choice for 14% of Poroshenko's supporters, and only for 8% of Tymoshenko's; for Bohomolets the respective ratio is 7% to 3%; 8% vs. 5% for Liashko and 5% vs. 2% for Tiahnybok.
However, in the context of putting together a coalition within new parliamentary convocation, such high level of support among the electorate of Hrytsenko, Bohomolets, Liashko and Tiahnybok bodes well for Poroshenko in terms of joining efforts with their political parties once they are elected to the Verkhovna Rada, or even forming a pro-presidential bloc with them before the elections (likely to be the case with Olha Bohomolets). Additionally, there's a good chance of seeing new political formations from the likes of Arseniy Yatseniuk, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko and other former members Nasha Ukrayina. For them joining forces with Poroshenko may indeed be more comfortable when Yulia Tymoshenko begins tightening the screws and consolidating Batkivshchyna around herself. At the same time Petro Poroshenko, just like Viktor Yushenko did, will face the problem of finding a worthy leader for his party's parliamentary campaign. Without a popular number one the force will inevitably fall short of its potential. One cannot exclude that just as in case of Nasha Ukrayina in 2007 the campaign can be spearheaded by Yuriy Lutsenko. The head of Narodna Samooborona (People's Self Defense) party from the way back when is now promoting his new movement called Third Republic. Given the active involvement of Lutsenko's associates in Petro Poroshenko's presidential campaign, this scenario is looking very likely.
New political reality opens a world of possibilities for rapid growth in popularity of the lesser-known political parties perceived by most as new players. These are Anatoliy Hrytsenko's Hromadianska Pozytsiya (Civic Position), Oleh Liashko's Radical Party, the party led by Olha Bohomolets and, perhaps, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko's potential new project. Considering the confrontation between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko and the probable loss of popularity by the president, these parties are in with a chance to gradually win over the disappointed supporters of both juggernauts.
The white and blue legacy
Going by the poll results, the prospects of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party of Ukraine are entirely dependent on whether Donbas remains in Ukraine's electoral field. Without their traditional electoral stronghold in the East these two forces may end up with no seats in Verkhovna Rada at all. In that case the only party to represent eastern and southern Ukraine will be Sylna Ukrayina (Strong Ukraine) of Serhiy Tihipko. Its current rating allows taking around 8-9% of parliamentary seats. In case Donbas doesn't play a major part in the elections this percentage would drop somewhat, but in the long run the party may well steal voters from the completely hopeless pro-Russian parties and thus eventually broaden its electoral base to 20-25% (even without Donbas and Crimea).
So what are the chances of forming a coalition made up of different camps within this new political reality? Despite some notable attempts, such alliances failed to arise in the "post-orange" Ukraine, where a "broad coalition" used to be perceived as clear-cut treason by the majority of European-oriented voters. The new reality, however, has more preconditions for such formations, considering that the enemies, as in Viktor Yanukovych and his closest associates, are out of the game, and the Party of Regions with the overtly pro-Russian Mykhailo Dobkin and Borys Kolesnikov as figureheads (and with the number one oligarch Rinat Akhmetov pulling the strings) stands zero chance of retaining its dominant position among in the blue and white electoral field. Sociological studies clearly indicate that the supporters of Mykhailo Dobkin are in fierce antagonism with the supporters of the more democratic and pro-European candidates, therefore the Party of Regions led by Dobkin is likely to end up in permanent opposition where it will join Petro Symonenko's Communist Party of Ukraine, or takes its place, in case the initiative to abolish the latter succeeds.
The party of Serhiy Tihipko, who was perceived as relatively pro-European within the Party of Regions, in such a case has good potential to become an acceptable coalition partner for one of the pro-European forces. Among Tihipko's supporters there are more of those whose number-two choice would be a pro-European candidate than those who'd favor a pro-Russian one. 23% of his electorate would rather support Poroshenko, while only 4% would be willing to vote for Dobkin. Serhiy Tihipko makes no bones about his willingness to cooperate with the majority, to "constructively represent" the southern and eastern elites in the government, rather than being in opposition. "We could reformat the government to show some people representing the East and the South… To demonstrate that the public is influencing the appointments in certain departments and government bodies in those regions,” he said recently.
In a recent poll, Razumkov Center, a sociology group, has found that 73% of Ukrainians fully or partly agree with the statement that political parties which spend a long time in power always have tainted reputation. So they only believe new political forces and their leaders