Yatsenyuk’s Gamble: While Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s government survived the “no confidence” vote in February, the Premier is working on borrowed time. Granted, the government cannot be dismissed until the “next session” of Parliament, which would presumably be in late August or early September. As the Kenny Rogers song the “Gambler” said, “you’ve got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to walk away and know when to run….” If Yatsenyuk has his way, he prefers to “hold em” and hold onto his position longer. However there are three scenarios which could terminate Yatsenyuk’s current 24 month run as Prime Minister prior to autumn:
First, there is the “walk away” scenario. The key issue is how many MP’s are actually part of the coalition, and this must be resolved by Parliament’s next voting session on March 15th. If there are less than 226 MP’s in the Parliamentary majority then Parliament has 30 days to form a new coalition. If we calculate that with Samopomich’s withdraw from the coalition that now there are just 217 MP’s (Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Front MP’s only), that means by March 17th a new coalition must be formed. If not, then the President has the right (but not obligation) to dismiss Parliament (if done so within 60 days of the 30 day absence of a majority coalition which means by May 16th) and call new elections. Under such a scenario, then new Parliamentary elections could take place between mid-May and mid-July, and Yatsenyuk would stay on as Acting Prime Minister through the elections. To use the Kenny Rogers line, he would be able to “walk away” from the political table. However, responding to the attempt to sack his government, Yatsenyuk said, “The purpose of this provoked political crisis is to conduct early elections, which effectively is none other than the struggle for power…We appeal to all responsible political forces, to the president of the country, to the public that we need to move further toward change and reform”.
Thus, the threat of new elections is why Prime Minister Yatsenyuk immediately announced negotiations with the Radical Party, the day after the attempted no-confidence vote. Frustrated by the lack of support from the President, Yatsenyuk commented on the possibility of bringing the Radicals back into the coalition stating, “The vast majority of the President’s party -97 out of 136 present during the voting- supported the no-confidence vote in me. Now I’d like to know whether they could support our further reforms. If yes, we’ll be able to jointly look for new partners in the parliamentary coalition, for example, among 51 independent MP’s. What is more, I would see Lyashko in the coalition.” In September the Radical Party announced their withdrawal from the coalition. However they never submitted the official paperwork to the Speaker, which is required under the parliamentary procedures. Thus, in effect, the announcement of the withdrawal was nothing more than Lyashko saying “the sky is falling”. Unless the Radical Party submits their withdrawal paperwork at the next Parliamentary voting session on March 15th, then it will be assumed that the coalition has 238 MP’s – which is a dozen more than the minimum. The Radical Party’s decision will no doubt be influenced by what Cabinet positions they are offered, in addition to the Vice Premiership they previously held. Some reports even had their leader Oleg Lyashko demanding the Speaker’s position, although those rumors quickly died down. With the withdrawal of Samopomich and Tymoshenko’s Motherland factions, that theoretically opens up the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, and the Ministry of Youth and Sports to offer to the Radical Party. However, Oleksiy Pavlenko, the Minister of Agrarian Policy is generally well regarded and one of the “technocrats” whom the West has supported, and even the Poroshenko Bloc has praised his performance. Thus, removing him for a Radical Party political appointee would not be well received by either the Ukrainian public or the international community. In addition, Ihor Zhdanov, the Minister of Youth and Sports bucked Tymoshenko by refusing to resign his post when her faction left the coalition last month. In typical, tyrannical Tymoshenko fashion, she ordered that the party expel Zhdanov from its membership. By showing solidarity with the President and Premier in a difficult time, Zhdanov increases the likelihood of retaining the post in the next Cabinet. At the same time, if there are no vacancies available to accommodate the Radical Party, then the Radical Party will formalize their withdrawal from the coalition and new elections will take place. Therefore, it is likely that People’s Front (given their weak position) will have to give up one of their existing Cabinet posts to accommodate the increasing important Radical Party.
However, in what could be a leading indicator that the Radical Party is ready to return to the fold, Yatsenyuk announced just days before New Years that PJSC Azot Cherkasy and PJSC Rivenazot repaid debts of 2.96 billion hryvnas (about $113 million dollars). The fertilizer companies are part of oligarch Dmytro Firtash’s Ostchem company, and Firtash is generally considered the chief financier of the Radical Party. The same day, two other Ostchem/Firtash companies, PJSC Syeverdonetsk Azot and PJSC Stirol, reached an agreement with Naftogaz to repay their debts in installments over a two year period once hostilities in the Donbass abated, and production could resume again (the factories have not been working since May 2014). Resolution of the dispute brings needed revenue to the state owned Naftogaz, which means that the state budget won’t have to subsidize the gas company and tax dollars can be used for other priorities. The announcement of the resolution by Yatsenyuk would seem to indicate an agreement has been reached with Firtash to eventually allow him to return to Ukraine (Firtash was arrested in Vienna in March 2014 and has stayed there fighting extradition to the US). Yatsenyuk’s ally, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, had previously stated that Firtash would be arrested the moment he arrived at the airport. However, the intention appears to be a casualty of the need for the Prime Minister to survive politically. With the Radical Party’s chief financier playing ball with the government, is greatly increases the chance of the party remaining in the coalition. Thus, new elections can be avoided with the return of the Radicals to the majority. In addition, President Poroshenko came out categorically against new elections on February 29th stating, “There is no way I can say ‘yes’ to an early parliamentary election at this point, and I never will. We have neither time as this requires six months of total inactivity and populism, nor good reason for it, because we will have no better Rada“.
The second option requires that Yatsenyuk “know when to run”. Yatsenyuk could be dismissed by a no-confidence vote against him personally. The vote on February 16th was a no-confidence vote against the government, and the motion cannot be brought up for consideration again until the “next session” of Parliament (in late August or early September). However the law also allows no-confidence votes against individual ministers. This explains Yuliya Tymoshenko’s statement the next day, “Our faction will initiate the filing of a proposal to dismiss Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk before the end of the week”. Tymoshenko used the same mechanism in March 2009 to dismiss Yushchenko’s Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzhko, and the Party of Regions used it to dismiss Yushchenko’s prior Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk in December 2006. While there are clearly enough votes to dismiss Yatsenyuk as evidenced by the 247 votes citing disapproval with the government, there is no agreement on who will replace him. As a result, this motion by Tymoshenko is not likely to be brought to a vote immediately. Instead it allows Tymoshenko to position herself politically to claim credit if Yatsenyuk is eventually ousted, while at the same time it gives her a chance to settle a score against a former ally turned opponent. In a fiery speech echoing Opposition Bloc party conferences, Tymoshenko stated, “We have to state the coalition of democratic forces, a pro-European coalition, has never existed in this parliament. There has always been a shadow, crony clan, political coalition, which formed the government, ran the country, and which has reduced the country to the extreme degree of the destruction of our life”. Tymoshenko’s endgame is to force new elections (as she is almost certain to double the number of seats for her faction in Parliament) in an attempt at becoming Prime Minister once again (despite her public protests to the contrary). Such speculation was a mere fairy tale this time last year, but now is an increasingly feasible prospect.
Finally, the Prime Minister may ultimately decide its’ not worth the trouble and resign himself. This is the Kenny Rogers “know when to fold em” option. Immediately after surviving the no-confidence vote on the government, Poroshenko Faction Leader Yuri Lutsenko chided Yatsenyuk. He said, “Now, speaking in sports parlance, the ball is in the prime minister’s court. Yesterday he formally held on to his job despite losing the support of four of five coalition factions. So now he must make a decision: either he proposes to parliament some new government with some very efficient action plan and gain support, 226 votes, or he realizes that a government without parliamentary support is impossible and steps down. He must decide this issue for himself literally in the coming days…The government has effectively been inactive since as far back as last fall…the government and prime minister should realize that they are a government of the minority – they cannot get any change through parliament and therefore no reform will go through.” Thus, in effect, Lutsenko (presumably with Poroshenko’s blessing) is calling on the Premier to quit. While this could give Yatsenyuk an opportunity to go out on his own terms (to an extent) and possibly be a part of the selection of his replacement. The second test of power is being able to choose your successor, and in this manner Yatsenyuk could have a stronger negotiating hand given his crucial 81 seats in Parliament. Without those 81 pro-Western votes, it becomes mathematically difficult to form a coalition in the current Parliament.
This scenario, Yatsenyuk resigning but choosing his successor, may be the path he chooses. In this way, he could preserve his legacy in Ukrainian history and possible reinvent himself in the future for a political comeback. In the event of his resignation, Yatsenyuk is likely to throw his support behind Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko to replace him. Jaresko is the only candidate who can mathematically get enough votes to be confirmed by Parliament since she would have the Poroshenko Bloc and Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front for sure, and Samopomich, the Radical Party and Motherland would be exposed as petty and against reform by not supporting her candidacy. Saakashvili cannot assemble the votes to become Premier at this time, because after his numerous attacks on Yatsenyuk, there is no way People’s Front will supply the Georgian the needed votes to obtain 226. Suffice to say, the drama in the government is far from over, but the political ante has been raised.March Donation Drive & Invitation to a Private Political Discussion Dinner (PPDD): In the first annual “Reader’s Survey”, 48% of readers voted that the blog should continue to be provided for free. In addition, 63% of readers indicated that they would be willing to donate or consider a donation to keep the blog operating regularly. Therefore, this blog will continue to be available for free on our website.
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Tyrannical Tendencies (aka, Ukraine’s New January 16th Law): On February 16th, the same day Parliament almost voted no-confidence in the government, Parliament successfully passed law #3700 on the 18th attempt that same day. While the law was overshadowed by the controversy that day, the impact of the legislation is the equivalent of a new “January 16th Law” for Ukrainian politicians. What is a January 16th law? As the Euromaidan protests gathered momentum, on January 16, 2014, Yanukovych’s Parliament passed laws to severely restrict free speech, assembly and human rights. The infamous law was among the first laws to be repealed following the impeachment of Yanukovych a month later.
Parliament’s new Law #3700 restricts free speech and undermines the will of the Ukrainian voters, as it allows the expulsion of deputy candidates from the party lists on the proportional ballot. Granted, it affects only candidates for deputies and not the entire population as Yanukovych’s January 16th law, but the effect is equally chilling. No longer are the voters the decision makers on who is elected from the party lists. Instead political party bosses have the unilateral and unchecked power to remove candidates whom they don’t like. The voters may elect a candidate in a free and fair election, but if that candidate doesn’t obey every demand of the party bosses, he/she can be removed and replaced with a more pliant candidate down the list. For example, the voters may overwhelmingly elect Mr. Shevchenko with 90% of the vote, but the party bosses prefer Mr. Ivanov. Therefore after the election but before the swearing in of the new deputy, the party bosses can remove Shevchenko from their list and install Ivanov instead. The voters (and Mr. Shevchenko) have absolutely zero recourse. Now a few party bosses will uniquely possess the right to sell places on the party list to the highest bidder. Thus, the voters’ will becomes a mere suggestion, rather than sovereign choice of the electorate.
On February 25th, President Poroshenko signed the bill into law. Why did this happen? When an MP gives up his or her mandate (to take a post in the government for example), they are replaced by the next candidate on their respective party list. With a Cabinet reshuffle in the works, several current MP’s may end up as in the government and have to relinquish their Parliamentary mandates. With this in mind, the Poroshenko Bloc sobered up to the reality that the next candidate on their list for Parliament is Andriy Bohdan. Bohdan is the chief lawyer for Kolomoyski ally and Ukrop Party Chairman Gennadiy Korban. At the time the list was agreed upon in early autumn 2014, Kolomoyskyi was serving as Dnipropetrovsk Governor and the relationship between him and the President was manageable. However after Poroshenko fired Kolomoyskyi last spring, he is clearly opposed to a Kolomoyskyi ally getting into Parliament – especially from his own party list. However, should the will of the voters be voided because the Poroshenko Bloc didn’t properly vet their own candidates? In the United States, when an elected official switches parties (alliances), he/she remains in office for the duration of their term and has the same opportunity to seek re-election (or other office) with the new party. That is because the will of the voters is sovereign, and supersedes the wishes of the political party bosses. By signing Law #3700, President Poroshenko has eliminated his credibility in talking about electoral reform. It was Poroshenko after all, who pushed for an “open list” system which supposedly would eliminate such political intrigues and restore power to the voters. However the open list system that was implemented was not ‘open’ at all, but rather a cheap imitation of a similar law once used in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Thus, the fig leaf of the open list system being any less tyrannical than the “closed list” system, has been torn away.
However just as Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by multiple conspiring Roman senators, Poroshenko is not alone in this tyranny. Co-conspirators/sponsors of the legislation include Yuliya Tymoshenko with Motherland, Poroshenko Bloc Faction Leader Yuri Lutsenko, Radical Party Head Oleg Lyashko, Samopomich Faction Head Oleg Berezyuk, and People’s Front Faction Head Maksim Burbak. Like Brutus, Cassius and Casca agreed that all the senators should stab Caesar together to share in the murder equally, the Gang of Five made their joint pact to share equally in the guilt. However, the victim this time is will of the voters. It is no surprise that Tymoshenko was a key part of this seizure of power. It was Tymoshenko who implemented the infamous “imperative mandate in 2006 (together in agreement with Yanukovych) to remove the mandates of members of Parliament who left the faction and replace them with more obedient candidates. The imperative mandate enforced strict party line votes as the threat of expulsion from the faction, and subsequent removal of their mandate, loomed overhead each deputy. In effect the imperative mandate gives the political party – and not the voters – the power to decide who holds the seat, and is still in use in Communist counties including North Korea, Vietnam, China and Cuba. Thus, Law #3700 is merely an updated version of the old imperative mandate. As for the Poroshenko Bloc and Samopomich, their faction leaders motivation in supporting this law are to prevent the defection of any additional MP’s from their respective factions (15 have left the Poroshenko faction and six have been lost by Samopomich). Regardless of the motivations, implementation of Law #3700 is now the law of the land unless at least 45 MP’s challenge it in Constitutional Court. Meanwhile it is a setback for Ukraine’s democratic development and represents a creeping return to the January 16th laws of Yanukovych.
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Dates to Watch (for Ukraine unless otherwise noted):
March 15-18: Next Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
March 29-April 1: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
April 12-15: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
April 19-22: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
May 10-13: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
May 17-20: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
May 31-June 3: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
June 14-17: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
June 23: New EU Expiration Date for Crimea related Sanctions on Russia
July 5-8: Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
July 12-15: Last Regularly Scheduled Plenary (Voting) Session of Parliament.
July 22: Current “Session” of Parliament Ends
July 31: New Date for Expiration of the EU’s Donbass related Sanctions on Russia.
September: Stockholm Arbitration Hearings on Counter Claims between Naftogaz and Gazprom.
January 2017: Stockholm Arbitration Courts Expected to Render a Decision on the Case Between Naftogaz and Gazprom.