• Speaker Lutsenko? With the Poroshenko Bloc set to become the largest faction in the new Ukrainian Parliament, there is speculation on who from that team will fill the post of Speaker. Since incumbent Speaker Oleksandr Turchynov is from National Front and they are set to keep the Prime Minister’s post (for Arseniy Yatsenyuk), its generally accepted that the Speaker’s job will go to the Poroshenko Bloc. So far the two most frequently mentioned names are Volodymyr Hroisman and Yuri Lutsenko. However despite Poroshenko’s desire to promote Hroisman (another Vinnitysa native), Poroshenko needs him in the Cabinet of Ministers to spearhead decentralization plans as well as keep to keep an eye on Yatsenyuk. That leaves former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko as the most likely candidate to fill the post at this time. Lutsenko, who served prison time on trumped up charges under Yanukovych, has been a close Poroshenko ally from the beginning and would be helpful in steering the legislative reform agenda that the President wants to push. In addition, MP-Elect Yuri Stets name is circulating as the possible Chairman of the National Security and Defense Council since that position is appointed by the President under the Constitution.
• Wide Coalition Talks in Parliament: This week brought news that every party in Parliament with the exception of the Opposition Bloc is currently involved in negotiations over the governing coalition and Cabinet posts. The talks initially were among the Poroshenko Bloc, National Front, and Samopomich party, but now the Radical Party and Byut (Tymoshenko Bloc) have joined the negotiations. In general, having a wide coalition is a constructive move to ensure that Poroshenko’s Constitutional reforms measures are passed as they require 301 votes (rather than the usual 226) out of 423 members. As always though, the devil is in the details. Can Oleg Lyashko’s antics be held in check long enough for him to make an effective Minister of Agriculture for example? What role if any, would Tymoshenko want? After she has been Prime Minister twice, it’s hard to imagine her being content to serve as Minister of Youth and Sports. Currently there are 20 Cabinet posts with the ability to add a few more if needed. There are also more than a dozen other valuable posts like the Anti-Monopoly Committee, State Border Service, etc. that can be divvyed up as well. In theory, there is enough pie for everyone but given that this is power politics, voracious appetites can rarely be satisfied. Nonetheless, the coalition talks are moving forward efficiently so far in stark contrast to the coalition negotiations in 2006 for example.
• Local Elections Won’t Be Scheduled Early? Poroshenko’s plans to hold early National Local Elections in March of 2015 appear to be on hold now. The plan is complicated by both procedural and practical considerations. Procedurally it would require Constitutional changes to do so and those reforms are not expected to be voted on until June. In addition, there must be a consensus under which format the elections will be conducted. There is a growing push for open party lists rather than electing members from geographic districts. Poroshenko’s push for open party lists for the Parliamentary elections fell flat earlier this year because he lacked support from deputies elected from single mandate constituencies who made up a critical part of his governing majority. Now with a new Parliamentary majority being formed, Poroshenko will be somewhat less beholden to the interests of deputies elected from single mandate districts. However, given that the obtuse “closed list” party system used in the 2006 local elections created a worse system than the one it was designed to replace, negotiations and compromises on the format of the 2015 Local Elections are still needed. Finally, the practical consideration is that with the Russian army on the move again and the threat of an renewed offensive increasing, the security situation in the Donbass still will not allow elections in all parts of Ukraine. Thus, local elections are likely punted till October as originally scheduled.
• Ukraine’s Cloning Technology. Ukraine’s most recent Parliamentary election featured a unique element known as “cloning”. Cloning is the registration of a candidate with the same name as a leading contender in an electoral contest in order to siphon away votes from confused voters and result in the contender’s defeat. The technology is not indigenous to Ukraine (John Kennedy’s dad paid a second Joseph Russo to enter the race for the 11th Congressional District in Massachusetts in 1946 to siphon votes away from the real Joseph Russo and help elect John Kennedy to Congress) but Ukraine has excelled in its usage. More than five percent of single mandate races featured “clone candidates” in this year’s election. Typically a clone candidate receives between $5,000-15,000 net to merely file his or her candidacy. However, the reality is that cloning rarely changes the results as the voters have become quite savvy at understanding the differences. For example, in District 141 (Bilhorod-Dnistrovskiy, Odesa region), a rematch between incumbent Vitaliy Barvinenko and Serhiy Dubovoy took place. Barvinenko won the 2012 contest by a 42-35% margin. This time though, the race was dubbed by some as the “clone wars” because Duboviy managed to get three other Barvinenko’s to run in this year’s contest while Barvinenko retaliated by finding two Duboviy’s to enter the race. In the end, the “clone Barvinenko’s” siphoned 5.05% of Vitaliy’s votes while the “clone Duboviy’s” consumed 3.3% of Serhiy’s votes. However, Barvinenko cruised to victory to a six point victory over his nearest rival with Dubovoy finishing a distant third place (27-21-14%). In Kirovohrad District 102, controversial Kyiv politician Oles Dovhiy managed to perfect the art of cloning against his opponent Viktor Oleksiyovich Boyko by finding three clones with exactly the same first, last and father’s name. As a result, the four Viktor Oleksiyovich Boyko’s were listed on the ballot with their birth year. Thus, the real Viktor Oleksiyovich Boyko was listed with 1961 as his birth year versus 1949, 1959, and 1982 for the other three. However, given that Dovhiy defeated Boyko 30-12% and the Boyko perfected clones received just 3.49%, it appears that the cloning turned out to be excessive.
However, there was one race where cloning was the key factor in the election and that was in Zakarpattya District 68 (Uzhgorod city). Robert Horvat from the Poroshenko Bloc won the election over incumbent Vasyl Illich Kovach by a narrow 21.6-18.8% margin (2,496 votes out of 90,000 cast). Kovach was elected in 2012 as a member of the Party of Regions over the flamboyant Uzhgorod Mayor Serhiy Ratushnyak (who still holds the record for joining and switching factions in Parliament a total of seven times during his term in 2002-2006). This time Kovach ran as an independent but with the administrative apparatus turned against him. Kovach faced Anton, Andriy, Oleksandr, Laslo (a Kovach with a Hungarian first name), and Viktor Vasylovich Kovach’s in this year’s contest. The five cloned Kovach’s received 4.42% and 4001 total votes. Cloning is overrated as an electoral tactic but in this case, it made the key difference in the election. Thus, in this case alone, the hiring of clones was a successful use of up to $75,000.
Dates to Watch:
• November 11-25, IMF Visit to Kyiv: Given the recent gas deal between Ukraine and Russia, the International Monetary Fund representatives will be able to have a more leisurely visit to Kyiv this time in comparison to past visits. The reality is that Europe doesn’t want to risk a gas cutoff this winter and the only way to do that is to continue to lend money to Ukraine under the agreement reached in spring. As a result, this codependent relationship will result in the next two tranches being combined and Ukraine receiving $2.2 billion on December 15. In addition, there is no way for Ukraine’s economy to get out of recession with the Western aid. Thus, while real reforms are still lacking, the safest bet of all is that the IMF’s next tranche for Ukraine will be approved.
• December 1, First Session of the New Parliament: It could happen earlier but with the Central Election Commission certifying results on November 10 and time still being needed for coalition negotiations, this is the date most often mentioned. In this case, December’s session will be fast and furious with Parliament rushing to elect a Speaker, new government, divide up committee posts, and pass a budget before Saint Nicholas Day on December 19. Saint Nicholas Day is the traditional start of the month long winter vacation which lasts until the Epiphany on January 19 and now often includes two Christmases and two New Years. Ukraine may be moving towards Europe with a new government and parliament, but don’t expect them to give up their winter traditions of a month of holidays.
• October 2015, National Local Elections: All oblast, city, rayon and village elections will take place during these elections. Mayors of cities will also be elected at this time so expect hard fought mayoral contests in Odesa, Kharkiv, Ivano Frankivsk and other major cities. Presumably these elections will take place under a new or revised Constitution and possibly under a new election law.