Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The president Petro Poroshenko finally publicly announced his plans to again for the position of leader. At a forum in Kiev entitled “From Kruty to Brussels. We go our own way” he declared that he was driven by “a feeling of deep responsibility before the country, contemporaries, before the past and future generations”, and his aim is to “guarantee the inevitability” of integration into the European Union (EU) and NATO and “the irreversibility of our independence”.
According to Poroshenko, the country faces a choice: either his re-election or “Putin”, and, moreover, this alternative in the form of a slogan, seemingly, will become key in his campaign. In addition, there were more promises of a breakthrough in the economy during his next term.
It’s true that the congress showed that in parallel the president’s team is consolidating its administrative resources. And one more stake will be placed on illegal technologies of working with the electorate, which everyone is talking about more and more louder.
“Strana” tried to understand Poroshenko’s chances in elections.
Poroshenko is still participating in the presidential race, as he himself declared at a forum in the Kiev International Exhibition Center (by the way, this was the favourite palace of Party of Regions congresses). But he wasn’t nominated by the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko” (BPP) party that he is the honorary chairman of. The guarantor chose the path of self-nomination. There are several explanations for this.
According to the political strategist Andrey Zolotarev, Poroshenko doesn’t want to be associated with a concrete party brand, hoping to “present himself as the president of all Ukrainians”.
But situation inside the BPP itself is quite complicated. The mayor of Kiev, Vitaly Klitschko, remains the formal leader of the party, although he diligently distances himself from the political force.
On the eve of the forum it became known that the Kiev city governor would be absent allegedly because of a recurrence of an old back injury and his subsequent hospitalisation in an Austrian clinic. Many saw this as Klitschko’s unwillingness to support the guarantor in elections, and there were many jokes on social networks in this respect. As a result the mayor after all dropped a video of support in which he clarifies that the candidate Poroshenko promised “the implementation of the law on the capital” – the long-standing goal of the team of Klitschko.
“The mayor obviously wanted to avoid this fate. UDAR, which he is going to revive, will go to parliamentary elections independently. Why would he show himself near Poroshenko? But, apparently, the Presidential Administration called him and said: what, Vitaly Vladimirovich, are you out of your mind? However, he got off with small blood,” said a source from the UDAR faction in the parliament of the last convocation who knows Klitschko.
But the Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman, the Prosecutor-General Yury Lutsenko – both are nominees from BPP, as well as the speaker of the parliament Andriy Parubiy and many people’s deputies came from the presidential nominal bloc.
In addition to the speaker from the second column of the power – the “People’s Front“ (PF) party – there was also the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council Aleksandr Turchynov. If he entered into the presidential camp long ago, then the appearance at the event of Parubiy, who also made a speech, means that he followed the same example (unlike the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov and the leader of the PR party Arseny Yatsenyuk, but we will talk about them below).
And there were also heads of regions and loyal city mayors, for example, the mayor of Dnepropetrovsk Boris Filatov, whose speech was a non-stop pro-Poroshenko dithyramb…
“There are too many officials [at the event] who participate in illegal pre-election campaigning – after all, according to legislation, they have no right to do this… But who now pays attention to such, so to speak, trifles… After all, they are all buddies,” wrote the former Deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration and current Chairwoman of the board of the public association “For Democracy Through Law” Marina Stavniychuk on her Facebook page, giving her assessment.
And in response to the direct question asked by a journalist about how his direct campaigning and appeals to vote for Poroshenko correspond to the ban on prosecutors participating in the pre-election campaign, Yury Lutsenko simply answered: “I am on vacation”.
The forum really helped Poroshenko to show, despite the Klitschko incident, the integrity of his team (and even its completion, as the example of Parubiy demonstrates). Perhaps, this is the only scenario possible for them.
“Here it’s not a question of belief – there is just no place to disappear to”commented the political strategist Andrey Zolotarev.
According to rumours, Groisman wasn’t able to reach an agreement with Tymoshenko about guarantees of his future after her possible victory in elections, and therefore he was forced to reconcile with Poroshenko (who he had a sluggish conflict with in recent years). The unexpected decision of the government to pay monetised of subsidies in cash became the first indicator of this (which was apprehended by many as an attempt to directly bribe voters).
However, the source of “Strana” in the government considers that one shouldn’t exaggerate the value of public support from the officials of the incumbent president. “Now everybody understands that Poroshenko’s chances of being re-elected for a second term are not very high. But he will be president for at least three more months before the inauguration of the new head of state. And for any official the most important thing is the opportunity to resolve issues. And this is why they also change their loyalty when it comes to solving certain issues that are important for themselves in these two-three months. But saying that someone will actively work for Poroshenko’s victory is a waste of time. For their own pocket with the help of Poroshenko – yes, it will happen. But nobody will rush around for him during elections,” said a source.
In general, there are no grounds to talk about broad political and public support for the president, noted the political scientist Ruslan Bortnik. Firstly, the head of the second party in power PF Arseniy Yatsenyuk and the influential Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, whose ministry plays an important role in ensuring the result of elections, didn’t come. Rumours about them drifting into the camp of the main rival of the president Yuliya Tymoshenko received more confirmation.
Secondly, there was no head of the Kiev Patriarchate Filaret, who until recently Poroshenko sang a hosanna to for his devotion to the idea of autocephaly but who the other day blessed Tymoshenko’s congress. On the other hand, the newly elected head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Epifany was present. Thirdly, from the former presidents there was only Viktor Yushchenko, and not Leonid Kravchuk (he participated in Tymoshenko’s campaign) and not Leonid Kuchma, and the high-ranking foreign guests were also absent. Commentators and bloggers who have traditionally reflected the position of the environment of president Poroshenko obviously weren’t an equal replacement for them.
Tomos moves into the background
One more important conclusion following the results of the forum: there was a change of priorities in the pre-election campaign of Poroshenko. The topic of Tomos of Autocephaly has been replaced by new promises of economic reforms. The political strategist Zolotarev considers that the HQ of the president was obliged to opt for this, because the so-called Tomos Tour (Poroshenko’s trip to regions with a copy of the church diploma) didn’t bring a considerable boost to his approval rating. The expert Bortnik in general predicts that the tours will be curtailed.
“Apparently, Poroshenko’s team hoped that the first cycle of the Tomos Tour will acquire the Jerusalem Patriarch’s recognition of the presidential ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine‘ project. But this didn’t happen, so continuing the tour doesn’t make any sense”said Bortnik, who is also involved in a church issues
And Poroshenko somehow needs to respond to the criticism voiced against him by opponents concerning the state of affairs in the economy. His attempts to distance himself, having transferred responsibility to Groisman, obviously aren’t perceived by society.
That’s why Poroshenko promises strategic measures.
“A responsible economic strategy dictates to us the need to clearly determine priorities and place an emphasis on those sectors of the economy where we can achieve leading positions. They will become breakthrough points that will push us forward. They will bring money to ensure a notable increase in the standard of living of the people. Examples of such sectors are the agro-industrial complex, ІТ, mechanical engineering, tourism, logistics,” stated the president during the forum, considering it is possible to attract “billions of dollars of investments” in these sectors.
The political scientist Bortnik notes that Poroshenko at the same time avoids specifics so that no questions are asked should these promises be broken. “Poroshenko doesn’t promise peace in two weeks and 1,000 hryvnia per day military salaries any more,” said the expert.
However, the guarantor gives one clear forecast for his second possible presidential term. “In 2024 we will submit an application for accession to the European Union. I don’t doubt at all that we will receive it and we will start implementing the action plan concerning NATO membership,” stated Poroshenko.
In his opinion, Ukraine’s full membership in these alliances is needed not only by Ukraine itself, but “definitely” also by EU and NATO.
It is obvious that in the near future it is worth expecting a vote in parliament on amendments to the Constitution concerning aims to enter both blocs.
“The question is: are the European Union and NATO ready to accept Ukraine? At the moment they sure aren’t. And it is doubtful that even in the next 5 years Ukraine – if the current political orders will remain – will build independent justice and will lead the real fight against corruption, so that the EU starts to think about accepting Ukraine. NATO has its own requirements that, by the way, any president can be involved in fulfilling . But the most important thing is that countries with territorial problems, according to the NATO charter, can’t be members of the alliance. I don’t think that in five years we will resolve the issues of Donbass and Crimea,” said the political scientist Anatoly Oktisyuk.
Thus, the EU and NATO, despite their will and participation, will become just PR tools of the president’s campaign.
But despite all the attempts to expand the set of theses of the campaign, the main one remains invariable and was officially formulated perhaps for the first time at the forum: “If not Poroshenko, then Putin”.
However, its effectiveness is doubtful. If at elections the incumbent president would face resistance from only the candidates from the Southeast, like Yury Boyko, who supports reconciliation with Russia, then this could still somehow work. But among the main competitors of Poroshenko there is not only Boyko, but also Tymoshenko and Gritsenko, who in their rhetoric concerning war and Moscow don’t really differ from Poroshenko and obviously aren’t perceived by the people as “Putin’s agents”. Especially since they, unlike the president, have no Lipetsk factory, which paid taxes into the Russian budget after the beginning of war.
Hope for voting networks
In general, it’s not a fact that the new and old slogans of Poroshenko will help to reduce the gap with him and his main competitor Tymoshenko – after all, she also promises economic recovery and a pro-West course. The political strategist Ruslan Bortnik considers that the situation compels Poroshenko’s team to play foul.
“We see a certain ‘Anaconda’ plan being performed by the president. This is when opponents are strangled administratively, financially, and via the media, plus playing on a decrease in voter turnout and buying up their votes. Lowering the voter turnout is very important, the electorate is told that there is no choice besides the 50 persons who are interested in standing. But they themselves hope to ascend at the expense of the administrative resource,” explains the political scientist Bortnik.
The political strategist Zolotarev offered a reminder about the rumours of regional propaganda networks [a black scheme involving electoral fraud – ed] being created, which, in reality, is electoral technology designed to buy up votes.
However, Bortnik doesn’t believe that even such methods will help. “I think that in reality the task of achieving victory is no longer set for the president’s team. The most important thing is to receive a worthy result that will allow to hold negotiations with Tymoshenko or Vladimir Zelensky”.
However, a source in a pro-government faction who is accepted on Bankova Street, on the contrary, assures “Strana” that Poroshenko’s team “already solved the issue entering the second round of voting”. “It is possible to speak about this with confidence when we see such a concentration of administrative resources and the technologies that are being used,” he stated.
At the same time, one of the representatives of the environment of the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said that Poroshenko doesn’t have exclusive influence on administrative resources.
“Avakov already gave the direct command to break up these networks that will buy up votes for Poroshenko. And without the protection of the police it will be very difficult to launch these voter networks. Or to be more precise – it will be impossible. City mayors are pro-Poroshenko in words, but in practice they will work more for other candidates with who they already reached an agreement concerning participation in the Rada elections in the autumn of 2019. So the entire administrative and pre-election creation of Poroshenko is a sand castle that will collapse on March 31st,” said the source.
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