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Haggling over premier's chair: to be continued

The team of the head of state is firm on Yatsenyuk’s resignation for the public to let off at least some steam. The prime minister himself is not ready to "go away" as he does not see any political or personal prospects for the future.

Viktoriya Matola Viktoriya Matola , journalist

"Yatsenyuk says: 'Yes-yes, I agree to step down'. The following day he shows everyone… Watch the hands…," one of MPs from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc says and shows the middle finger, imitating the prime minister.

During parliament's three-week recess, the presidential administration (PA) hosted meetings with the participation of the prime minister and the president every other day on average. But things have not budged an inch… The team of the head of state is firm on Yatsenyuk’s resignation for the public to let off at least some steam. The prime minister himself is not ready to "go away" as he does not see any political or personal prospects for the future.

For now, the PA has three possible scenarios: first, Yatsenyuk remains in office while the Cabinet of Ministers undergoes "light" reformatting; second, Yatsenyuk resigns and is replaced by Natalie Jaresko with her team of technocrats; and, third, speaker Volodymyr Hroysman is appointed as prime minister while Interior Minister Arsen Avakov keeps the post. Votes "under the dome" [in parliament] to support one of these options are said to be found.

LB.ua is looking at the haggling in the PA and parliament, and possible formats of the Cabinet of Ministers.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Option one: Jaresko for prime minister

The tone of negotiations between the main (and for today) the only candidate to chair a "technocratic" government, Natalie Jaresko, and the PA was rather set by her than the administration. Apart from the requirement mentioned in the media - not to work with parliament but be sure to receive full support for government bills, she has put several more conditions:

Jaresko has allegedly warned the president\'s entourage that her only objective as premier, as she sees it, is to meet the IMF requirements. This is, as it were, the foundation of her government programme. As a result, [utility] tariffs for the population increase again and the rating of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, the key campaigner for a ‘technocratic" government, suffers a blow.

What is more, the finance minister warned the senior leadership of the country that she could take the post for nine months only. It is said that during this period the minister should make up her mind on US citizenship. That is why Jaresko's list made the leadership of the PA to think hard whether they should be forming a "technocratic" government with Jaresko at the helm.

However MPs interviewed by LB.ua doubt that Bankova [street where the PA is located] has "clear" intentions with regard to Jaresko. And they recall 4 March when the media quickly spread the news about Jaresko as a possible successor to Yatsenyuk. They say it was a deliberate information campaign to "kick her out" of the list of candidates.

"Thus they (representatives of the PA – ed.) wanted to play the card of Jaresko being an obvious technocrat, they realized that she would demand absolute political independence, which the PA (and some MPs too) cannot accept. And it happened just this way… Thus Jaresko proved that President Petro Poroshenko would have no leverage over her. Is it not the reason to change Yatsenyuk?!" an MP from the People’s Front says.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Moreover, some MPs tell LB.ua that Jaresko is "very remarkable". She burst into tears when the parliament committee was discussing taxes.

"Can you imagine that a new prime minister starts crying either at a government meeting or in parliament while making her stand!" a source from the People’s Front faction says.

A Finance Ministry official confirmed to LB.ua that minister Jaresko had on several occasions reacted like that when her proposals were criticized, including in the ministry's office. Moreover, she seems "not to understand well enough how the government machinery functions, and is not very good at the Ukrainian legislation."

Option two: Hroysman for prime minister

The option of appointing speaker Volodymyr Hroysman as prime minister as he is most loyal to the president and understandable for parliament has been worked out in the political domain. According to some MPs, Jaresko’s name was added to the list of candidates for prime minister to make MPs more favourable to the speaker once her principled position is presented to parliament.

However some in the presidential faction believe that the PA has doubts about Hroysman, concerned that he can become too independent.

Anyway, for now Hroysman is indeed the candidate who suits both the PA and the Cabinet of Ministers the most. Whereas for the PA he is "one of them", Yatsenyuk’s team has nothing against Hroysman as he is ready to work with Arsen Avakov in the Cabinet of Ministers, whose strong position in the government is so important to Yatsenyuk. Whereas Jaresko flatly refused to work with the interior minister and suggested that he should be replaced by Eka Zguladze.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

Politicians are discussing another concession made by the president's team to the prime minister: the speaker's post is reserved for the latter's team. Reportedly, this concerns the leader of the People’s Front faction, Maksym Burbak.

There will be enough votes to appoint either Jaresko or Hroysman as prime minister, the president's team is convinced. Everything will depend on the prime minister's position and consecutively on how his team votes in the chamber.

Yatsenyuk stays

"The prime minister is ready to leave," Yatsenyuk’s teammates say almost in unison. "Show us 226 votes for a new candidate, form a team, show us the action programme for 2016. And that is it… We are ready to start consultations on our participation in a future coalition," Burbak publicly reiterated Yatsenyuk's requirement.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

According to sources in Yatsenyuk's closest entourage, the non-public requirements of the government head include "Bankova's guarantee" that the People’s Front leader will remain among the main political players. In particular, Arsen Avakov should remain in the Cabinet of Ministers and Yatsenyuk should be immune from criminal punishment.

"Now Yatsenyuk understands that if he simply resigns, he will face criminal charges one after another and his faction will be torn into pieces," a source in the People’s Front says and adds that until the prime minister sees his "guarantees", his team will not support any of the PA’s options. And thus Yatsenyuk will remain in office until September.

Some in parliament have started saying that political negotiations have been dragging because the president's and prime minister’s teams are afraid of losing control of money flows and being held politically responsible for unpopular decisions.

"There is no politics after all, there is just business on politics… Someone will be in control of the flows. So the question here is whether these will be the prime minister's or the president's people," [MP] Viktor Chumak points out.

"It is cat and mouse… He (Yatsenyuk - ed.) understands that parliament lacks votes for a new prime minister and is playing this card, while they (the president's team - ed.) want to have him dismissed first, and later, with God’s help, so to say, we will appoint someone," he adds.

"We will be dipping each other in shit for about two weeks more and our ratings (Petro Poroshenko Bloc and People’s Front - ed.) will fall to zero… And then the only option will be possible, which is an early election," the MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc says.

However the PA is very strict about an early election: they should not take place. Moreover, Self-Help and the Radical Party have also softened their rhetoric on this. Yuliya Tymoshenko’s team is the only to insist on parliament dissolution.

Sadovyy: primitive PR

Petro Poroshenko was to meet the leaders of factions and groups on the eve of parliament’s session, on 14 March. Before that, the president had talked to Self-Help party leader Andriy Sadovyy and its parliamentary faction leader Oleh Berezyuk. According to LB.ua, the Lviv mayor received an invitation from the PA saying "for political consultations" the previous day.

On their way to the PA, the Self-Help representatives found out about the statement of press secretary Svyatoslav Tseholko that Sadovyy was allegedly being considered as one of the candidates for prime minister. However, at the meeting, the president made no specific proposals to the Lviv mayor.

"You as well can start forming (the government - ed.), he (Poroshenko - ed.) said, for example, you, Andriy, or Hroysman or anybody… I am ready to work with everybody," one of the Self-Help representatives quoted the president as saying.

Sadovyy made an official statement for the press: the prime minister should have the support of parliament, the parliamentary majority, while Self-Help has only 26 MPs.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

"There are the biggest factions in parliament: the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the People’s Front. They have to offer their options instead of shoving it to Self-Help. They have done nobody knows what, the country is in disaster, and now Self-Help has to rescue the situation. How? With the help of parliament that changes its position from morning to lunchtime because this position is coordinated by people who are not in parliament? When oligarchs co-rule?" Sadovyy was outraged.

He also "wrote a prescription" on how to get out of the political crisis: 1) adopt the law on elections according to the proportional system and open lists, 2) change Central Electoral Commission members, 3) appoint a new prosecutor-general.

"With Sadovyy, it was a PR stunt. Everyone will brandish his refusal to take responsibility for the government and the country as a whole before the election. Both his and Self-Help's ratings will suffer," a Petro Poroshenko Bloc MP is confident.

The saga of Sadovyy the prime minister continued on the parliament rostrum on 15 March. Petro Poroshenko Bloc leader Yuriy Lutsenko accused Self-Help of burying the idea of a technocratic government after the faction refused to return to the coalition regardless of any new government.

"I think that the motto 'Go and do' after Sadovyy’s refusal to be a prime minister and the faction’s refusal to enter any coalition should be replaced with a new one: 'Hello, Rabbit [Yatsenyuk's nickname], for the third year in a row!" Lutsenko concluded.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

"Lutsenko holds some personal grudge against Yatsenyuk… He once said at an agenda-setting council: do you know that the first condoms were made of rabbits’ intestines?… He expected that someone would get the joke but everyone looked astonished by what the head of the biggest faction dared to say," a People’s Front MPs recalled Lutsenko saying from the rostrum.

Poroshenko’s team says that Lutsenko is angry at the head of state because the latter has not been able to settle the Yatsenyuk problem for so long.

Oleh Berezyuk suggested that with his statement, Lutsenko "had opened the cards" of his political force's leadership. "Today, speaking from the rostrum, the leader of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc faction leaked yesterday's plan, and did so prematurely, I guess. A very primitive one. It turns out that everyone longed for a technocratic government but Self-Help has destroyed everything. So, I repeat, Self-Help said clearly yesterday and today that we are ready to consider and support a technocratic government on very simple conditions while remaining in opposition," Berezyuk said, recalling Sadovyy’s three conditions.

When the Self-Help leader was asked why he was offered the prime minister's post when it was clear that he would reject it, he answered: " It is a primitive PR stunt, a distraction … A smoke bomb which was supposed to distract your attention from the urgent problem: why the government is not resigning when it has neither public support nor a true action plan."

As for Self-Help's conditions, the PA is currently prepared to meet the one on replacing the prosecutor-general. Although media say that Viktor Shokin is back to work, the president is unlikely to keep him in office. Yuriy Lutsenko and acting Prosecutor-General (in Shokin’s absence) Serhiy Horbatyuk are said to be among the potential replacements for Shokin. The group of "European optimists" has already spoken in favour of the latter. However neither Shokin, nor Horbatyuk would collect 226 votes in parliament at the moment. There will not be enough votes until the government problem is settled. 

Viktoriya Matola Viktoriya Matola , journalist