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Tilted horizon

The closer 28 June is, the more active are the rumours in the Ukrainian political space that on Constitution Day, President Poroshenko will make some momentous statement. There are three main scenarios: an early parliamentary election, ab early presidential election or constitutional reform. Each has its pros and cons, each has its loyal camp. LB.ua takes a closer look at all three, finds out why the president is not campaigning yet and under what circumstances he can completely abandon attempts to seek re-election.

Photo: President's press service
Early parliamentary elections. Risks are high, but it's worth trying "Holding early parliamentary elections would completely change the agenda in the country. And when it did, it would have allowed the president to take the first role. Having strengthened his stand in parliament, one can run in the presidential election," says one of the authors of this idea.

As he speaks, he quite sincerely believes in the "strengthened" part.

An impeccable legal plan of action was developed. According to it, one day the president would suddenly want to ask speaker Andriy Parubiy about the personal composition of the coalition.

He would send an official inquiry, of course. "The Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB) would provide its statistics. As for Self-Reliance, Fatherland, Lyashko, Opposition Bloc and two groups, 'they are not there'. It leaves us with the People's Front. It would be funny, really funny to see how they would behave in this situation," says a source from among the PPB leaders. He insists: "We were ready to break off relations with the People's Front."

Parubiy's answer to the president's letter is predictable: in fact, there is no coalition. That opens a direct path to re-elections. The "old" law on the matter and the Central Electoral Commission some of whose members have not been appointed are helping factors too.

"Would we have won from this?" a senior PPB member wonders. "We would certainly not have lost. Yes, the risks are high, but they are high for everyone. On our side, we have the effect of surprise. Behind us is the initiative. And we, unlike the rest, have some kind of resources: monetary and administrative. Another question - and now it is better not to delve into it – is how we do not know how to use it. But it would be definitely worth trying. "

Photo: Max Trebukhov

According to a number of sources in the presidential administration, the president liked this scenario. So much so that he even began consultations on the matter with Western partners.

And it did not go without a hitch.

Western partners had two objections. The first one is that the president will become an unpredictable and hence unreliable ally. The second one is that in the case of re-elections, supporters of the "pro-Russian vector" in parliament may well get a majority, or become a weighty part of the coalition with due consequences. These consequences could be very sad. For all. First of all, for the country.

In short, the idea was blocked and was discarded. For now, at least.

Early presidential election. And the "factor of Vakarchuk and Hrytsenko"

Option No 2, currently the main one, is an early presidential election.

"Why is nothing happening? Look, Yuliya's campaign is already in full swing, and we have no staffs working (Oleksandr Turchynov tactfully withdrew from the leadership of the election staff a couple of months ago – Ed.), there is neither a network in place or the administrative resource in operation. There is no discussion on the main messages of the campaign at all. Are we working, doing anything at all?" Many of the president's allies asked each other this at the beginning of this week, right after Yuliya Tymoshenko's large-scale forum where she presented her New Deal manifesto, a source of bad concerns for many.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

A couple of meetings (some tete-a-tete, others in a more extended composition) later, the president managed to quench his supporters' concerns. However, he did not give a clear answer to their simple question: "Why are we not preparing for the campaign?"

Remember this line, we will get back to it later. "An early presidential election, as well as an early parliamentary election, would benefit us because they could allow us to snatch the initiative in our favour," the presidential administration explains.

However, there are problems with holding them. Legal. Political. Calendar.

As we know, in accordance with the Constitution, there are only four reasons for an early termination of the president's powers: impeachment, resignation for health reasons, death, or, well, just voluntary resignation. Obviously, the only option acceptable option for Poroshenko is the last one, stepping down "of his own will".

"'Of one's own will' is a universal phrase of course but you want to stay in politics, you should explain to society, the West and elites," says one of the ideologists of the process. The presidential administration has not come up with a "comprehensible legend" yet, the source honestly admits.

However, one legend is not enough. After all, if the president voluntarily retires, he will not be able to participate in an early election (for which 90 days are allocated). To give him this opportunity, it is necessary to amend the relevant law. The same law that says that the parliament speaker is in charge of the country during the period of "no president".

Hence the question: what would Parubiy support Poroshenko's idea of early elections? What would he get from this? And why should Volodymyr Groysman allocate budget funds for an early election? Out of the love of art?

And will there be 226 votes required to pass the law "in Poroshenko's favour"?

Photo: Max Trebukhov

The answers seem obvious, but the presidential administration does not agree. "Personally, I think that you can find 226 votes. And Groysman can be 'dissuaded'. Not dismissed but 'dissuaded'. But first you need to get involved in the fight! Get involved and then see what it is all about. But sitting still – as we are doing now - on the shore, waiting for god knows what, is definitely wrong," said one of the strategic advisers to the president, implicitly reproaching him - like many other colleagues - for inaction.

"If they want, Groysman and Parubiy can easily derail the idea of the 'early elections. Again: through the budget. Therefore, we need to negotiate," sources say.

Well, finally, the third aspect is a calendar. As I have said above, an early presidential election campaign would require 90 days. Accordingly, the campaign should start - at the latest - at the end of the summer, the first two weeks of September. Otherwise, it just does not make sense.

"We badly need an early presidential election. Let's be honest: only in this case, Poroshenko has a chance - and quite a good one - of making it to the runoff. But if the election is scheduled for March, it is really not that obvious," said a person close to the head of state.

"What is more, if the election is held in the autumn, he is likely to face Tymoshenko in the runoff. Others simply do not have time to mobilize resources for a full-fledged campaign - from financial to administrative ones. In addition, Tymoshenko and Poroshenko are perfect sparring partners for each other. He has a chance to defeat her and other way around; if any of them faces Hrytsenko or even Boyko, there will be a completely different alignment," another source adds.

Hrytsenko's name is pronounced in a hushed whisper in Bankova these days. He, and not Tymoshenko, is considered Poroshenko's main and most dangerous opponent. "You can always negotiate with Yuliya. At least [to make sure] she is not going 'to catch up'. No way you can do this with him. He is simply unpredictable," they explain.

Photo: Max Levin

"And if Vakarchuk supports Hrytsenko, it will be a disaster. Irreversible. For all of us. And [it will mean] his, Hrytsenko's, guaranteed victory," the add.

As for the frontman of the Okean Elzy band, whose nomination as a candidate for president was a major concern for the president's office just a couple of months ago, passions have subsided. It is said that Vakarchuk himself does not want to be nominated: "He has an eye to the parliamentary election, not a presidential one. However, he should build up muscles during the presidential election and make a stand. And, perhaps, support one of the frontrunners."

They have shared two stories. The first is dated 14 May this year, when President Poroshenko congratulated Svyatoslav Vakarchuk on the 44th birthday. During this telephone conversation, the singer allegedly made it clear that he was not going to run for president. Of course, the exact content of the conversation is known only to the two of them, but that is how the sources in the presidential administration put it.

The second one is alike and has to do with a similar conversation between the president and Mikhail Fridman.

As an illustrative proof of this, they point at the advertisements of Okean Elzy's gig at the Olympic stadium in Kyiv on 24 August. As you know, now the boards look very modest, saying simply "Nothing but music". One would not understand it unless they knew. It is important to remember that initially, the wording on them was much more resolute, however, at some point, the posters were replaced.

Can it be the presidential administration's wishful thinking? Time will tell.

Photo: Facebook/Svyatoslav Vakarchuk

Constitutional reform: "protection from a fool"

"In the last, penultimate and even earlier presidential election campaigns, it was clear who was going to win even a year in advance. This time we have several candidates at once with the rating fluctuating at 6-8%. And none whose rating would confidently exceed 15%. That is, there is no obvious frontrunner," says one of the top Ukrainian officials. "This means a total freak may end up heading the country. An actor, a clown, but certainly not a statesman. Therefore, it is in our common interest to install 'protection from a fool' by depreciating the institution of presidency as much as possible and making sure that a newly elected head of state would not swerve the country off the European path."

By saying this, they mean a scenario of constitutional reform, which essentially limits the powers of the president in favour of parliament (which is logical for the parliamentary-presidential republic, generally speaking).

This idea is not new. It was first made public more than a year ago by the two leaders of the People's Front - Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Arsen Avakov. President Poroshenko responded decisively then: in his traditional address to parliament, he said that he would not allow anyone to cut down the powers of the head of state. Yes, at that time, Poroshenko's rating was significantly better than now, but today the situation has changed. First of all, for himself. The People's Front leaders' zero ratings have not changed. The only difference is that now their idea may unite the key political elites.

A month ago, Arseniy Yatsenyuk handed the final draft of constitutional reform, the way his party sees it, to the head of state.

Photo: skelet-info.org

"The idea is as follows: the president can still nominate - but only nominate - the heads of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Foreign Ministry and the Defence Ministry. He is still the commander-in-chief," explains one of the authors of the draft. "Everything else, including 'lucrative' departments and commissions, is up to parliament. Including the [appointment of] prosecutor-general. The government is exclusively formed by a coalition. Thus, we are turn parliament - as it should be - into the main centre of power while the head of state keeps more ceremonial powers."

Another important point is that the country's European course will be mentioned in the constitution. So that nothing could change it.

Of course, there has been no answer to this document. Nevertheless, the People's Front seriously expects to hold the first voting – and score 226 votes - before the end of the current parliamentary session. That is by mid-July. So that they could send it for validation by the Constitutional Court. They insist there are votes for this regardless of Poroshenko's opinion.

Among them are the votes of the Opposition Bloc, one of whose leaders, Serhiy Lyovochkin, literally said in a recent interview with RBC the following: "Constitutional reform with transition to a parliamentary republic is one of the main political priorities of the Opposition Bloc. This is our consistent position." And although Lyovochkin expressed doubt that it is possible to secure 300 votes before the election, he sent an unambiguous message.

Serhiy Lyovochkin
Photo: Opposition Bloc
Serhiy Lyovochkin

The same message - during the presentation of the New Deal - came from Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Also, we should not forget that the PPB is not united and that the president does not fully control it. Take, for example, the "Klitschko group". Formally, Vitaliy Klitschko remains the head of the Solidarity party. In theory, he is doomed to "prop up" Petro Poroshenko in everything. Regardless of the circumstances. However, in practice he is forced to think: a) about his second mayoral term; b) about his team's prospects for the parliamentary election. So, the president's team cannot fully rely on Klitschko's support. In addition, the PPB has a lot of members elected in first-past-the-post constituencies, who, as I have said above, are also interested in reproducing themsleves in power. Not to mention the fact that Klitschko's policy line fluctuates according to the weather conditions in the capital of Austria, the glorious city of Vienna.

"My opinion is that constitutional reform is a good scenario. We can certainly use it," said one of the close associates of the president. "Frankly speaking, Petro would benefit from it by all means. If he realizes that he is unlikely to be elected and discards the idea of running, he will be able to say: I am the first head of state to voluntarily limit his own powers. It is an excellent opportunity to 'leave in style'. And, as an added bonus, to spoil a successor's life big way."

Poroshenko certainly understands this but has not made up his mind yet.

Moreover, at one of the recent closed meetings (which has already become famous. For that matter, I think a fragmentary-neutral reference is appropriate) with journalists, he clearly said: he is not going to refer to parliament anything that is not guaranteed to garner 300 votes.

Photo: The president's press service

So try to guess whether the Opposition Bloc, a number of group members, ordinary MPs from first-past-the-post constituencies are going to support amendments to the constitution if they mention NATO membership?

See.

As you know, the procedure for "upgrading" the constitution is simple: 226 votes – validation by the Constitutional Court – and the final 300 votes. But one technical detail is important here. We have talked about this before: as the Constitutional Court concluded two years ago, the "next scheduled" session is not the one that immediately follows the one where the initial 226 were collected, but any other one. Even an early one.

"Will Poroshenko dare to change the constitution? The current parliamentary session ends in mid-July. Parubiy may well put to the vote a suggestion not to close it. So, it will be possible to convene MPs any moment, even without announcing an early session. This will be the main indicator. So, we will understand everything soon," says one of the representatives of the PPB.

And here we approach the answer to the main question - is Petro Poroshenko going to run for sure? And how can he use a new constitution as a magic wand?

Not running for re-election. Phoenix

"The chances of winning the campaign are still there. Yes, under certain conditions, but they do exist. One 'but': for this, you need to do something. Take specific efforts. Unfortunately, it is not happening," one of the faithful allies of the president says in a calm, detached manner.

"In 1999, Leonid Kuchma entered the campaign with an even lower rating than what Poroshenko has now. The difference, however, is that then there was a clear, literally step-by-step plan and an understanding of how to win. Now we have no such plan. There are a lot of notes, but he cannot choose the main scenario," another source says.

"Rigging is not more than 5%. Under a very optimistic scenario. Provided that uniformed agencies are fully on your side. But let's be honest: the presidential vertical structure - from the same uniformed agencies right up to the governors - does not work today, and this is his fault, which means that even attempts at falsification are meaningless," the third source adds.

As you may have already understood, the president's inaction and the lack of certainty have been irritating his entourage. It does not result in any bold steps yet, but it is accumulating inexorably.

"The situation is very simple: Poroshenko is not Yushchenko. He will not run again if he realizes that he is not going to be elected," said one of the closest associates of the president. Many others share his opinion.

Photo: The president's press service
 

"Everyone talks about 28 June. But personally, I not only have no expectations, I know that he will not say anything really historical on this day. The presidential H hour has not come yet. He's waiting. I think the point of self-determination is Independence Day. Well, he may have spread rumours about the 28th deliberately to probe the ground," argues one of the high-ranking sources of LB.ua in the incumbent government, adding:" In any case, to launch the campaign, he needs a bright reason, a push".

Such a push could be the granting of the autocephalous status to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. "The president expects the Tomos either by the end of July - Day of the Baptism of Kievan Rus, or by 24 August. Based on this factor, he will make a decision. But before he does that, he will certainly check the ratings," said another ally of the president.

If the Tomos is received and the parliamentary session is still underway, early elections can be announced by Independence Day. It would be just in time for the "last chance" (which was discussed at the beginning of the article). And negotiations with Parubiy, Groysman, as well as canvassing, will have to be held on the go.

An alternative option is to address the nation with a speech similar to this: "I led the country in the most desperate period of its development. I did a lot (there is a long list), I have something to be proud of, with which to go down in history. Today there is a demand for new faces, I do not intend to hold onto the chair and I would like to give way to them." Something like this.

Photo: The president's press service

"You need to leave on a high note - so that you can return. For example, through parliament or by getting elected as prime minister," one of the sources tells LB.ua.

This is where constitutional reform can come in handy. And if you add here the visa-free travel and perhaps the Tomos, you will get a very solid resume. To be completely happy, the potential winner should guarantee him immunity from prosecution. Not to be "caught up". If the winner agrees to this, of course.

The president's team understands this and since most of its members hope for a further reappearance in politics, they shyly glance around in search of options for a retreat. Many, especially the heads of uniformed agencies, have already talked with Timoshenko once or twice.

Representatives of big business (in particular, agrarians) are trying to build bridges with Hrytsenko. Well, if we talk about agrarians, they are not really successful at this, ask Yuriy Kosyuk.

"It seems that I have an answer. As of November 2017, the president's rating was 11.6%. A year before that – 9% with a penny. The dynamics is small, but it existed as well as the prospect of subsequent growth. In the public domain, it was registered by Sotsys surveys and internal polls ordered by the presidential administration showed the same thing," says one of Poroshenko's close associates. "So, he got relaxed. He started to believe that there was no alternative to him. But then the New Year holidays happened. And these damned Maldives, which, as you correctly put it, had the same effect as the 'golden loaf' for Yanukovych. Well, that's it, everything collapsed. And only now - six months later - he is gradually beginning to understand this."

Sonya Koshkina Sonya Koshkina , LB.ua editor in chief
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