Yatsenyuk goes it alone with 'People's Front'

By bne IntelliNews September 11, 2014

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Ukraine's prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk set up his own political party named 'People's Front' on September 10 to compete in crucial pre-term parliamentary elections slated for October 26, splitting off from former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkvyschyna party. The move adds to a growing number of political parties contesting the elections, ensuring that there will be complex negotiations to form a future governing coaltion.

Yatsenyuk was elected chairman of the People's Front party at its founding congress on September 10, and his ally, Rada speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, was elected head of its central headquarters. The party also includes Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, former National Security and Defense Council Secretary Andriy Parubiy, Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko, and prominent anti-corruption campaigner Tetiana Chornovol among its leading lights.

Yatsenyuk, Turchinov and Avakov until now were all leading members of the Batkyvschyna party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, currently the largest party in parliament, and the one to which they owe their current positions as prime minister, speaker and interior minister respectively.

While Turchinov and Avakov are long term allies  of Tymoshenko, Yatsenyuk made his own political career and headed his own political party, Front Zmin, which merged with Batkyvschyna in 2011 after Yulia Tymoshenko was sidelined politically by a jail sentence.

Media reported that Yatsenyuk and Turchinov had split with Tymoshenko during a fiery meeting of Batkyvschyna's political council on August 21 prompted their walk out. According to Batkyvschyna sources, Tymoshenko's wish to head the party list instead of Yatsenyuk caused the split, although Tymoshenko was ready to see Yatsenyuk continue as prime minister following elections.

Yatsenyuk was widely reported to have been in talks with president Petro Poroshenko to join his party, Bloc Petro Poroshenko. But, according to sources quoted by internet portal Levyi Bereg, talks broke down because of  Yatsenyuk's demand that the party be called Bloc Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk, which Poroshenko refused. Yatsenyuk also wanted to be the primary ally of Poroshenko, with a larger share of the party's electoral list, ahead of Kyiv mayor and boxer Vitaly Klichko's party UDAR, which formed an alliance with Poroshenko as early as March 2014.
Although Yatsenyuk himself is a liberal technocrat who has headed the national bank and foreign ministry at different times, his party is taking on a nationalist populist profile, say analysts. This is indicated by the name "People's Front" and the inclusion of hardliners such as former head of the security council Andriy Paruby and  anti-corruption campaigner Tatiana Chornovila, whose husband was recently killed fighting Russian-backed rebels in east Ukraine. A number of commanders of volunteer battalions who came to prominence during the war in the east were also present at the party's founding, although since they are formally part of the state security structures, they are not allowed to run for parliament. 

As bne reported, an opinion poll published by Kyiv International Institute for Sociology, apparently commissioned by Yatsenyuk, last week showed that a pilot Yatsenyuk project called Patriots of Ukraine, also featuring Turchinov and Avakov, would poll only 6.4%, thus only just clearing the 5% electora threshold. This would also reduce the Batkyvschyna vote from around 11% to 6.1% the polls showed. The Bloc Petro Poroshenko would poll 30-35%, and the Radical Party of populist nationalist Oleh Lyashko would poll 15-20%, according to polls published last week.

Yatsenyuk, despite his liberal background, has been cultivating the image of being tougher on Russia than Poroshenko, commenting critically on the peace agreement reached in Minsk on September 3 and on any creation of an autonomous region in east Ukraine. Analysts see his main ambition as being to remain in the post of prime minister, just as the parliamentary election will transfer power  to the government from the president. 

Ukraine's constitution of 2004, which was restored in February 2014, provides for government accountability to parliament. But given the de facto state of war Ukraine has been in and Poroshenko's higher level of legitimacy, having been freshly elected in May 2014, he has in fact been the dominant political force, frequently making statements on economic policy although by rights this is the prime minister's prerogative. This is set to change after October's parliamentary elections, even if Poroshenko, who currently lacks any force of his own in parliament, successfully establishes his own party.

Further intrigue looms over possible amendments to Ukraine's electoral laws to allow for electoral blocs to be formed by alliances of individual parties. This would allow Yatsenyuk to formalize an alliance with Poroshenko while retaining his own political brand. 

Yatsenyuk's move continues a trend of founding political parties based around popular individuals, with almost all parties certain to clear the 5% threshold based on individuals rather than ideology, with the exception to some extent of the nationalist Svoboda party. Thus likely candidates to participate in a post-election government include: Bloc Petro Poroshenko; Radical Party founded and headed by Oleh Lyashko; UDAR founded and headed by Vitaly Klichko; Civic Position, founded and headed by former defence minister Anatoly Hrytsenko; Yatsenyuk's People's Front; and Batkyvschyna, now reduced to Yulia Tymoshenko; and possibly Strong Ukraine, founded and headed by former deputy prime minister Serhiy Tigipko.

Oleh Lyashko's success with his Radical Party is widely attributed to his backing by former head of the presidential administration Serhiy Lyovochkin and the TV channel Inter that Lyovochkin co-owns with gas oligarch Dmitry Firtash. Pundits say that Yatsenyuk has struck out on his own with People's Front after being promised support by Firtash' bitter rival, oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, owner of Ukraine's largest bank Privat and one of Ukraine's largest TV channels 1+1, and currently also governor of the wealthy Dnipropetrovsk region.  Kolomoisky has funded volunteer battalions fighting in the east, commanders of which were present at the founding of People's Front on September 10.

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