The ups and downs of Prime Minister Yatseniuk

by Mathieu BOULEGUE on 2/20/2016

(c) Rada of Ukraine (c) Rada of Ukraine

Yatseniuk 0, Poroshenko 1 – but who’s counting? On February 16, the Cabinet of Ukraine, led by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, lived to see another day after the Rada failed to pass a vote of no-confidence. A flurry of political declarations sprouted ahead of the fatidic vote when the Rada factions of the BuYT, Samopomish and even the Bloc of Poroshenko (BoP) called the Cabinet’s results unsatisfactory. The last blow came from President Petro Poroshenko himself when he personally asked Prime Minister Yatseniuk and General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin to step down “in order to restore trust in the government”. Poroshenko also requested a complete and thorough overhaul of the Cabinet (importantly with the participation of the People’s Front), citing that “surgery is needed” in Ukrainian politics.

Yet surgery failed to happen on February 16, and a cosmetic display of political theatricality took over in Kyiv. After the Rada managed to gather 159 signatures to proceed with the vote of no-confidence, MPs overwhelmingly rejected, with 247 votes, the report of the government presented by Yatseniuk in the afternoon. After a good 90 minutes of political statements depicting the bad results of the Cabinet, the Rada then proceeded to pass resolution n°37 on the resignation of the Cabinet, but failed by a margin of 32 votes. The resolution was only accepted by 194 MPs, whereas a minimum of 226 votes was needed to approve the motion. Yatseniuk therefore remained in place, at least until the next possible vote of no-confidence – which cannot take place before the end of the current session of the Rada, namely after July 2016.

Despite far-fetched analysis reported in the media, the move initiated in the Rada never meant to overthrow Yatseniuk and his government in the first place. Au contraire. And this is where reality takes over: Ukraine does not have the luxury to enter a phase of deep political crisis, not when the release of the IMF tranche is at stake. In this sense, the February 16 vote and Poroshenko’s apparent resolve were more a PR stunt than real political bravado.

Then why bother go through a failed vote to end up keeping Yatseniuk? For one, the BoP (and the President) cannot afford early parliamentary elections right now, with the risk of coming out as a lesser political force taken over by Samopomish, small “oligarchic parties” such as Vidrozhennia, and the Opposition Bloc, or even worse, left out of a new parliamentary majority. Furthermore, Prime Minister Yatseniuk, ever the “kamikaze”, actually comes out of the February 16 ordeal stronger than ever: his 81-member formation in the Rada, the People’s Front, demonstrated a solid voting discipline (only 3 MPs registered for the vote and voted against or abstained) and Yatseniuk himself remains quite useful to Ukrainian politics – and notably become he has a cumbersome position in the executive branch nobody else wants…

This was all made possible through political engineering orchestrated by President Poroshenko and through an implicit deal with political factions controlled by oligarchs, namely the Opposition Bloc of Rinat Akhmetov and Vidrozhennia of Ihor Kolomoysky. The 11 Vidrozhennia MPs (out of 23 from the faction) registered for the vote all abstained whereas only 10 Opposition Bloc parliamentarians (out of 43) were present in the Rada on February 16. Oligarchic discipline held tight. Furthermore, a column of 20 MPs loyal (and dependent) to the President were probably asked to abstain from voting the motion of no-confidence. This left only the BuYT and Samopomish to vote against the Cabinet – which further proves that Yulia Tymoshenko is clearly kept outside “deep” politics in Ukraine and is no longer a force to be reckoned with.

The message is clear: President Poroshenko “saved” the Prime Minister, despite official calls to the contrary. But Yatseniuk was kept in place not by choice, but rather because the BoP desperately needs the support of the 81 votes from the People’s Front in order to avoid a collapse of the parliamentary coalition. With the withdrawal from the coalition of the 19 BuYT MPs (another political stunt from Tymoshenko) and Samopomish following suit quickly thereafter, Poroshenko and Yatseniuk need each other for their own political survival. This shaky situation endangers not only the course of reforms, but also the future of the decentralization law.

Positively enough, the forced resignation of Prosecutor General Shokin, Poroshenko’s crony, was offered to the international community on a golden plater in order to alleviate the fears of the IMF. A hard blow for Poroshenko (especially after Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaliy Kasko resigned the day before the vote) but a breath of fresh air for the reforms on the fight against corruption.

As the executive dodged the bullet, the last-case scenario for the coming months would be the organization of snap parliamentary elections, something Poroshenko called a “last resort” (and understandably so). Yatseniuk now has three weeks to present a new team – once again, only cosmetic changes are expected, if not for the probable sacking of Interior Minister Avakov – and come up with a solid plan of reforms. After that, all bets are off.


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This post was written by...

– author of 16 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

A Sciences Po and King’s College London alumnus, Mathieu Boulègue is an analyst in the field of Russia/CIS security and geostrategic issues. He currently works as a project manager for a risk management consulting firm. He is also a founding member of Sogdiane, a strategic think-tank on Eurasian affairs.

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