Eight months before the next Ukrainian presidential election, current president Petro Poroshenko’s support rate fluctuates between 5% and 8%. Yulia Tymoshenko, head of the Batkivshchyna party and former Prime Minister, leads the polls with 10-13% of the votes. Polls show two other people to be more popular than Poroshenko – oppositionist Yuriy Boyko and independent MP Anatoliy Hrytsenko. Some polls even suggest Ukrainian comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky to stand better chances than the current president.
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But modern Ukrainian history shows that things can change in the months leading up to a presidential election. In early 1999, Leonid Kuchma had 6% of the population’s support, but nine months later he won the first round of the presidential election with 36% of the votes and beat communist Petro Symonenko in the second round crowning himself as the President of Ukraine. Fast-forward 10 years and the then-president Viktor Yushchenko has 0.8% support leading up to the 2010 election. Receiving 5% of the votes, he didn’t come close to beating opponent Viktor Yanukovych.
So what stands between Poroshenko and a potential second term of presidency? At the time of publication, he hasn’t announced any plans to run in the 2019 presidential election while some candidates’ campaigns are already in full swing.
Unlike Kuchma, Poroshenko has little influence over the administrative system, which could be used to secure a victory. But by holding the majority in the Ukrainian parliament in the face of his coalition with the People’s Front party, Poroshenko has more power to play with than Yushchenko ever did.
People’s Front are willing to help, but only on the condition that the president alter the constitution to limit his own power. People’s Front leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, along with influential partyman Arsen Avakov (Ukraine’s current Interior Minister), have called for reducing the president’s influence over executive bodies like the National Bank of Ukraine and other state regulators, as well as the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Defense Ministry. The head of state would remain the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
Two of Hromadske’s insiders with the Presidential Administration and Petro Poroshenko Bloc say that Poroshenko is not ready to reduce his power. The only compromise the president is open to is liquidating the regional and district state administrations in favor of instituting a prefect system, like in France, our interlocutors say.
The prefects, responsible for monitoring observance of the law, would be appointed by the president based on recommendations from the Cabinet of Ministers. This procedure figured in the revised draft edition of the constitution approved by parliament in its first reading back in 2015.
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Poroshenko also agrees with Yatsenyuk’s proposal to reduce the number of MPs from 450 to 300, according to one of the deputy heads of the Poroshenko Bloc.
The lack of agreement between the president and parliament has complicated Poroshenko’s preparations for the upcoming election. People’s Front refused to help the president restaff the Central Election Committee at the beginning of 2018, when the president suggested a list of candidates to fill vacancies within the committee. Instead, the question has been postponed until autumn.
The public phase of the debate on the constitution will most likely heat up in autumn, too. Like Yatsenyuk and Avakov, chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Andriy Parubiy also supports the redistribution of power among different branches of government.
“Constitutional reform needs to be carried out, and I think that this time we will manage to find common ground,” he said during a press conference at the close of the last parliamentary session.
Poroshenko has announced his intention to send his revised draft of the constitution – designed to strengthen Ukraine’s course for joining the European Union and NATO – to the parliament. But Yatsenyuk and Avakov are not planning to abandon their own vision of the constitution, and they may have some allies. The Opposition Bloc also wants the president’s power to be reduced, while Tymoshenko advocates rewriting the constitution.
Poroshenko has a limited circle of supporters today, not unlike when he started his presidency in 2014. Rumor has it that Oleksandr Turchynov, Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council and People’s Front party member, might lead his presidential campaign for 2019.
However, Turchynov has repeatedly said publicly that he will not take part in the 2019 presidential election, including as a campaign manager.
Hromadske’s contacts within Poroshenko’s circle say that he is capable of winning the election even without the help of People’s Front lawmakers.
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Lately, though, Poroshenko’s relations with his own team have also been uneasy. In February, some members of Poroshenko’s circle tried pushing him to announce a snap parliamentary election. Hromadske’s interlocutors within the leadership of the Poroshenko Bloc say the Bloc’s deputy heads Ihor Kononenko and Serhiy Berezenko suggested using the fact that most MPs within the coalition did not want to vote for the anti-corruption court as a reason to call for a snap election.
Poroshenko ultimately rejected the idea, arguing that his party wouldn’t fare well in the election – neither under the current electoral system, nor the new system under consideration by parliament.
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If anything, this story showed that even the closest people to the president are primarily concerned with protecting themselves in the case he loses the next election. Helping Poroshenko get reelected is of secondary importance.
Last Minute Decisions
During his last press conference, Poroshenko said he never lost a single election campaign. But is there a deadline by which he would need to announce his plans to run for president?
“First off, he will only run in a scenario where he’s certain about his victory,” Hromadske’s source inside the Poroshenko Bloc said. “Secondly, this depends on the responsibilities the head of state will hold.”
“But he can announce his plans even two months before the election date,” the insider added.
/By Maksym Kamenev
/Translated by Maria Romanenko