Ukraine’s New Government: Here’s What to Expect

Amid Horse-Trading by Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, a New Parliament Speaker Is Likely

The Atlantic Council’s Kyiv-based senior fellow, Brian Mefford, writes on the likely makeup of Ukraine’s post-election government. His key observations are below, and you can read his detailed analysis on his own blog.

While Arseniy Yatsenyuk will remain prime minister, President Poroshenko is likely to place an ally from his own party as the new parliament speaker. The surprising (if narrow) victory by Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front in the nationwide voting for party lists has ended speculation on any change in the prime minister’s post. But President Petro Poroshenko’s party won the most seats from the more than 200 electoral districts around the country. That makes his faction the largest in parliament (the Verkhovna Rada) and spells a change for Oleksandr Turchnov, a Popular Front ally of Yatsenyuk who has been the parliament speaker for the past eight months.

Expect a new speaker from Poroshenko’s team, Mefford writes. Turchynov is likely to lead National Front’s faction in the Rada. A possible compromise, to award the speakership to the third-largest party in the new Rada, isn’t likely. That party, Samopomich (“Self-Reliance”), has no one on its team who has served in the Rada before, and running the entire parliamentary apparatus is not something to be learned “on the job.”

The next three weeks are likely to be full of intrigue as the new governing coalition divvies up cabinet posts, governorships, and parliamentary committees. Among the likely developments:

Ministers with security-related portfolios are likely to keep their jobs. These include Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak, and possibly even Valentyn Nalyvaichenko who has performed impeccably as director of the main intelligence agency, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). (Speculation in Kyiv last month suggested a possible change atop the SBU.) The security situation has improved, and the memories of the war are still too fresh to “change horses in midstream.”

Poroshenko negotiates with Yatsenyuk over the cabinet. Poroshenko has raised the idea of instituting “state secretaries” beneath each cabinet post and reducing the deputy ministers to just one per minister. The state secretaries would de facto be the president’s representatives to the ministries and manage much of the administrative side of the job while the minister would manage the political end. If Yatsenyuk accepts this proposal, his Popular Front will likely then occupy a larger number of cabinet posts. If he declines, look for Poroshenko to push his candidates for a large number of cabinet posts in addition to those which already are part of his portfolio under the constitution. (Those include the prosecutor general, defense minister, chief of the National Security and Defense Council, and chairman of the SBU.)

Tymoshenko allies will fade from appointed positions. The interim appointments to government made immediately after the Euromaidan uprising and the February departure of former President Viktor Yanukovych included a number of members of “Byut,” the Bloc for Yulia Tymoshenko. After her party’s poor showing in last week’s election, Tymoshenko’s “political future does not have a strong upward trajectory any time soon,” Mefford has noted. And most Most Byut appointees from February will now be replaced. Also, expect Poroshenko to appoint his allies to the governorships in several oblasts. 

Finally, Mefford sketches some of the less-noted winners and losers among the candidates from legislative (“single-mandate”) district races in the October 26 vote:

  • Oleksiy Poroshenko. Yes, his dad is the president, and running from his native Vinnitsya, there was never much doubt he would win. Nonetheless, his 64 percent of the vote (to 13 percent for his nearest rival, from Samopomich) sets him up to play a key role in the Poroshenko faction in this parliament. The previous presidential son, Victor Victorovych Yanukovych, set the bar for performance sufficiently low that if Oleksiy stays out of business and focuses on politics, he has the potential to be an influential insider known for his political achievements instead of his wealth.
  • Dmitro Yarosh.  The leader of the Right Sector leader failed badly in his presidential bid in May (with 0.7 percent of that vote) but easily won a district in Dnipropetrovsk, the industrial city that borders on Donetsk province and its conflict zone. While Yarosh is controversial, seen by many in the Ukrainian public and the international media as an ultranationalist, he will remain a figure to be dealt with in Ukraine’s near-term political scene.
  • Kharkiv’s startling incumbents. Largely unnoticed in this election was Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, reelected twelve of its fourteen legislators as independents, this as so many incumbents nationwide were defeated. Five those MP’s remain members of the Party of Regions faction in the Rada. One of the two newcomers is Oleksandr Kirsh from the People’s Front, which marks the first victory by pro-European parties in Kharkiv oblast since 1998. It will be interesting to see if Kharkiv’s bloc of reelected deputies will remain independent, join the Poroshenko faction, or stay with the opposition.
  • Serhiy Taruta. As the appointed governor of Donetsk this year, business magnate Taruta saw half of the oblast occupied by Russian-backed forces. He suffered financial losses, and ultimately was fired by Poroshenko. But they still love him in his hometown, Mariupol, where he crushed his nearest rival, from the Poroshenko Bloc, winning 60 percent to 8 percent..
  • Yevhen Bakulin. The indicted former director Naftogaz, the state gas utility, easily won as an Opposition Bloc candidate in Luhansk. (To see the palace Bakulin built while in office, and his encounter last spring with investigators who have accused him of embezzlement, watch this video.)  Bakulin’s election—one of only two district races won nationwide by the Opposition Bloc—will give him immunity from prosecution over the corruption charges.

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Image: Ukraine’s news website Den’ (“The Day”) reports last month on one of the election’s notable survivors: Yevhen Bakulin, former director of the state-owned gas company, won a parliament seat and thus gets immunity from prosecutors’ charges that he embezzled state funds to build his multi-million-dollar palace outside Kyiv. (Den’/