Groysman to launch centrist party, seeking partners

15 May 2019

Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said he plans to launch a centrist political party to compete in the October parliamentary elections. “I still believe that the center is the most understandable for me. I think that it’s more correct for the state,” he said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine published on May 10. He is considering and negotiating to form a party with potential partners such as President Poroshenko, former PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov, the news site reported on May 13. Groysman isn’t ready to compete in the elections without other leading politicians, the report said, citing a source in his entourage. “Firstly, Volodia wants to limit his spending on the campaign,” said the anonymous source. “Secondly, one needs to have the courage for conflicts with everyone. My view is he’s not ready for war from all sides.”


Groysman has already set up an elections headquarters in central Kyiv, which is being informally led by Maksym Martyniuk, the acting agrarian minister. He has organized campaign staff and offices throughout the country, the report said, and hired domestic and foreign consultants. Last year, Groysman launched a national advertising campaign to distinguish his image from the president’s. The ad campaign is ongoing but has been improved with new slogans (“Ukraine – Not just a Place on a Map”) and expanded onto video.


Only 12% of Ukrainians are satisfied with Groysman’s work as prime minister, according to a poll conducted among 6,000 respondents in the second half of January by the Rating Sociological Group. About 15% of voters want Groysman to remain as prime minister, according to a poll conducted among 2,042 respondents in the first half of February by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology.


Zenon Zawada: So far, Groysman is headed for election disappointment. His popularity is weak, but the heavy baggage of Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk will make it even worse. Avakov is not popular either. Groysman’s party will have better chances to succeed without these toxic figures. An alliance with Zelenskiy would make more sense (with their similar centrist positions and youthful images), but the latter probably won’t want to be overshadowed by Groysman. The prime minister is further hindered by the fact that being a moderate centrist is not enough to impress Ukrainian voters in these trying times. Zelenskiy’s election as president shows they are interested in large-scale, dramatic and accelerated solutions (many of which are unrealistic, admittedly).


Indeed, Zelenskiy’s success depends on leading the pragmatic, centrist reforms that Groysman is taking credit for in his current national advertising campaign (road repairs, agriculture subsidies). But he needs to do so on a larger scale, at an accelerated pace. His advantage over Groysman in competing for the same centrist electorate in the October vote is that he has a more compelling image as a neophyte. And while Groysman has the image of a slow, moderate reformer (which is not popular), Zelenskiy’s image creates the notion that he can offer dramatic change (however unrealistic that may be).


What’s positive is that a decade ago, being a centrist in Ukrainian politics meant balancing between Russian and Western interests. Now being a centrist implies fully committing to EU and NATO integration, and avoiding divisive issues such as language and religion (that President Poroshenko tried to exploit).

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