The Ukrainian parliament has blackballed changes to the election law. In the past week, the Verkhovna Rada has twice got down, each time unsuccessfully, to the laws which could qualitatively change conditions for the election of a new parliament. Neither of the registered bills was put on the agenda.
The public is dissatisfied, although the activists who picketed parliament last Thursday, August 14, are saying that nothing better could be expected from the current MPs. The parties are defending the rights by which they are sure to keep back the cushy places. Their interest is to keep the current system intact or, still better, to complicate the process of entering parliament for independent political forces. But activists are sure that this runs counter to the country’s interests. Unless this country, which is fighting today on three fronts (for territory against Kremlin mercenaries in the east, for people’s brains against Putin’s propagandists in the information space, and against its own corrupt kleptomaniacs), replaces governmental officials with other people who take other approaches and play by other rules, it will finally lose, drained of all strength. This is why activists are doing their best to force parliament residents to think about the future of their country, not only of themselves.
The Day interviewed the other day Ruslan ROKHOV, an initiator of the grassroots-based political party People’s Strength, about the plan to renew the authorities in this country – all the more so that this new political force is going to vie for parliamentary seats.
“The fact that the election law is not being changed for the better shows that parliament is not exactly rushing to let independent forces in. And rumors about a 10-fold rise of the registration fee for first-past-the-post candidates and parliamentary party lists are further proof of this. Under the old electoral system, when the election campaign is limited to 45 days and the registration fee is very high, young political forces will just find it impossible to go through to parliament as independent structures. The old elites are imitating the revitalization of parliament by putting new young leaders on the lists – they have bought some and promised others a possibility to put something into practice.”
What instruments do the young political forces have to thwart the older elites’ plans?
“There are two options. The first is that the counter-elites will unite, form a joint civic political platform, and turn to society for financial and volunteer assistance to generate ideas. This will make it possible to shape an inclusive policy, when society receives an open political structure that pursues its own policy, relying on the opinion of citizens rather than oligarchs or foreign partners, such as the EU, the US, Russia, etc.
“On the other hand, being aware that the current elites do not reflect its interests, society could begin to pressure the young to unite and come up with a meaningful and concrete agenda of tackling the current problems.”
Can the parliamentary elections see the repetition of what happened during the Kyiv City Council elections, when differences emerged between the young political forces, they went to the elections disunited and lost?
“We, People’s Strength, have decided to make every effort to rally together all those who favor reforms and changes in the rules of politics.
“This cooperation may be established in the format of a bloc. If the law does not change, we will perhaps try to form a coalition patterned after the one Batkivshchyna formed in the previous parliamentary elections. They advertised themselves as ‘united opposition’ but were running as a party. All those on Batkivshchyna’s election list withdrew from their parties and were running as independents. Also possible is the format of collective support for the first-past-the-post candidates who have won in the domestic ‘primaries’.”
What political forces is People’s Strength negotiating with about unification?
“The political forces whose views we basically share are Democratic Alliance, Volia, Democrats, Self-Help, New Life, and the like. The principles they publicly declare are consonant with our views.”
To what extent is society prepared to take part in mass-scale campaigns to pressure the authorities to adopt the necessary laws?
“There were a small number of people near parliament during the latest picket on Tuesday. Most of them were activists who participate not only in election law campaigns. But there were twice as many of them last Thursday. Yet it is not enough so far. We can speak of a real societal impact when at least 10,000 come out on the streets.”
Are you really unable to muster as many people? For, to win in the parliamentary elections, you will have to gather still more votes.
“The problem of young political forces is lack of access to the media. They need access to the TV programs that draw the attention of many voters. We should use the media to explain why the election system needs to be changed, who intends to be an alternative to the old political elites, what kind of people we are, what we think and propose.
“We should also remember: when we win in the war, those who took part in the anti-terrorism operation will be coming back, and if they see no changes in the country, they may as well turn their weapons in the opposite direction. They will say that officials used them to do dirty work but never stopped stealing. And they will be right.”
This means the old elite is deliberately aggravating the crisis and pushing society to an extreme scenario in Ukraine. A third Maidan is a suicidal option. What is to be done to avert this? How can the old elite be pressured?
“Society has a zero-percent impact on the old elite. They don’t care a fig about the interests of people. They have other ‘sponsors.’ They are not bound with commitments to ordinary people. That’s why the later have in fact no impact on them.
“The only possibility to change something in this country under a democratic scenario is elections. Our front line is the 2014 parliamentary campaign – either people win this war and obtain a renewed country as well as a possibility to end hostilities in the east or we lose and make it possible for the old elite to cling to power again. We can only guess what the result will be if it remains in power. I don’t think Maidan 3 will be in the format of dances and slogans – it will have an altogether different face. To reduce people to the condition that they will come – not empty-handed – to put things in order on the Pechersk hills means to open Pandora’s box. And only one person will benefit from this: it is Putin. He will not even have to seize Ukraine, for there will be a zone of instability on the example of which he can show his citizens ‘what democracy leads to’.”
How can the young political forces make their way into the media?
“If media owners, editors and journalists become aware of their civic responsibility and of the necessity to have new qualitatively higher-level politicians to effect changes, they will be looking for such, analyzing the field, and giving them an opportunity to speak up. The newspaper Den has been doing so for many years, for which I am sincerely grateful to you.
“The upward movement is a situation when political forces will not only have a qualitatively new political content, but also obey media market rules: one must be brilliant, look good, and be able to astonish. If such things are done continuously and in a great number, the media will not be able to keep silent about this. The activity should be on such a scale that it will be impossible to hush it up. This requires an enormous human resource.”
Who will be part of the president’s team in the new parliament? Do you know anything that confirms that Poroshenko is already selecting people for parliament? Who are these people?
“It all depends on the goal the president is setting. Some of his appointments overtly show reliance on the old political elite. One of the latest appointments is that of Horbulin. Den has described this very well in the article ‘Do Not Say We Did Not Warn You.’ But, at the same time, Poroshenko insists on reforms in his public speeches. And inviting Dmytro Shymkiv to be in charge of this sector is a good signal. It is very difficult to give a definite answer to your question. This will be more or less clear only after constituency-formation lists are drawn up.
“If Poroshenko aims to be a genuine leader of the nation, justify the vote of confidence he received in the presidential elections, and try to reform this country, he should obviously rely on the leaders who are taking a firm position in this matter and, moreover, doing something for this. But if Poroshenko relies on Kuchma’s team and Kuchma himself, this will mean that he was placed by oligarchs, is hanging on and is not going to get off their hook.
“I am personally not acquainted with the president. And People’s Strength has not yet held any talks about the upcoming elections with Poroshenko or somebody from his team.”
Are oligarchs trying today to buy the new political forces?
“‘New’ is very relative category. What is the difference between the old and the new rogues? People’s Strength wants other, not necessarily new, persons who will work by other rules and principles. Their policies should be centered on the interests of ordinary people, not oligarchs. Being aware that this is impossible without public involvement, we have launched a long and really costly, but inevitable, process. There can be no democracy without democrats, without people who take part in decision-making. In the past year, we have made a tour of the country, proposing that a civic party be formed by a joint effort. We held a congress after the Revolution of Dignity, at which we resolved to form this party. We accepted long ago as norm what is now being voted on in parliament. This will work in our party (whether or not there will be a law), for we favor new rules.”
Will you then name the sources of funding your election campaign and party?
“Donations. It is clear to us that we should distinguish between funding the party as an organizational unit and funding the election campaign. We consider the latter as part of our project work. Strictly speaking, we conduct advocacy campaigns, hold classes for party members, and initiate parliamentary hearings on some issues – these are all the projects that our party is carrying out. And elections are also a project. The goal is to win the elections. We still have time to achieve this goal. The task is to put the party’s messages across to our voters. This requires concrete organizational actions, which costs a certain amount of money. All that relates to projects is a matter of fund-raising.
“Quite obviously, you should go for money to those whose problems you are going to address. People’s Strength is an effective instrument for solving people’s problems, so we turn to ordinary people for election campaign money.
“Our party’s funding sources are donations from natural persons. But we understand that individuals are financially unable to cover so big budgets. We can’t do without attracting businesspeople. The only question is the origin of their funds. We go to the businesspeople who are true entrepreneurs, who earn money by rendering real services, or produce real commodities, not by ripping a margin off VAT deals or squandering governmental funds at auctions. Our sponsor is small- and medium-scale business in various nooks and crannies of Ukraine.”
What do you promise them?
“The policies we pursue depend on each concrete branch. Knowing the problems of a sector, we suggest several ways of solving the problem, and consult the environmentalists, and they set out comfortable rules. Then we say which of the options they suggest we choose. And we write a relevant item in the program of our party. In other words, money is given to address the problems of a sector rather than to lobby somebody’s private interests. We communicate with a group of people, not with one person.”
How many votes do you expect to gather in the parliamentary elections?
“A number directly proportional to the resources we spent in the constituencies. Every vote is a conscious position of the voter. I can see no paternalists or people who vote by inertia in our electoral field.
“I am personally convinced that it is not only our duty to work with our votes. Let me give an example from the corporate sector. There is a certain private limited company with 36 shareholders. Two of them know for sure that four out of five candidates to this company’s board of directors are scum. Of course, they can keep their attitudes to themselves, not try to prove anything to anybody, but just come and vote honestly for their ‘fifth’ candidate. But the voting result will be as follows: two votes for the ‘fifth’ one, while the four rogues will obtain the rest of the votes and go through to the board of directors without any problem. Did those two people realize their interests? No. Is it not in the personal interests of each of them to force themselves to approach each of the other 34 and present arguments in favor of their position? If every voter who has come to vote for new teams makes an effort and not only votes for them and funds some part of the election campaign, but also takes a cell, calls his friends and relatives and tells them that there is such an alternative and asks them to do the same, then we will get the effect of geometric progression.
“This was the situation during the Euromaidan. People would send information to one another and invite to visit certain events. If society applies this method in the upcoming elections, we can count on a sufficient number of alternative votes.”