By Serhiy Leshchenko, Ukrayinska Pravda, March 28, 2014
Tymoshenko or Poroshenko?
Nine years ago this choice was not made by all of Ukraine, but by one person — the newly elected Viktor Yushchenko, who simultaneously promised the post of prime minister to both collaborators. Now these competitors from 2005 are competing again, but on the electoral front while trying to forget the Yushchenko era as a terrible nightmare.
Today Yulia Tymoshenko is going through the most difficult phase of her political life. She is running for the presidency at a time when defeat will put an end not only to her political career, but will also damage the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party which will be forced to rely on a new president. The second fact is forcing Tymoshenko’s allies to try to persuade her repeatedly to abandon the presidential race. To no avail.
After her release from prison, Tymoshenko tried to surround herself with proven advisers, but not all agreed to work for her. The veteran speechwriter Vitaliy Chepynoha did not wish to return to work for Batkivshchyna. Ihor Hryniv, who was responsible for voter polling and research in 2010, similarly found a much more promising candidate — he is currently working in the immediate circle of Petro Poroshenko.
Tymoshenko does not even fully control the Batkivshchyna party. The union with Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Front Zmin (Front for Change) resulted in accession to power in the regions by people who had seen Tymoshenko only on television and who were in no way obligated to her. These people represent at least half of party functionaries. Before Tymoshenko’s release from prison, there were plans to even remove her aunt Antonina Ulyakhina from the organization in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.
But Tymoshenko’s main problem lies not only in the refusal of those who left. It is much worse: those who remain no longer believe in her victory. They have become accustomed to speak the language of sociology: focus groups, attitudes among the elites and so on.
In early March, Batkivshchyna commissioned research by the Razumkov Center(Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies), which has not been made public. However, certain available figures are impressive.
When asked what Yulia Tymoshnko should do, 50% of the Ukrainian citizens questioned answered: “not run for president and leave politics.” Another 20% recommended that Tymoshenko not participate in the presidential election but still remain politically active. Only 18.5% supported her candidacy.
Even when questioned about her release from prison, half of those polled said “I do not support” or “I do not care.” By isolating Tymoshenko, Yanukovych achieved his aims to some extent. During this time, society changed and the market demand for this kind of politician dropped.
There is yet another problem. Tymoshenko always insisted on the fact that she was a personal enemy of Yanukovych. That confrontation could have served for years as a sort of action series. However, Yanukovych’s disappearance left Tymoshenko alone with her unrealized war syndrome.
All the published polling studies indicate that Tymoshenko will lose the second round of the presidential election to any of the favorite contenders, with the exception Tihipko. The Razumkov research indicates that even the Klychko-Tymoshenko pairing results in 29% versus 19%. Poroshenko comes ahead of Tymoshenko 36% versus 16%. She would win only against Tihipko – 27% versus 16%.
However, party faithful who have personally urged Tymoshenko not to run say she is deaf to their arguments.
“She believes that society is currently in an emotional imbalance, and that in a few weeks she will be able to bring it to her side,” an insider explained. “But she and all of us are being held hostage by circumstances. The key argument of our party was “freedom for Tymoshenko,” and not “Tymoshenko for president.” This is why people do not see any equivalency between these two events. When you listen to Tymoshenko’s speeches, you begin to understand that nothing has changed. She has not acknowledged her mistakes and she is continuing the rhetoric of ‘all are bad, and I am good’,” he says.
This close associate, who said he would leave the Batkivshchyna party, emotionally shared his experiences of communicating with Tymoshenko. He does not want to be destroyed in the rubble of a party that will inevitably fragment if its leader is defeated.
Another cause for concern for Tymoshenko is the loss of a trusting relationship with Oleksandr Turchynov. The former party deputy has refused to support her initiatives unconditionally. According to sources, at a recent National Security Council meeting, where she was present, Turchynov repeatedly advised her to keep her opinions to herself and not impose on those present.
There is even more distrust between Tymoshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who is formally the head of the Batkivshchyna party. Tymoshenko has assured him she would leave him in the post of prime minister during her entire term as president. However, Yatsenyuk does not believe in her chances and through his intermediary, the financial adviser Mykola Martynenko, is negotiating with Poroshenko. Generally, such “dear friends” do not abandon each other at difficult moments, even after nine years.
Despite her status as leader of Batkivshchyna, Tymoshenko is often excluded from personnel decisions: quotas for various posts are filled by Turchynov; Yatsenyuk, with his colleagues Andriy Ivanchuk and Mykola Martynenko; Klychko with Vitaliy Kovalchuk; and Tyahnybok with his deputy Ihor Kryvetskyy.
Petro Poroshenko and his team
According to all surveys, Poroshenko is the number one candidate. The most recent survey of four groups gives him 25% in the first round, while Tymoshenko and Klychko are not able to cross the psychological barrier of 10% among all voters. In the second round, the gap between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko is catastrophic — 46% versus 12%.
The Poroshenko phenomenon is explained by the loss of confidence in the three opposition leaders during the prolonged Maidan protests, when they were not able to achieve victory over many weeks and then went to sign an agreement with Yanukovych — after the deaths of a hundred protesters.
In addition, Poroshenko picks up Yanukovych’s voters in eastern Ukraine. For example, in the Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya oblasts his approval rating is 19% — twice the rating for Tihipko and three times that for Tymoshenko. Furthermore, in western Ukraine, Poroshenko’s rating is 4.5 times (!) higher than support for Tymoshenko.
A sociologist who is close to the circle around the candidate describes the results of a focus group study on Poroshenko’s candidacy.:
We ask people: is it possible to elect him as president; after all he’s a billionaire? And people say: “that’s good that he’s a billionaire. It means he won’t steal.” We say: but he undermined the Orange team together with Tymoshenko in 2005. And people say: “no Yushchenko did that together with Tymoshenko — not Poroshchenko.” We say: Poroshenko worked in the criminal Yanukovych government. And people respond: “that’s because he wanted to improve the situation in the country.”
The rising ratings match Poroshenko’s growing confidence. A few weeks ago, he offered the post of campaign manager to Anatoliy Hrytsenko in order to garner additional votes. Now he says he will head the campaign staff himself.
Despite Poroshenko’s excellent chances of becoming Ukraine’s fifth president, the candidate’s team remains a mystery. He does not have his faction in parliament, even though he says he could assemble the necessary thirty deputies. Equally unclear is who will represent him on the ground. One of the better known candidates is Andriy Pavelko, a defector from Batkivshchyna who is being courted for the Dnipropetrovsk headquarters post.
Poroshenko heads up the party Solidarnist (Solidarity), which exists mostly on paper and has no organization in the regions. The history of the party is something else. Under arrangement during the creation of Nasha Ukrayina (Our Ukraine) after the Orange Revolution, all founders were supposed to liquidate their organizations. Poroshenko entered the Nasha Ukrayina party as a shareholder but did not dissolve his own party.
The media strategy for Poroshenko’s presidential campaign will be directed by MP Yuriy Stets, who is combining his de facto mandate with concurrent management of the Channel 5 television station. Another MP, Ihor Hryniv, is responsible for campaign strategy and sociology. The development of the campaign network is handled by Serhiy Barezenko. He is a little-known person in Ukraine, who in a few months could become one of the country’s influential figures.
The 29-year-old Serhiy Berezenko is the nephew of former MP Anatoliy Matviyenko on his mother’s side. He entered politics through the lists of the odious Chernovetskyy bloc, who made Berezenko a deputy in the Kyiv city administration in 2006.
First, he headed the youth wing of the Leonid Chernobetskyy bloc, then we was an advisor to Mayor Chernovetskyy, and eventually he was given the post of head of the Administration of Family and Youth in the administration. He was friends with the secretary of the Kyiv Rada, Oles Dovhyy — something that was even mentioned by Antoliy Matviyenko himself. Now, however, our sources tell us Berezenko is attempting to distance himself from the corrupt former official and seeks to be of service to Poroshenko’s staff.
Vitaliy Klychko: looking for escape routes
Klychko’s staff is beginning to understand the likelihood of defeat. He was the ideal candidate against Yanukovych: neither one impressed with great personal ability, but one was a thief and corrupt; the other, an international sports star.
Now Yanukovych has disappeared and Klychko’s image is beginning to crumble in front of our eyes. At present it is not enough to simply pronounce statements for the camera. It is necessary to compete with ideas — something Klychko is unable to do because of his lack of experience and knowledge. For Klychko’s immediate circle, the time has come to realize that in order to mold him as another “Reagan” he has to manage something significant, as did their idol. After all, the legendary American president did not arrive in the White House directly from the film studio. Previously he was head of the Screen Actors Guild and the governor of California.
Klychko’s staff is looking for a formula that would allow him to shine during the presidential elections and conduct a nationwide campaign on the eve of possible parliamentary elections, but then leave the battlefield without the shame of defeat.
One option would be parallel nominations of Klychko in the presidential elections and as mayor of Kyiv, followed by the resignation from the presidential campaign and victory in the campaign for mayor of the capital.
According to sources on Poroshenko’s staff, he is ready to support Klychko for mayor in exchange for support of his candidacy for president. Personally he does not risk much in this scenario.
The owner of Roshen will be able to control Klychko with his faction and through the post of secretary of the Kyiv Rada. The situation in Kyiv is favorable for Poroshenko also because the current head of the Kyiv City State Administration, Volodymyr Bondarenko, belongs to his informal group in Parliament and had received Poroshenko’s financial support during his 2012 campaign for Parliament.
The Batkivshchyna party does not have its own candidate for Kyiv city mayor. Tymoshenko promised the post to Yuriy Lutsenko, who has set up headquarters and even, according to sources, met with Rinat Akhmetov, who owns a number of companies important in Kyiv. Together with Lutsenko, the Kyiv campaign will be conducted with yet another “dear friend,” Oleksandr Tretyakov, and the former Yushchenko chief of staff, Roman Bezsmertnyy. Voter surveys conducted in Kyiv by the Donetsk company R&B Group give Lutsenko 15.4% and first place in surveys for candidates for mayor of Kyiv. However, Lutsenko and Klychko have a tacit agreement that Lutsenko will not run for mayor if Klychko decides to try his hand in Kyiv for the third time.
Party of Regions: the feeding trough is empty
Serhiy Tihipko. He was expected in Parliament on February 18, but he never showed up. At that time, people on Institutska street were still being shot. The Party of Regions is not ready — either for the presidential elections or for the selection of a new leader.
The politicians are demoralized by the loss of access to budgetary cash cows as well as by sanctions from the West. British banks are restricting transfers of Ukrainian origin. Reports of visa revocations or account freezes are beginning to appear. At the same time, adding to the panic are reports that even the activities of Regionals not on the official sanctions list are being blocked. This means that anyone could be affected.
The most recent story concerns the freezing of accounts of Andriy Klyuyev’s deputy, Mykola Zlochevsky, who was deprived of his U.S. visa. He arrived in London with a connection to the U.S. and was removed from the flight due to the cancellation of entry.
Three Party of Region members have already announced their intention to run for president: Serhiy Tihipko, Mykhaylo Dobkin, and Yuriy Boyko. This process is being accompanied by a struggle for the legacy of Yanukovych.
The highest-ranking politician among the Regionals is Serhiy Tihipko — his popularity is twice than of Dobkin, who is popular only in the Kharkiv Oblast. Tihipko has a more uniform electorate and 10% lower negative ratings. Anyway, the Donetsk people are betting on Dobkin as the weaker politician, knowing that Tihipko can neutralize their influence through his personal qualities and that Dobkin has lower maximum support.
The apprehension of the Donetsk politicians is understandable. As leader, Tihipko would strengthen the Firtash-Lyovochkin group whereas the Akhmetov wing is using the Party of Regions for blackmail to achieve economic concessions from the government. In fact, the goal of the Donetsk people is to create their own separate Ukraine in the Donetsk Oblast with the right to an independent foreign policy with Russia. This is clear from the documents of the Donetsk regional party branch, which came into UP possession.
To influence policy, Akhmetov is also trying to assemble 150 deputies who would block the government’s efforts to pass a new version of the Constitution without taking his interests into account. Tihipko himself, without waiting for support from the Party of Regions, has submitted documents for nomination — placing his party in a position to choose to support him or not. He has also criticized Akhmetov’s team, which is controlling the party.
“There are only two days before the party meeting and we still do not know the agenda and no one has seen the draft decisions.” Tihipko complained. ” We do not know where the meeting will be held. So this is what we have attained. Again they want to present us with de facto decisions that are beneficial to someone. I believe the time has come today to renew the leadership of our party,” he said.
As a result, the Party of Regions probably will not have a leader in the foreseeable future. The main leadership entities will be the political council and the presidium. The political council will include deputies and heads of branches. The presidium will have 7-10 people. Four of them will represent the four basic regions: Donetsk (Kolesnikov?), Luhansk (Yefremov?), Dnipropetrovsk (Vilkul?), Kharkiv (Dobkin?). Decisions will be cobbled together under the signature of a functionary — the secretary.
This situation will continue until the “Donetsk people” succeed in growing a replacement for Yanukovych that satisfies Akhmetov , if Tihipko does not bring down the party for his own benefit.
After all, it is not that essential. It is obvious that after the dethroning of Yanukovych and the loss of Crimea as an electoral base, the Party of Regions can say a permanent goodbye to the days when they occupied first place in elections.
UPDATE: On Saturday, March 29, Vitaliy Klychko pulled out of the race for Ukraine’s president, throwing his weight instead behind Petro Poroshenko. He announced he would run for mayor of Kyiv.
Translated from Ukrainian by Anna Mostovych