Sviatoslav Khomenko, BBC
Oleg Liashko, who took third place at the elections with a result of more than 8% of the votes, is already being called one of the sensational news of the presidential campaign.
Within several days before the elections, the sociologists did not give any chances to this candidate, and today experts are quite seriously predicting good perspectives for him at the possible early parliamentary elections.
BBC Ukraine investigated the reasons for Liashko’s triumph and its consequences for Ukrainian politics on the eve of the possible new campaign.
Populism or Rationality?
The evaluations of Oleg Liashko’s result by the Ukrainian political scientist community are radically different.
Mikhailo Pohrebinskiy, after hearing the results of the exit polls, remembered the famous quote by Russian publicist Yuriy Kariakin after the news regarding Vladimir Zhirinovskiy’s first electoral triumph: “Russia, you have gone crazy!”
Meanwhile Taras Berezovets, who, he admitted himself, has known Liashko personally for many years and even collaborated with him for some time as a political technologist, deems the comparison between the bronze winner of the Ukrainian elections with the LDPR leader incorrect and says that Liashko’s result did not become a phenomenon for him.
It is difficult to say of which there is more in the recipe that lead Liashko to third place at the elections: radical populism or sober calculation.
On one hand, it is true that Liashko took his electorate with his originality, the pitchfork, which became his main weapon of political battles in the previous parliamentary campaign.
He is the only presidential candidates who promised to return the Crimea to Ukraine already tomorrow, and the only one to use to topic of the annexed peninsula on his billboards. He effectively used the parliamentary booth, calling the MP’s useless – though he has been a member of the parliament since 2006 himself, – and calling to immediately ban the Communist party and Party of Regions.
“Part of the electorate is inclined to look for simple answers to difficult questions,” says political scents Olexiy Garan. Essentially, Oleg Liashko, during the current campaign, satisfied the needs of this part of the electorate.
However, on the other hand, experts note the rationally planned campaign of the leader of the Radical party.
“The clips with stylised pitchforks in his surname instead of the “ш” are almost an advertising masterpiece,” wrote former advisor to Yulia Timoshenko in communications Vitaliy Chepinoga on his Facebook page.
Experts also note Liashko’s radical rhetoric which, as they emphasise, has social demand. On one hand he is a merciless opponent of the former government which is personified by the Party of Regions and the CPU, on the other – he criticises the current government, to which many according questions have arisen among the voters since the victory of Maidan.
“Liashko could afford to criticise the government while we were stuck in the coalition,” admitted Mykola Tomenko after the elections.
The radicalism of Liashko’s statements was supported by practical steps: the criticism of the anti-terrorist operation from Kyiv sounds insufficiently convincing, therefore the leader of the Radical party spent a significant amount of time in the East and even announced the formation of his own battalion, which continues fighting on Donbas as part of the ATO.
Finally, the role of the talk-show factor in the formation of Liashko’s end result should not be understated. The aggressive manner of behaviour, radical rhetoric and inclination towards avant-garde actions found their consumer, and, in light of other politicians, this gave an according result on election day.
“To some Liashko seems like a villager, however he is not so,” sums up Taras Berezovets. “He is a well-read person, he knows history well, he is a fan of numismatics… His main bonus is that he is very well versed in PR, political technologies, he managed to catch the ideas as they emerge and himself creates interesting PR ideas.”
Who Are These People?
As a result, Oleg Liashko, according to the most recent data from the CEC, get more than 8% of the votes. Who are the people that voted for him?
In the geographical sense, we are talking about voters from Central and Western Ukraine. In percents, Liashko got the most on his motherland, Chernihiv Oblast (over 17%), Volyn (14,5%) and Rivne Oblast (13,2%). In absolute numbers the leaders of Liashko’s support are Lviv Oblast, Kyiv Oblast and Dnipropetrovsk Oblast: in each one of these Oblasts he was supported by over 90 thousand people.
“First and foremost, we are talking about Timoshenko’s electorate,” says Mikhailo Pohrebinskiy to BBC Ukraine. “Small towns, village areas. The people there are not politically educated, inclined towards radicalism and populism. At these elections they wanted something new, so they went from Yulia to the hero of our time.”
However, it would be a mistake to limit Liashko’s electorate to small towns, and the second result of his party at the Kyiv City Council elections are the best testament to that. According to Mr. Pohrebinskiy, here Liashko successfully worked in the electoral field of the former mayor of the capital Leonid Chernovetskiy.
Taras Berezovets assumes that the electorate of “Svoboda” party also fled to Liashko. At the former parliamentary elections the nationalists were voted for, not lastly, as the most radical political power, which would be able to physically counter the old government. In the Verkhovna Rada, thinks the political scientist, Oleg Tiahnibok’s party became more “bourgeois,” therefore now the supporters of radical methods in politics decided to support “the man with the pitchfork.”
What to Do Next?
The experts are saying in unison that Oleg Liashko’s results at the presidential elections may wholly project itself at the result of his Radical Party at the possible early parliamentary elections. However, they have no uniform opinion on what he should do in order to retain or multiply his numbers.
“If he retreats from the negative hysteria regarding his political competitors to the left nationalist niche, he has the chance to retain (the result). And if he remains at today’s position, then it is quite possible that it (the result) will wane and disappear,” says Mikhailo Pohrebinskiy.
Taras Berezovets does not agree with him: “The demand from the voter lies in radicalism particularly, therefore Liashko cannot be more civilised, because then how would he be different from the rest? I think he has to keep up this level, but understanding that radicalism also has to have its limits. On principle, Liashko has been able to hold this balance steady.”
A separate challenge that will soon arise before Oleg Liashko is the formation of his own team for the parliamentary elections. As the presidential campaign is one thing, when personal charism and rationally calculated strategy of political behaviour are sufficient, another one is the parliamentary campaign, when the voter wants to see the leader’s team behind him.
Experts agree that we will not see old faces in Oleg Liashko’s electoral list. Taras Berezovets allows that Liashko will give a chance to the activists of his party, which at the moment, essentially, is still being formed. Mikhailo Pohrebinskiy does not exclude that activists of “Svoboda,” “oriented towards running around with pitchforks and banning the CPU and Party of Regions” will stand under the radicals’ banner.
However Oleksiy Garan supposes that one might be able to draw certain conclusions as to who is financing this political project from those who end up on Liashko’s list.
Everything Is Just Beginning
Essentially, it is not excluded that the triumphant result of Oleg Liashko at the presidential elections is only the beginning of his main problems. If during the campaign he, for the most part, was not perceived as a real contender for victory, at the parliamentary elections, when several political powers will be fighting for the barrier, all treading on the same electoral field, he will encounter difficulties.
Many voters are interested in the sources of financing of this politician. Regarding Liashko’s connections with the representatives of the old government which, in particular, helped the politician end up on political talk shows when other opposition activists were prohibited to enter, rumours have been circulating in the Parliament for a long time, however the leader of the Radical party himself is angrily denying this information.
The activity of the representatives of this political power will end up under surveillance of civil society within local councils, particularly, the Kyiv council. Their participation in any corruption, land and other scandals is able to shake the results of this party at parliamentary elections.
Finally, another potential challenge for Oleg Liashko is the fight with blackmail – in particular, the rumours regarding his connection to tender purchases in the times of the old government, regarding the charges against this politician and the video with compromising confessions of someone who looks like him (Liashko himself calls this footage false).
Taras Berezovets says that any attempts to blackmail Liashko are bound to fail.
“We have cleansed him of his back in 2012 (which Mr. Berezovets worked with Oleg Liashko during the parliamentary electoral campaign). Back then, we did everything possible in order for this not to affect people. I won’t divulge on the technology – this is my job. But this did not work then, did not work now, and it will not work at parliamentary elections either,” says he.
In any case, Oleg Liashko can think about this later. At the moment he is commenting on the results of the presidential campaign in his manner: “I will do everything not to disappoint you. Otherwise, you can carry me out on a pitchfork.”
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina
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