The world famous boxer Vitali Klitschko’s plunge into politics in 2006 was so unexpected to society, experts, and politicians that it triggered mixed emotions and comments. Some people responded positively to Vitali’s decision, for they viewed him as a new-generation – modern, successful, clout-wielding, and European – leader and were prepared to support him in the elections. Others were, on the contrary, skeptical about the possibility of a professional sportsman turning into a professional politician, because they claimed he was too inexperienced to try to conquer the parliamentary Olympus and win the office of Kyiv mayor. In response to these well-founded reproaches, Klitschko’s supporters claim that what can help him gain the necessary knowledge is the Pora-PRP block which observers say used to be a successful blend of youth and experience.
BATTLE FOR KYIV
However, in spite of high hopes, Doctor Ironfist’s electoral start proved to be not so successful: the association he led failed to overcome the three-percent barrier and in the race for Kyiv mayorship Leonid Chernovetsky emerged victorious. By far the only achievement of Klitschko was a faction in the Kyiv City Council, some of which members defected later to the pro-mayoral majority. Nevertheless, Vitali did not surrender and fought as hard as he could, together with other Kyiv oppositionists, against Chernovetsky’s “young team” which went on records for the unheard-of squandering of land and property and perhaps tons of buckwheat handed out to Kyivites to make them turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of the powers that be. In an attempt to stop degradation in the capital, the Klitschko Bloc unceasingly called for an early election of the Kyiv Council and mayor. Later, in 2008, with support from the parliamentary democratic coalition of BYuT and NU-NS, they managed to translate this aspiration into a Verkhovna Rada resolution.
Yet the desire of all democrats to “catapult” the eccentric mayor “into outer space” did not rally them together against Chernovetsky. In the worst traditions of national politics, they offered voters several mayoral candidates from the same electoral field: BYuT, the European Party of Ukraine, and the Klitschko Bloc nominated the first vice-premier Oleksandr Turchynov, the MP Mykola Katerynchuk, and Vitali Klitschko, respectively. Nobody wanted to restrain their ambitions, especially Turchynov and Katerynchuk, the Kyiv race newcomers, who were in fact robbing the popular Klitschko of votes. As a result of this nearsightedness, Chernovetsky and his kleptocratic followers were again the first to finish.
Incidentally, Klitschko told the other day about some particularities of that election campaign. “Yulia Volodymyrivna [Tymoshenko] promised to hold ‘primaries,’ we made a deal, and that was the end of our relationships,” he said in Savik Shuster’s One on One live program on the 1st National channel. “When we were reaching the home stretch, we agreed that if one candidate or another gained a better result, we would stand down in favor of the best one, but this did not happen. In the last minute, Tymoshenko issued an ultimatum that I must waive my vote in favor of Turchynov. He then came off second best, but it was not his own merit – people voted for Tymoshenko. The difference between them was literally one percent.”
The local elections in 2010 were a new test for the Klitschko team which had transformed from a party bloc into a self-sufficient center-right entity called UDAR (Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms). It showed quite a good nationwide result and won seats in many councils, first of all, in the western regions and Kyiv oblast. What helped UDAR was, of course, the high prestige of its leader as well as public disappointment in the “old” politicians who had palled on people in the long years of intraspecific fighting. It is for this reason that Strong Ukraine, the Front of Changes, Freedom, and UDAR produced relatively good results in September 2010, but far from all of them managed to consolidate their success for a longer period of time.
As a result of the taxation and social-security reforms initiated by its leader, Vice-Premier Serhii Tihipko, Strong Ukraine quickly lost the favor of voters and later merged with the Party of Regions. The Front of Change and other post-Orange-Revolutionary parties entered into an alliance with Fatherland. Yet the formation of the United Opposition has so far failed to produce a noticeable cumulative effect. The parliamentary membership of Freedom is still open to question. Meanwhile, UDAR is showing quite a good growth of rating, following the recent surveys conducted by GFK-Ukraine, Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation, and the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology. The polls show that Klitschko’s party, now slightly ahead of Fatherland, is the second most popular political force among the electorate after the Party of Regions.
RIVALS IN ACTIONS
UDAR’s gradual progress shortly before the 2012 elections does not remain unnoticed for its rivals who are doing their utmost to reverse this trend by resuscitating the worse methods of political struggle in Ukraine. For example, some private and communal Crimean newspapers keep publishing stereotyped scathing articles on Klitschko, whose headlines are self-explanatory: “Why Klitschko is not a new force but a new Yushchenko,” “The Orange ones are bursting to grab power again. Now they are called UDAR,” etc. What is more, some of these propagandistic opuses are signed by the first-past-the-post candidates Oleksandr Nirsky (United Left and Peasants) and Serhii Kutsenko (Youth Party of Ukraine), who have said not a single word about their election program but, instead, promise to expose the schemes of the artful and dodgy “Orangeists” who are hankering for power again. While passionately branding Klitschko, the Crimean media publish complimentary stories and interviews about the era of stability and wellbeing ushered in under the supervision of the local Party of Regions’ “united team.” This party does not want, of course, to openly blemish itself by discrediting Vitali, so it bestows this “honorary” mission on its caretaker creatures. Yet the “Regionnaires” themselves sometimes also speak out: their mouthpiece, Krymskaya gazeta, demands that UDAR “stop imposing the policy of Ukrainian nationalism on the Crimea” (!). What caused this reaction were Vitali’s words of respect for UPA fighters, his participation in protests against the law “On Principles of the State Language Policy,” and support for integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures. This creates a somewhat strange situation: the nationalists reproach UDAR for lack of patriotism, while the pro-Russian forces, on the contrary, accuse it of pro-Bandera sentiments and noticeable Russophobia. But resisting Klitschko’s team is not confined to purely propagandist instruments. The more the election date comes closer, the more the notorious administrative resource is being used against them, particularly, in the field of education which is controlled by and heavily depends on the authorities. It is no mere chance that the management of Dnipropetrovsk, Ternopil, Kremenchug and Poltava universities denied Vitali a chance to meet students, even though there were preliminary agreements to this effect. (Incidentally, his brother Wladimir’s visit to Luhansk was foiled last August.) “The authorities deny UDAR representatives opportunities to meet the people because they are afraid of the party’s growing popularity among the populace. They bring in students to meet pro-governmental candidates, but when we try to meeting the public, they keep us at bay,” says the politician who unexpectedly failed to meet students at Poltava National Yurii Kondratiuk Technological University on October 10. But there was still a dialogue on the street, even though the university’s administration tried to thwart even this informal meeting, forcing the students to remain indoors under various pretexts.
On the other hand, Klitschko’s party is also taking criticism from some opposition partners and political observers who warn against certain odious, in their opinion, party-list and first-past-the-post candidates. This problem really exists because the party was unable to nominate only well-known and promising candidates all over the country (some were expelled after being vetted by the Honestly civic movement). For example, UDAR nominated in Poltava Serhii Kaplin, editor of the newspaper Iskra prostykh ludei (“Grassroots’ Spark”), who went on record for walking 350 kilometers to Kyiv to give President Yanukovych a food basket consisting of buckwheat “Rigging and Bribery,” canned meat “Self-Nominator,” sugar “Court and Central Election Committee,” and vodka “Let Us Drink to the Repose of Corruption and the Party of Regions.” Then he developed a conspiratological theory about a mafia in the city, which snatches his “warlike” publication from mailboxes and, moreover, produces fake copies of Iskra… Against the background of this eccentric behavior of an UDAR candidate, Klitschko’s reputation has somewhat been tarnished in the eyes of Poltava residents, although a recent UDAR mass rally on Poltava’s Theater Plaza showed the opposite.
The truth is that none of the parties have irreproachable party-list and first-past-the-post candidates, but still a party should avoid making this kind of glaring mistakes in candidate nomination. If, of course, it cares about its respectable image and does not want to look funny in the eyes of the Ukrainian voter who has been tired of the political “circus” in the domed building on Hrushevsky St. in the past few years and hopes to see new-quality politicians in the next parliament, who will allay public disappointment in the elites and win the respect of society.
By Serhii SHEBELIST, Poltava
“MAYBE, HE IS THE ONLY PRIDE OF UKRAINE NOW”
Iryna BEKESHKINA, director, Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation:
“Vitali Klitschko is Ukraine’s only politician who has a positive balance of trust, while others are on the downside. Klitschko is a hero. Klitschko is the only positive thing the world knows about Ukraine (in addition to the recent Euro-2012). Andrii Shevchenko, for example, was not an absolute world champion, while Vitali has been retaining this title for a long time. Maybe, he is the only pride of Ukraine at the moment. Besides, he has not compromised himself with anything. In spite of being not much of an orator, he speaks sincerely and voters quite easily forgive him this drawback. People cannot forgive the bait they have swallowed.
“In particular, Vitali Klitschko’s phenomenon follows from public mistrust in politicians. It should also be noted that Fatherland, which UDAR is mostly robbing of votes, was a leader-oriented party. If you look at opposition voters’ preferences in last December, April, and, partly, August, you will see that they were oriented to leaders. It is obvious who the opposition leader was. At the moment, the desire of United Opposition voters to follow the leader has essentially abated: about 30 percent of this force’s voters are now looking up to leaders. The other part, which needed a leader, switched to Klitschko. Seventy percent of UDAR voters are going by the leader.”
Vadym KARASIOV, political scientist:
“Klitschko is an enigmatic politician. He is a cryptic political figure which, at the same time, has not been ‘sullied’ by politics in the past few years. People do not view him as a typical representative of the current political elite – thievish, slightly corrupt, mendacious, insincere, and amoral. On the whole, what attracts the voter in Klitscko is absence, rather than presence, of clear-cut political views. His advantage is that he has not been involved in politics over the past few years, by contrast with Yatseniuk, who does have political views and position, or the Party of Regions with its non-progressive views and positions. Klitschko is a non-political Tihipko of the 2010 presidential election period.”
“KLITSCHKO IS A CLEAN SLATE”
Oleh POKALCHUK, social psychologist:
“Society is showing a demand for a new political force and a new leader who has not yet done foolish things. In the course of the election campaign, Klitschko’s other rivals have to show or speak of the shortcomings which they acquired when being in power. Some people in the Klitschko team were in politics, but, on the whole, it is the image of a sinless political force.
“Klitschko is a clean slate. Dreaming of their future, people are writing good words on it. They are not exactly willing to write on the slates on which so much has already been written crossed out, and erased.”
Prepared by Anna CHEREVKO, The Day