While Vitali Klitchko brought honour by winning the World Heavyweight boxing title, Ukraine’s political matchand the snap election call was a nasty once-again attempt by President Victor Yushchenko to knock-out Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
In his corner, the President was wearing fighting gear decorated with patriotic symbols. Yet the betting was against him. Four years after the Orange Revolution, he has not lived up to promises: punishing criminals and closer ties to Europe. And, despite 80% opposition, he called a snap election precipitating a split in his Our Ukraine Party, political chaos elsewhere, and a potentially needless waste of $200 million.
Our Ukraine’s election price tag alone-- some $80 million—is said to be financed by his brother Petro Yushchenko, one of the beneficiaries of Ukraine’s murky energy deals with Russia under Yuri Boyko, the Minister of Energy in the former pro-Russia government of Victor Yanukovych. Boyko oversaw soaring energy prices and the transfer of Ukraine’s governmental energy control to Russia, through middlemen like RusUkrEnergo.
In the opposite corner, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s fighting attire was decorated with high - 30-32% - ratings. In the face of two knock outs from the prime ministerial chair, she has come back each time to forgive Yushchenko and give Ukraine an “Orange” parliament despite the President’s attempts, after the last parliamentary election, to block her from heading the government.
Now he’s punching again. He wants a final knock out. She’s the main reason for the snap election call, now postponed to sometimes in late winter. But the people cheer her feistiness and say she behaves like a lady, works like a horse, thinks like a man - not necessarily a compliment - while the President devotes himself to antiquity and issues of historic value--symbols.
One such symbol is his support for the recognition of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which fought the Poles, Germans during WWII and the Soviets after the War. Another symbol is the recognition of the Holodomor Famine Terror in 1932-33. Some 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death by Kremlin bosses of the Joseph Stalin and Lazar Kaganovich ilk. Also, the President wants one orthodox church for Ukraine. Plus, Mr. Yushchenko hopes to score points by demanding that the Russian Black Sea Fleet depart Ukraine.
The symbolic assertions draw support at home and among Ukraine’s global Diaspora but to date, the President’s words have not translated into results. The UPA warriors are still without pensions. His trip to the United Nations failed to win recognition of the Holodomor as genocide—an act that had Russia snickering across the main global media outlets. In celebration of the 1020th Anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine, many were rattled when he invited the Moscow Patriarch to events. He’s a Russian chauvinist who evokes the Wrath of God upon Ukrainians because they exercise religious freedom, renounce Russian dominance and interference in their own Orthodox Church - Kyivan Patriarchate.
Lacking clarity which orthodox church pre eminence the President may have had in mind, the head of global Orthodoxy, Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, failed to pronounce. This leaves the long standing principle Western democracy principle --the separation of Church and State—in tack. And the President
may well wish to do likewise.
Regarding the Russian Black Sea Fleet ultimatum, many say it would serve Ukraine better if the President tackled today’s issues -Russia’s energy dominance where “his boys” are making fortunes - rather than sabre-rattle about concerns some ten years hence.
On energy, Yulia Tymoshenko had him on the ropes. Recently, she negotiated lower energy prices with her counterpart, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. She managed this by knocking out the middleman, RusUkrEnergo. Providing that the deal’s quid pro quo is not too costly to Ukraine, this lands a serious blow to the President and earns her “high fives” from the electorate. Incredulously, prices at Ukraine’s gas pumps soared!
Should the elections happen, the electorate is locked in a “for or against” clinch where the people’s choice will determine whether the President can beat the Prime Minister. However, in spite of Yushchenko’s strategies, Tymoshenko may come out well regardless whether she wins or loses.
Currently, Tymoshenko’s popularity is equal to the Party of Regions. She might score further with those who are dismayed with unnecessary election expenditures in these dire economic times. Even if she loses and heads the opposition, she’ll maintain media prominence during an economic downturn period expected for Ukraine in the upcoming years. She’ll use this profile to her advantage in the 2010 Presidential Elections in which she’ll more than likely run.
Since it is doubtful that the President can knock her out of politics completely, perhaps not even the premiership. The enigma wrapped in a riddle is why he’s perusing the elections strategy at all.
Ukraine gave the world a boxing heavyweight champion but its politicians are not Klitchko. Somehow the people know it takes time to produce champions –boxing or political. Currently, they are being served poorly by their leadership comprising political opportunists in ostrich leather shoes, Rolex watches, and billion dollar energy stashes in the Maldives, Israel and in US banks. However with every punch, match and fight, the people hope there’s a political champion in the making.
By Oksana Bashuk Hepburn, President U*CAN Ukraine Canada Relations Inc., is a long-time senior policy advisor to Canadian governments