A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
It's all but certain that "chocolate king" Petro Poroshenko is going to win more votes than "gas princess" Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine's May 25 first-round elections. But there are still a few new things to learn about the vote.
1. Tymoshenko isn't the only one with Orange Revolution laurels.
Sure, she's the one we remember. But Poroshenko, who in 2004 had already built a massive confection business and launched his Kanal-5 television station, was considered one of the revolution's biggest financial backers. He was also a close ally of Viktor Yushchenko, had helped manage his presidential run, and had hoped to parlay the relationship into a prime-ministerial post after the Orange victory.
Instead, Yushchenko named him head of the Security and Defense Council and gave the premiership to Tymoshenko, who disliked oligarchs generally and Poroshenko in particular. Both Poroshenko and Tymoshenko were fired in 2005 after each accused the other of corruption in a season of squabbling that left the government paralyzed. Poroshenko, however, remained close to Yushchenko, who is godfather to Poroshenko's twin daughters, Yevhenia and Oleksandra.
2. Nor is she the only one who can do business with Russia.
Tymoshenko, despite her Orange credentials and pro-Western rhetoric, has traditionally been seen as enjoying a profitable working relationship with the Kremlin. She earned her "gas princess" sobriquet for importing Russian natural gas in the 1990s; Vladimir Putin pronounced her "comfortable" to work with after the two negotiated a pricing deal that ended the 2009 gas crisis and ultimately led to her controversial jailing under Viktor Yanukovych.
More recently, she warned against the use of force against separatists in the east, igniting speculation she was playing "Putin's game." But Poroshenko -- who has served under every Ukrainian administration since Leonid Kuchma's, regardless of political stripe -- is a friend-maker as well. One of his largest Roshen chocolate factories is located in southern Russia, and he recently adopted a more ambitious stance on Ukraine's NATO ambitions, one of the biggest burrs under Putin's saddle.
With anti-Russian sentiment running high in Ukraine, both candidates have played down their Kremlin ties and sought to portray themselves as patriots and rebels.
Tymoshenko, in a leaked phone call, was caught calling for the extermination of all Russians on Ukrainian soil. Poroshenko, whose chocolate has been banned by Russia for nearly a year, has used the trade war to boost his credentials at home. "The [ban] is a sign that I'm doing the right thing," he said this week in Kharkiv. "It confirms that my policy is pro-Ukrainian."
3. A second round could happen -- and could work in Tymoshenko's favor.
Fresh surveys conducted jointly by Kyiv's Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov polling center show Poroshenko with 44.6 percent of the vote and Tymoshenko with 8.4. This puts him within spitting distance of the 50 percent he would need to claim a first-round victory.
But that overlooks the sociologist-ordained "Tymoshenko phenomenon," in which the Batkivshchyna leader traditionally collects up to 15 percent more in the actual vote than in polls. Currently undecided voters could add another 15 percent to that -- theoretically bouncing Tymoshenko up to nearly 40 percent and chipping away at Poroshenko's lead in the process.
Even in the instance of a first-round victory, there is reason to believe that any claim of fraud, or simply public destabilization, could fuel demand for a June 15 runoff. This in turn could create the opportunity for voters in the troubled east, where Dnipropetrovsk-born Tymoshenko draws much of her support, to turn out in larger numbers than they're expected to this time.
4. Poroshenko won't debate.
Poroshenko has steadily refused to debate his presidential opponents, including Tymoshenko, saying he doesn't want to be part of a "paid show." (He has said, however, that he will debate the Batkivshchyna leader if and when it goes to a second round.) His aloof posture has infuriated Tymoshenko, who on May 22 reiterated calls for Poroshenko to meet her for a televised debate before the first round.
Tymoshenko, who famously debated an empty chair during her 2010 presidential run against Viktor Yanukovych, says there are "no questions which [she] cannot answer" before the public. By contrast, she said, Poroshenko "has not attended debates a single time. Why do you think that is? It's fear -- fear of answering questions that are very important for the public." Currently, Tymoshenko, pro-Russian candidate Serhiy Tihipko -- her close rival for second -- and economist Valeriy Konovalyuk are due to hold a televised debate on May 23.
5. Not all Western values are created equal.
Poroshenko surprised some onlookers at a recent campaign stop in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast when, pressed by a voter, he said he opposed gay marriage. (The statement was reported by Katya Gorchinskaya of the "Kyiv Post," who also revealed that Poroshenko is a workaholic who updates his own Facebook posts and occasionally indulges in a bit of skirt-watching.) Tymoshenko's position on gay marriage is unclear, but her right-hand man, current Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, took a Poroshenko-like stance last year when he said "as a Christian and a Greek Catholic," he could not accept the notion of same-sex marriage.
6. There are other people running, too.
Nearly 20 of them. You can read about them here.
7. Bye-bye, Vitali.
Technically, May 25 is likely to mark the beginning of a new chapter in Vitali Klitschko's political career. The former world heavyweight champion and UDAR leader, who graciously stepped out of the presidential race to make way for Poroshenko, is widely expected to be elected mayor of Kyiv.
Running the Ukrainian capital is an important, messy job that few have done well -- the city, in fact, has had no full-time elected mayor since the deeply unpopular Leonid Chernovetskyy was removed from power in 2010. But the post is also viewed as a political dead end. None of the city's post-Soviet mayors ever advanced to national prominence after their stints running Kyiv.
So, to use the sporting metaphors Klitschko himself favors, he could have been a contender, but he's been boxed into a corner. We may never know if he was up to scratch. On the plus side, he's promised Kyivans a water park and Disneyland.
8. None of this may matter.
The top three candidates in the presidential race are a billionaire, a millionaire, and another billionaire.
All three have been involved in politics for more than a decade. None of them, therefore, is likely to satisfy Euromaidan demonstrators' call for radical change, particularly at a time when the violent deaths of more than a hundred protesters remains fresh and deeply painful.
Likewise, the May 22 killings of 17 Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine will present the country's next president with the immediate dilemma of establishing peace in a strategic and terrorized region. Add Ukraine's sinking economy and upcoming parliamentary elections to the mix and you end up with a formula for all-but-certain unrest that no one has the power to correct, especially at a time of deep internal divisions and pronounced resentment of the old guard.
Some analysts have already predicted a fresh round of Maidan protests by winter and continued chaos for Ukraine.
Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.