With just days to go before the candidate list closes for Ukraine's May presidential election, former world boxing champion and one of the frontrunners Vitali Klitschko may have struck a deciding blow by throwing his support behind a billionaire chocolate maker who was already leading in the polls.
Polls suggest that the most likely next president of Ukraine will be billionaire businessman and former minister Petro Poroshenko as a compromise candidate. The deadline for submitting a candidature for the May 25 snap presidential election following the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych is April 4.
So far, as well as Poroshenko, former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has put her name forward. And Ukrainian Communist Party (CPU) nominated its leader Petro Symonenko. Outliers for president include an MP from Yanukovych's Regions Party, Sergiy Tigipko, and former Kharkiv Regional Governor Mykhailo Dobkin.
Voter turnout is expected to be very high: according to a poll by the Kyiv International Sociology Institute, the Rating sociological group and the Razumkov centre, up to 84% of Ukrainians plan to vote in the election.
Poroshenko polling high
The most recent poll puts Poroshenko in the lead as a compromise candidate, but he will almost certainly have to fight a second round election, which would've been against either Klitschko or Tymoshenko, though probably the latter now Klitschko has pulled out.
Poroshenko is not intimately associated with the protests on Kyiv's central square, know as Maidan, that lasted three months and ended in violence and the exile of Yanukovych. But at the same time he is also not seen as a creature of the Yanukovych's benighted administration. Rather, he served under both Yanukovych and the previous Orange Revolution president Viktor Yushchenko, and so is seen by many as a compromise candidate in the middle ground.
Nearly a quarter of Ukrainian citizens (24.9%) said they would support Poroshenko in the presidential elections, according to a survey conducted by the Socis Center for Social and Marketing Research, Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), the Rating Sociological Group and the Razumkov Center, which was presented on March 26 by the independent election monitoring NGO, the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), at a press conference.
UDAR Party leader Klitschko was in second place (8.9%), and Batkivschyna (Fatherland party) faction leader Yulia Tymoshenko was third (8.2%). Tigipko was at 7.3%, Dobkin with 4.2% and Symonenko at 3.6%.
Also on the polling list, but long shots, are Ukrainian MP Anatoliy Hrytsenko (3.2%), Svoboda leader Oleh Tiahnybok (1.7%), Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh (0.9%), All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress President Vadym Rabynovych (na), Ukrainian former Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko (na) and Ukrainian Choice leader Viktor Medvedchuk (0.4%).
If the race goes to two rounds, the poll found that Ukrainians believe the most likely overall winner of the elections will be Poroshenko (23.6%), followed by Tymoshenko (8.8%), Klitschko (6.6%), Tigipko (3.6%) and Symonenko (0.9%).
Poroshenko is almost certain to get to the second round and the poll found he would win against all possible rivals with the following splits: against Klitschko 42.9% vs 15.3%; against Tymoshenko 46.3% vs 11.6%; against Tigipko 50.8% vs 14.4%.
Tymoshenko has been hurt by her absence from the Maidan protests and the legacy of her stint as prime minister, which is seen by many voters as a time of chaos, infighting and economic decline. In particular, she signed the 2009 gas deal with Russia's Gazprom that set the current high prices of imported gas and is the source of much of Ukraine's economic woes. At the same time, the whole Orange Revolution project has been discredited because it failed to bring the freedoms and economic prosperity most had hoped for. Yanukovych was able to capitalize on that failure to narrowly beat Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election.
"Yes, I am planning to run," Tymoshenko told a press conference on March 27, adding she intends to ask delegates at the party congress of Batkivschyna on March 29 to nominate her as a presidential candidate. Currently, Batkivschyna holds the lion's share of cabinet posts in the new government and has also installed business allies as governors in several regions. As such the party commands significant "administrative resources" in the campaign.
While the crowds on Maidan were pleased that she was released from jail following Yanukovych's overthrow, her release was never one of protestors' central demands and her speech to the crowds on the day she was freed in March got a lukewarm reception. But as a consummate politician, Tymoshenko cannot be written off. It is maybe telling that she has abandoned her trademark platted hair as part of her effort to remake her image.
Tigipko's candidature is also important. Although he is unlikely to become president, he will very likely take over as the head of the former ruling Party of Regions faction that was previously under the control of Yanukovych. This is an important faction, as it is the de facto party of the Russophile eastern provinces.
Tigipko, a successful businessman and former governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, is an impressive operator and public speaker. He represented the moderate wing of Regions and is probably amongst the least corrupt of the party's affiliates. As head of Regions, his remaking of the party could make it a powerful balancing force in a new Rada and he could also count on considerable support (direct or covert) from the Kremlin.
"I am sure it is time to renew our party's leadership. Renew it very considerably. The people who have brought us to our current state are trying to lead us again. In my view, people who endured the hardships primarily in the provinces should come to the leadership," Tigipko said in an address to Regions delegates, his press service circulated on March 27. "I am saying openly that I am ready to take on responsibility for the Party of Regions leadership. I am ready to lead the party, but only on the condition that this will be a new party, a party built on absolutely different principles from those existing in the party earlier."
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