16. UKRAINE VICTORS ‘UNDERESTIMATING RISK’

Tom Warner in Kiev,
Financial Times, London, UK, Sat, Dec 17, 2005

Three months before tough parliamentary elections, Yulia Tymoshenko is
convinced of her need to patch up differences with Viktor Yushchenko,
the other hard-charging leader of last year’s Orange Revolution in Ukraine.

“We’re tied together like mountain climbers on the same rope,” she says in
an interview with the Financial Times.

The perilous image is apt. Popular support for Mr Yushchenko, the country’s
pro-western, reformist president, has fallen steadily since he took power,
as a result of a sluggish economy, cautious reforms, continuing corruption
and worries about worsening relations with Russia.

Mr Yushchenko’s party, Our Ukraine, is struggling, with 16 per cent
support. The conservative, pro-Russian Regions party, led by Viktor
Yanukovich, a former prime minister who lost to Mr Yushchenko in last
year’s presidential election, is well in the lead with 28 per cent support.

Our Ukraine’s and Mr Yushchenko’s hopes of victory depend largely on
his potential coalition partners – most notably Ms Tymoshenko, whom he
sacked just three months ago, and Vitali Klitschko, the recently retired
champion boxer who is heading one of five “Orange” groups in the
elections.

Ms Tymoshenko says she worries that Mr Yushchenko may be waking up
to his predicament too late. “After our victory [last year], everyone thought
the war was won. All the political battalions that took part deflated like
balloons, became apathetic, weak, less effective. It scares me,” she says.

“It seems to me our whole Orange team, including the president,
underestimates the colossal risk of a revanche.”

During the past three months Mr Yushchenko had flirted with the idea of
forming a coalition with the centrist speaker of parliament, Volodymyr
Lytvyn, or even with Mr Yanukovich. But such talk only further dismayed
the president’s supporters.

Now Mr Yushchenko has returned to his old base, hoping that after the
March vote he can cobble back together roughly the same coalition of
parties that backed him last year.

Nevertheless, there is an intense rivalry between the Yulia Tymoshenko
Bloc, which has 15 per cent of voter support, and Mr Yushchenko’s Our
Ukraine.

Delicate issues – such as who would be prime minister in their coalition –
are being put off until after the vote.

Ms Tymoshenko continually criticises Yuri Yekhanurov, her successor as
prime minister, who is far less outspoken and far more cautious about
economic and bureaucratic reforms than she was.

Mr Yushchenko has said he would like to keep Mr Yekhanurov as premier
after the elections on March 26 but Ms Tymoshenko wants the job back if
her bloc beats Our Ukraine at the polls.

Meanwhile, Mr Klitschko, a former world heavyweight champion who is
one of the country’s most popular athletes, has come to the president’s aid.

The boxer will lead the electoral list of candidates for a bloc of two
parties aligned with Our Ukraine. Mr Klitschko has hinted he will also run
for mayor of Kiev in simultaneous local elections.

Should Mr Yushchenko manage to hold on to power, however, his influence
will be curtailed. Changes to the country’s constitution, hammered out in a
compromise with the preceding, pro-Russian government, will weaken
presidential powers and strengthen those of parliament. -30-

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