In a nar­row niche: The am­bi­tions and prospects for op­po­si­tion in Ukraine

What the self-pro­claimed demo­cratic op­po­si­tion to the cur­rent govern­ment wants and can achieve

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - An­driy Holub

The ma­jor “op­po­si­tion” group in­cludes Yu­lia Ty­moshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Father­land) and Oleh Li­ashko's Rad­i­cal Party. Since both par­ties are built around the cult of the leader, their party lines often os­cil­late de­pend­ing on the leader's moods and am­bi­tions. Both lead­ers were once part of the same pool. But Li­ashko aban­doned his me­te­oric ca­reer in Batkivshchyna af­ter an erotic-tinted scan­dal. His ex­pul­sion helped him re­veal not only his act­ing skills, but also man­age­rial tal­ents. Orig­i­nally pre­sent­ing him­self as a flam­boy­ant “truth seeker for the peo­ple”, he first be­came a laugh­ing stock in the me­dia, amongst ex­perts and even col­leagues, but with time he proved to be the one hav­ing the last laugh.

Li­ashko now leads a 20-strong par­lia­men­tary fac­tion that has good chances of in­creas­ing its rep­re­sen­ta­tion in case of a re­elec­tion.

Polls con­firm the party's rank­ing at about 10%. To­day, how­ever, Li­ashko is fac­ing a dif­fi­cult choice. His party’s rank­ing has ap­par­ently reached its ceil­ing now. If he now sits on the lau­rels now, that would point to a par­al­lel with the po­lit­i­cal fate of Rus­sia’s po­lit­i­cal show­man Vladimir Zhyri­novsky.

He has held his ground for decades, but for that he has al­ways been in sec­ondary roles and re­nounced his own am­bi­tions. To re­al­ize those, all he had to do was ad­just his care­fully elab­o­rated per­sona.

If Li­ashko as­pires for any man­age­ment po­si­tions, he will have to change not only him­self, but also his close cir­cle of politi­cians with rather check­ered rep­u­ta­tions. If, how­ever, he only strives to stay in his tried and tested com­fort zone, he will en­counter another se­ri­ous ob­sta­cle in the face of


Ty­moshenko has her own chal­lenges now, even though her story is very sim­i­lar to Li­ashko's. Af­ter Ty­moshenko lost to Petro Poroshenko by a 40% mar­gin in the lat­est pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, many wrote her off from se­ri­ous pol­i­tics. In the gen­eral elec­tion

Batkivshchyna per­formed even poorer, hardly hit­ting the 5% thresh­old, and even this pos­si­ble by putting many civic ac­tivists and Na­dia

Savchenko on the party list. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Ty­moshenko tried to with­draw into the shad­ows, even con­tent­ing her­self with the sec­ond place in her own party list (Savchenko was for­mally No1).

To­day, how­ever, poll­sters be­lieve Batkivshchyna to be the leader of pop­u­lar pref­er­ences, rank­ing around 15–20%. If Ukraine had a snap par­lia­men­tary elec­tion, the party is seen as the main ben­e­fi­ciary. Yet, Ty­moshenko’s per­sis­tent push for early elec­tion is a sign that her rank­ing, like Li­ashko's, has reached the peak, and they can only in­crease it fur­ther at each other's ac­count. This sig­nif­i­cantly lim­its Ty­moshenko's op­tions. If the power brokers man­age to keep their po­si­tions, as they did in spring, Batkivshchyna's peak rank­ing will start de­clin­ing.

There are sev­eral rea­sons for that. Poroshenko's Ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Govern­ment have al­ready made the most dif­fi­cult step (raised house­hold gas prices lead­ing to a hike in all other tar­iffs). They have sta­bi­lized, to some ex­tent, the sit­u­a­tion in the bank­ing and fi­nan­cial sys­tems. This gives rea­son not to ex­pect another dras­tic hryv­nia de­val­u­a­tion. This leaves Ty­moshenko with only the “tar­iff” ace up her sleeve, which she tries to use wher­ever pos­si­ble. The most con­ve­nient en­vi­ron­ment for that could come in Novem­ber when peo­ple re­ceive their swelled util­ity bills (the heat­ing sea­son starts in Oc­to­ber). Still, so­cial an­a­lysts note that purely eco­nomic protests have never led to large-scale so­cial un­rest in Ukraine. If the tar­iff thing doesn’t fly, one other op­tion is to join forces with Li­ashko and other op­po­si­tion forces from within the post-Maidan camp. Batkivshchyna tried that in sum­mer but was given the cold shower. At that point, Li­ashko's party, en­cour­aged by their good rates, pro­claimed them­selves to be an in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal force that is only ready to con­sider "of­fers to join the Rad­i­cal Party." Samopomich, whose rank­ing has re­mained al­most un­changed since 2014, is also against snap elec­tions. Un­der such cir­cum­stances, con­sol­i­dat­ing her­self as the leader of the op­po­si­tion would be a chal­lenge for Ty­moshenko. Аt the same time, those in power now in case of trou­ble can al­ways take a step back and sac­ri­fice some of the mi­nor of­fi­cials, in­crease sub­si­dies once again, or even lower the tar­iffs.

The sec­ond op­tion for Yu­lia Ty­moshenko is to form a coali­tion with the Op­po­si­tion Bloc made of the for­mer Party of Re­gions mem­bers. How­ever, none of the two camps will make any pub­lic ar­range­ments, while co­op­er­a­tion agree­ments be­tween party head­quar­ters will not nec­es­sar­ily bring im­me­di­ate tan­gi­ble re­sults.

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