With one opposition leader in prison, Yatseniuk’s leadership will be tested
sible or not. This is huge progress.”
The opposition led in popularity polls earlier in the year but fell 3 percent behind the incumbent Party of Regions in August, with 23 percent support, according to a Rating Group poll.
Hlib Vyshlinsky, deputy director of GfK Ukraine market research company, says weak messages and weak candidates are the reason. “They don’t have an agenda, except to sweep off the current regime,” he says.
In the meantime, the Party of Regions is throwing money at their constituents and winning votes.
Yatseniuk spent the day in Yalta trying to prove he does have something to offer. He gave public speeches and held multiple face-to-face meetings with star foreign guests of the conference. He made progress in becoming more realistic about his vision and plans.
Yatseniuk rose through the political ranks with unprecedented speed. By the time he decided to try his luck in a presidential race at the age of 35 (the youngest age allowed by Constitution), he had already been a foreign minister, a National Bank governor and a speaker.
His stunning career may have triggered the traits of detachment and over-confidence, even arrogance, in him. This was one of the reasons behind a poor performance in the previous presidential campaign, analysts say, when an awkward military theme failed to connect with the people resulting in less than seven percent of votes.
He now comes across as a slightly mellower personality, but still has a long way to go. In Yalta, many top businesspeople noted that he does not mingle with the crowd and still has a hard time making direct pitches to support his candidacy.
Asked why he thought people considered him too confident and even contemptuous, Yatseniuk tried to make a joke out of it by saying: “Because I am bald and wear glasses.”
In fact, his lean, Ph.D. student looks could be a plus in the nation where more thuggish types are common in government.
Yatseniuk’s messages in Yalta were polished on the campaign trail and consistent, albeit somewhat populist. For example, he keeps saying impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych is needed, but fails to tell his voters that this goal cannot be achieved by the opposition because it requires the approval of a majority in parliament, which is now controlled by the propresidential Party of Regions.
He said Ukraine needs a new balance of power and that corruption needs to be fought urgently.
“We have borrowed from our American friends the experience of President [Franklin] Roosevelt and comrade [Herbert] Hoover to create an anticorruption bureau, in a Europeanized version,” he says. In the meantime, the number of police officers has to be reduced and excessive powers taken away from the State Security Service.
But here is his most important message: “This election is not about change of personalities. We need stable democratic institutions. Until we have stable democratic institutions and rules, a simple change of people in the government and opposition will lead to nothing.”
He says the United Opposition already has draft laws ready to implement their agenda.
The United Opposition was created in April when Yatseniuk brought together a number of parties united under the umbrella of Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna. But the relationship between Yatseniuk and Tymoshenko is a marriage of convenience, with mutual interest overcoming the strife. Yet trouble in this alliance is brewing beyond the horizon.
Yatseniuk says he has not seen Tymoshenko for a year. His most recent attempt to meet with her, together with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, was blocked by the authorities.
When talking about Tymoshenko, Yatseniuk measures his words carefully. “We signed a declaration of unity. Today, Tymoshenko and I are together,” he proclaims. “The time has come to trust each other.”
He says it was hard to speak of trust during the 2010 presidential election campaign, when they competed against each other. But when he was parliament speaker and she was a prime minister, they managed to cooperate on many issues. “When we made a deal, we made a deal,” he says.
Yet they could end up competing again in the 2015 presidential election.
Yatseniuk said there is “no secret pact” between them that would divide up the roles the way that Tymoshenko did with Yushchenko before the 2004 presidential campaign. Yatseniuk says that he wants her to be set free and then the two of them will discuss political strategy.
“There is no game in this. If we both run, the third person will win,” he says. “If the temperature in the country is such that will allow her to win, there will be no questions. In any circumstances, I would say that she has the first right to win.”