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Matteo Cazzulani

Poroshenko vs. Tymoshenko: Transforming Ukraine into a Modern European Democracy?

The pan-Ukrainian support for Petro Poroshenko and electoral alliance of UDAR’s leader Vitaly Klychko with the ‘Orange Oligarch’ could create a big centrist force with a Christian-democratic political orientation. Now it is Yulia Tymoshenko’s decision whether to make her Batkivshchyna Party a social-democratic or a conservative alternative to Poroshenko’s group. That could trigger a fundamental evolution of the Ukrainian political system – from an old and unstable regionalism to a model similar to the German or the Polish system.

Catherine Ashton, on the right, and Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko, on the left. Author: European External Action Service, source: Flickr

Catherine Ashton, on the right, and Ukrainian Petro Poroshenko, on the left. Author: European External Action Service, source: Flickr

Although more than 20 candidates will run in the upcoming Ukrainian Presidential Election, just two of them have a real chance to become the next President of Ukraine: Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. These two politicians have already competed against each other after the 2004 Orange Revolution under the presidency of Victor Yushchenko – Poroshenko as the Secretary of National Council of Security and Defense, and Tymoshenko as the Prime Minister of Ukraine.

The struggle between Poroshenko, the ‘Orange Oligarch’ (Ukrainian businessman who supported 2004 Orange Revolution, later becoming the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the second Tymoshenko’s government and Minister of Economical Development and Trade under Yanukovych’s presidency) and Tymoshenko, the former PM of Ukraine (one of leaders of the Orange Revolution who is also the most famous victim of Yanukovych’s political prosecutions over political dissidents) is going to be not only a simple run for Ukrainian presidency, but also a possible evolution of Ukrainian political system from a ‘regionalist’ version to a European model.

Thus far, all political elections in Ukraine have been characterized by a geographical division: candidates and political parties from the mostly Ukrainian-speaking western and central regions constantly competed with candidates and parties that represented local interests of the territories with a Russian-speaking majority.

Ukrainian voters have also casted ballots to support different candidates and parties mostly because of different and antagonistic economical interests: the rural West in opposition to the more industrialized East. It was quite rare that Ukrainians voted for a candidate following such criteria as ideology or a defined electoral programme.

More: How Deep Are the Divisions between East and West of Ukraine?

For the first time since 2004 Orange Revolution, the peaceful protest of Kyiv’s Maidan unified Ukrainian societ against – now former – President Yanukovych and the return of democracy and liberty to Ukraine. Looking at Kyiv’s Maidan, there were no differences between Western and Eastern Ukrainians: citizens from both parts, in Kyiv and elsewhere, had the same goal.

This recent unification has a continuity – it seems that Petro Poroshenko, according to official opinion polls, could get a pan-Ukrainian voters’ support in all regions of Ukraine. This could definitely overcome historical and geographical divisions, improving overall quality of Ukrainian political confrontation: from a mere regional struggle among candidates from different regions to a more ideological confrontation.

Poroshenko: a Ukrainian Tusk

This kind of evolution in Ukrainian politics could be also strengthened by the support of UDAR – the moderate wing party of former boxer Vitaly Klychko, which is quite well politically integrated with the European People’s Party EPP – for Poroshenko.

Klychko, who recently signed an Agreement of Cooperation with Polish Civic Platform (PO) led by Polish PM Donald Tusk, was openly endorsed by German chancellor Angela Merkel and other members of German Christian-democratic CDU party. This act was a step towards a better integration with the EU, officially making UDAR a Ukrainian party that is openly based on the traditional principles of European Christian democracy.

UDAR’s support has an ability to make Poroshenko the leader of a big pan-Ukrainian coalition of centre-right, which could also be supported by moderate left-wing Ukrainian voters. According to several analysis, Poroshenko is endorsed by a progressive electorate that could, gathered around  the ‘Orange Oligarch’, support a left-wing political power similar to the Polish social-democratic party, SLD, with strong ties to several businessmen – we can notice for example such ties between former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and businessman Jan Kulczyk, active in energy sector .

Catherine Ashton meeting with Yulia Tymoshenko, former Ukrainian Prime Minister, in Kiev, Ukraine. Author: European External Action Service, source: Flickr

Catherine Ashton meeting with Yulia Tymoshenko, former Ukrainian Prime Minister, in Kiev, Ukraine. Author: European External Action Service, source: Flickr

Tymoshenko: between Social Democracy and Conservatism

The considerable support for Poroshenko, including UDAR’s endorsement, forces Yulia Tymoshenko to find new space within the Ukrainian political scene. Although Tymoshenko’s political party Batkivshchyna is also a member of EPP, it lost the support of Angela Merkel when the German Chancellor publicly asked Tymoshenko not to take part in the upcoming presidential election against Poroshenko and Klytchko.

Moreover, Tymoshenko is considered by the electorate as one of the exponents of the era of corruption and political instability – which part was Yanukovych’s regime – that demonstrators of Maidan wanted to overcome once and for all.

In order to find its electorate, Tymoshenko could leave Batkivshchyna’s affiliation with EPP to a more left-wing position, becoming a social democratic alternative to centrist Poroshenko and Christian-democratic Klychko.

This choice, which could even lead to a possible cooperation between Batkivshchyna and the Party of European Socialists PES, could finally make the Ukrainian political scene similar to a Western European one, where (for instance in Germany, France, Spain and Sweden) Christian-democratic centre-right parties (and EPP members) compete against social-democratic and centre-left forces.

On the other hand, Tymoshenko could assume a more conservative position, in order to capture votes of right-wing supporters, and try to compete principally against candidates from far-right Svoboda and Pravy Sektor: Oleh Tyahnybok and Dmytro Yarosh.

This choice could bring the Ukrainian political system closer towards a Polish model: the strong centrist and Christian-democratic Civic Platform PO is mainly in opposition to the conservatives of Right and Justice Party PiS. Following this scenario, the centrist and Christian-democratic alliance of Poroshenko and UDAR could compete against the conservative Batkivshchyna headed by Tymoshenko.

The Responsibility of Ukrainian Politicians

The evolution of Ukrainian political scene presented above could seem to be too much futuristic for a country that suffered years of instability, corruption, and even dictatorship and military occupation by Russia. It is also important to openly state that it is highly improbable that an oligarchic political scheme quickly evolves into a modern European democracy with a democratic alternation of ruling parties. Of course, this analysis is an intellectual provocation – a very optimistic one – but still a provocation.

However, the evolution of Ukrainian political system is one of the principles that peaceful demonstrators on Maidan asked for, having in mind the good of their country: just by implementation of an openly European political system, with a Christian-democratic centre-right that competes with a social democratic centre-left or a centrist coalition that goes against a conservative right, Ukrainian politicians would be able to generate a new political leadership.

This would be a fundamental step for Ukraine in order to strengthen democracy, liberty, peace, progress and the respect of human rights, allowing Kyiv a further economical and political integration within the EU – as Poroshenko and Tymoshenko already promised in their first pre-election speeches.

Will Ukraine become a modern European democracy with European ambitions? It is now up to Poroshenko, Klychko, Tymoshenko and other Ukrainian politicians. The role of Europe is to help in strengthening democracy and rule of law by supporting free and fair elections.


More on Ukraine: Citizens in Uniforms. Post-Euromaidan Reality

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