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19 October, 2016  ▪  Andriy Holub

In a narrow niche

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

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.

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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 Batkivshchyna.

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.

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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.

Translated by Anastasia Asianova

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