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22 May, 2012

Vitali Klitschko: “The Opposition Should Unite In the Parliament”

Vitali Klitschko’s Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) refuses to run under a single party list with Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna and Arseniy Yatseniuk’s Front of Change in the upcoming parliamentary election. From now on, it is the only opposition political force other than the ‘united opposition’ that is confidently crossing the 5% threshold.

In his interview for The Ukrainian Week, Vitali Klitschko shares his vision for processes within the opposition, yet leaves some questions unanswered.

U.W.: Why won’t your party run under a single party list with other opposition parties?

The opposition should win the election. The only chance to win is to distribute our forces in the best possible way. Some in the opposition said that whoever is not with us is with Yanukovych. I think those statements were more populist than sincere. Whoever is against Yanukovych is with us, I would say instead. What we must seek today is common ground rather than foes within the opposition.

Our goal is to have a majority in the Parliament. Unification does not always result in synergy. In politics, 5+5 does not always make 10.

We should unite in the Parliament. For that we must win in first-past-the-post (FPP) constituencies and protect our votes under party lists. At the same time, rather than decide who runs in specific FPP constituencies, we should hold primaries. Politicians have proposed to meet and decide whom we will nominate. The only thing they forgot was to ask the voters: whom do they want to see? Only candidates with the most support in a given constituency can run as the opposition. Moreover, we all should support popular candidates nominated by civil society.

The primitive mistakes we made in the Obukhiv mayoral election were a warning for us. So I hope we won’t repeat them in FPP voting in the upcoming parliamentary election. It’s the people, not party bosses like Klitschko, Yatseniuk, Turchynov or anybody else, who should decide this. Only this approach will give us the best possible outcome.

U.W.: How will the single list with Batkivshchyna and the Front of Change affect your party’s prospects and the talk about a single list of FPP candidates?

Their merger is their internal matter. I don’t want to comment on it because we respect the decision of these two parties. But I have made myself clear: we are running separately. If somebody wants to join us, we’ll have a synergy that gives us a better result. The people that join us have spotless reputations, professional qualities and moral values that are in line with ours, and we’ll unite to win.

U.W.: Will this decision make the talks on a common opposition FPP list any more difficult?

They have only merged at this point. We are in the process of negotiations. Hopefully, we will soon have some results to present to the public.

 U.W.: Are other opposition forces demanding any concessions in terms of candidate distribution in the common list for the parliamentary election in exchange for supporting you as candidate for the Kyiv mayoral post?   

Politics is a search for compromise. I believe we can find the golden mean in this matter that will be good for all political forces.

U.W.: Will other opposition parties support you?

Currently, the two leading candidates are Vitali Klitschko and Oleksandr Popov, now Head of the Kyiv City Administration. Other candidates are over 15% behind. Any other candidate, self-nominated or running from the opposition, will work hand in hand with the ruling party to steal my votes. This will be a purely technical candidate from the party in power. Let’s call a spade a spade here.

U.W.: Will there be any chance of running under a single FPP list from the opposition in the parliamentary election if other opposition forces do not support you in the Kyiv mayoral election?

Consistency is what matters in politics. The public should know people who declare one thing and do the opposite – and that is your task as journalists to draw public attention to this. This signals that they are false and will treat voters the same.

U.W.: So, the Kyiv mayoral election may be a Rubicon: if the opposition does not support you, it will reveal how false its intentions are and there will be no single list in the parliamentary election?

It makes sense to support one opposition candidate who is the most popular in a specific region. Faked polls aside, I am now nearly 8% ahead of Mr. Popov. We will avoid the mistakes Batkivshchyna made in the 2008 mayoral election when it nominated Oleksandr Turchynov and Leonid Chernovetsky was ultimately re-elected. It’s up to them to decide whether or not they will do this again, but then everyone should know whom to blame for the opposition’s defeat in the election.

U.W.: Where does UDAR’s funding come from?

A big portion of the funding is my money. Clearly, this isn’t not enough, but we also rely on middle and small business. Many people are reluctant to sit and wait until something better comes around. They are ready to strive for change. Business owners tell us they are not ready to declare themselves to the public because they risk their cause and the jobs they give to others. Notably, they are not oligarchs. These business owners mostly support regional and local entities or projects, not the party on the whole. I mean, they support people they know personally who will protect the interests of Ukrainians in local councils and in the Parliament, and stand with the principles our party is committed to.

U.W.: What are the chances for your campaign sponsors to act arbitrarily after the election, especially if the candidates they support in the regions get through to the Parliament under the FPP system, or if they themselves are elected as MPs? Could they repeat the Kyiv Council scenario where some influential businessmen quit your party, including Dmytro Andriyevsky, Lev Partskhaladze and Andriy Myrhorodsky, UDAR’s key sponsors at that point, who left UDAR or were expelled from the party in 2010?

The party is about team play, not Klitschko alone. We unite around principles we commit to, not one person. The most important thing we have is independent decision-making. I will do my best to not become someone’s puppet or a prisoner of circumstance. A lot of people come to our party, but we don’t accept money and I’m not selling anything. I don’t want to make the same mistake other parties have made when a sponsor comes around to fund the party that gets through to the Parliament, and begins to earn his money back immediately. Such political projects have zero prospects. I want to build a party, not a project, with my team.  

U.W.: Clearly, you’re not selling your party, but people can use your reputation and public confidence in you to get through to the Parliament. They can claim they share your values and do whatever they like once elected.

I’d like to stress once again that no person can buy anything in our party. I don’t sell party list positions. If someone supports us financially, this does not guarantee that the person gets into the Parliament automatically. We need the electorate in the regions and FPP constituencies to vote for us. For that, we have to provide reputable candidates, not just rich people. We scrutinize how our regional branches work and how much support they gain from the public. We even hold a sort of a competition for our oblast branches: whoever gains the most support will get to our party list which we will set up openly and transparently. The most important thing is that they should have high morals, and I’m responsible for that.

U.W.: Who will be the top five in UDAR’s list?

I don’t want to get ahead of myself. We will set up the list at our party convention. This will all be public information.  

We have many young well-educated people with good principles and a European vision for Ukraine’s development. That’s our key motivation. These criteria are much more important than someone’s celebrity status. Mine is quite enough for us.

U.W.: This is not about celebrity status. Responsibility is always personified. Who, other than you, will be personally responsible for the party’s achievements or failures? Is this going to be you alone?

No. Our party list will include people known regionally. They are not well-known at this point, but they are qualified in law and economy. These are people who are ready to undertake responsibilities. That’s how all parties evolve in civilized countries: people obtain the initial party experience in regions, progress as politicians and move on to nation-wide politics. 

I realize I haven’t answered your question. But be patient, please. We can meet after our party convention and I will give you answers about everyone.

U.W.: What is your ideological platform based on? UDAR declares itself a socio-liberal party while seeking to join the European People’s Party.

What do you mean? The European People’s Party also promotes a liberal economy.

U.W.: How will you present yourself? Are you liberal or conservative? What is your ideology?

We’ve had many debates about who we are. We should answer our voters on the interests, ideals and principles we protect, on the criteria and values we promote and on our objective.

U.W.: So, what are they?

We are a right-centrist party. European integration is our key goal. Mentally, historically and geographically, we are Europeans. The only things that make us very distant from Europe are standards of living and the rules of politics. Therefore, our goal is to change this in order to place the citizen, with his or her rights and freedoms, in a central place.  

U.W.: How do you view Ukrainian identity? What should the nation’s integration and consolidation be based on? How do you see the need to shape national history in contrast to the common history of the Soviet Union, and the prospects of the Ukrainian language?  

Ukrainian politicians are used to taking the differences between Western and Eastern Ukraine as the starting point because the issues of the language, history, religion and NATO often raised by politicians are fueled intentionally. In fact, we Ukrainians are much more interested in how confidently we can face the future and whether we have a chance to get a good education, health care services, good jobs and salaries. For us, this is what matters much more.

I agree that this should be an identity matter because we all live in Ukraine. But we should remember that we have over 70 ethnic groups in this country, and many different regions, languages, religions and histories. Playing games with these things will get us nowhere. We should be tolerant about language, history and religion—it’s our future that should unite us. It’s how we want to see our country, an economically powerful and politically stable one where every citizen feels confident about the present and the future.

Ukrainian should be the only official language. This is identity. There is no question about it. We can speak any language we like but speculation on this issue should stop.

I really want UDAR’s platform to be put into practice and we’re taking responsibility for that. It’s very important for us to communicate our principles, who we are and where we are heading, why we are here and what we want to do.

U.W.: So how do you personally answer these questions? What should we unite around?

We are Ukrainians.

U.W.: Who are Ukrainians? Are these all people living in the territory of Ukraine or do they need to have something in common?

Who are Ukrainians? Skin colour doesn’t matter….

U.W.: We’re talking about self-identification, not ethnic or racial things…

…nationality, language and religion do not matter. It’s about something different altogether. Someone lives in Ukraine? Does this person love Ukraine? Does this person see his or her future in the country? That is much more important.

U.W.: What kind of future?   

We are building a country with democratic standards where a human with his or her rights and freedoms is top priority; this is the most important value. Then comes European integration. We all realize that the path other Eastern European countries have chosen leads to political stability, economic development, better quality of life and protection of rights. That is the main objective of our party.

U.W.: Are you ready to convince society that unpopular decisions should be made even if they put your popularity at risk?

If you make a necessary yet unpopular decision, you need to explain to people what benefits it will bring in the short-term that all Ukrainians will see later on. As a politician, I am ready to make unpopular decisions but I need the voters’ support to do so. 

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