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31 May, 2013  ▪  The Ukrainian Week

The Primaries Kick Off

How the opposition’s declaration of deeper coordination could collapse into internecine warfare

On 18 May, Kyiv hosted the rally that was initially announced as the final, then simply as a significant part of the Rise Ukraine! campaign. It brought together the biggest number of participants ranging from 20,000 to 30,000 people under different estimates despite efforts of the police and local authorities to prevent protesters from going to Kyiv from the regions. However, the expectations of opposition-minded citizens were not met.

READ ALSO: Ukraine Does Not Rise - Questions Remain Unanswered

A brief summary is as follows: Arseniy Yatseniuk, Vitaliy Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok signed a declaration On the Coordination of Actions in the Battle against the Yanukovych Regime. They agreed to coordinate actions at all levels of the presidential campaign and established that should the current procedure for the presidential election remain, each of their three political forces will support the candidate from their parties that makes it to the second round. And if the government manages to amend the legislation to hold the election in just one round, then UDAR, Batkivshchyna and Svoboda will decide on a single candidate. “The opposition will announce a single candidate  when the election begins” in order to ensure that “there is no threat,” Turchynov tried to wriggle out of this later, and added that Batkivshchyna will insist on a single candidate, regardless of whether there is one round or two.

It is possibly easier for him to say this in the current situation than for his colleagues; if Tymoshenko is not freed from jail by the election, her political party will simply not have a candidate that could make it to the top post. The question now is whether Yatseniuk shares this opinion. So far, he and his Front Zmin (Front of Change) have not integrated into Batkivshchyna in full, because according to sources he is demanding support for his candidacy in the presidential election if he decides on full integration, and preparing to join Batkivshchyna as its leader. This will convert at least some of the party’s rating into his own. Both Klitschko and Tyahnybok have stated on several occasions that if it is not absolutely necessary, they do not intend to withdraw from running in the first round of the election. In truth, the recent rapid increase in Klitschko’s rating may well have urged him and his entourage to hope that he could become the single candidate, particularly if the current electoral trend continues. Even his rhetoric has changed after May 18. “I am confident that these are the first steps and the time will come, so that by spring of next year, we will be able to nominate a single presidential candidate from the opposition forces in the first round,” stated Klitschko.

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In any case, a decision to nominate a single candidate at the right time, as well as signs of the escalating war for popularity in the media (possibly provoked by pro-government spin doctors) signal the start of the “big primaries” among the three leaders of the current parliamentary opposition. It would be a shame if, in the near future, this were to transform into a backstage battle to destroy opposition partners. If all three go too far in this conflict, the chances of any of them to win the second round could plummet. This is because society is still sick and tired of the bickering in the opposition from the Orange Revolution. But these may not be the only problems for the opposition. According to The Ukrainian Week's sources, opposition representatives asked Yulia Tymoshenko to record an address to the rally participants on the eve of the May 18 meeting, which she ostensibly refused to do. She may suspect that her comrades-in-arms have already “written her off” and are merely imitating a battle. If the cooling of relations between her and the current opposition triumvirate goes too far, and the confrontation between her and Yatseniuk’s supporters deepens, the government could conceivably risk releasing her from prison closer to the start of the presidential election campaign. Should this be the case, reaching an agreement between what will then be four leaders, will be much more complex and could become the prologue to a savage internal battle. This will create a favourable foundation for the party in power to have another victory in the election – whether for Yanukovych or any other member. Eventually, Yuriy Lutsenko could come out of the shadows closer to the onset of the presidential race, taking advantage of the novelty effect. Something similar was seen in 2009, when, having begun his presidential campaign, Serhiy Tihipko soon nullified the “new face” effect of Yatseniuk. As a result, he overtook Yatseniuk and landed third after Yanukovych and Tymoshenko. Meanwhile, Lutsenko is already criticizing the current parliamentary opposition, duly noting that their priority should be the presentation of a programme of “clear actions, based on a well thought-out joint plan”, rather than multiple declarations or the determination of single candidates.

READ ALSO: Oleh Tyahnybok: “The three opposition parties should not be required to act completely in sync”

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