Defying pre-election polls, which showed it trailing the Viktor Yanukovych-led Regions party and the pro-presidential Our Ukraine, Byut flexed its way into second place, collecting more than 20 percent voter support.
Tymoshenko’s bloc accomplished this by wrestling votes away from Our Ukraine in the western and central regions of Ukraine. Exit polls also indicate that Byut managed to pick up an impressive 6-13 percent voter support in the Yanukovych-dominated eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, a feat deemed impossible for Our Ukraine, loyal to President Viktor Yushchenko.
As Byut spread its wings across the country, it stripped votes from other major political blocs. Yanukovych’s Regions won just over 30 percent voter support across the nation, losing some 15 percent of the electorate that supported it in previous polls. Our Ukraine lost at least 10 percent of the electorate.
“Tymoshenko has the best position today,” political analyst Vadym Karasiov said, adding that Byut is growing more popular across the country, while Regions and Our Ukraine have regional support only.
“In these elections Tymoshenko established an electorate that is more evenly distributed across the country. This is crucial for future elections.”
“A lot can change in three to four years, but she will be rising on this wave for at least two years, and will be a major competitor for Yushchenko for the presidential post,” Karasiov added.
All the right moves
While Our Ukraine and Regions blasted voters with expensive television campaigns ahead of the March 26 vote, Tymoshenko won votes the old-fashioned way – meeting with voters through rallies across the country. She also successfully set the agenda, raising issues of concern to many voters, such as ongoing corruption, which she pledged to fight with no mercy.
“She rose so successfully precisely cause she didn’t bet on a big television campaign, but traveled the country instead,” Karasiov said, adding that many of the near 20 percent undecided voters cast ballots for Tymoshenko at the last minute in protest against Ukraine’s current administration.
“Support for Our Ukraine fell quite a bit after news spread that they were holding coalition negotiations with Regions. Tymoshenko played her cards beautifully, warning Orange voters of the threat that Our Ukraine could unite with Regions,” Karasiov said.
“Our Ukraine made a big mistake in this regard,” he added.
For now, however, doors are opening up for Tymoshenko, as both Yushchenko and Yanukovych find themselves with deep political challenges.
“Yushchenko has not, for now, been able to consolidate any [nationwide] political force around him,” said political analyst Andriy Yermolaev.
His only chance to do this would be an attempt to establish a base that would include Our Ukraine and Regions, according to Yermolaev. But doing so opens a Pandora’s Box, which threatens to diminish voter support for Yushchenko altogether.
On March 28, Our Ukraine, Byut and the Socialists announced plans to recreate an Orange coalition that would have a majority in parliament and would form the nation’s next government. While Tymoshenko said the coalition could be established within a week, Our Ukraine officials said it could take weeks, adding that Regions could join if they drop controversial points in their agenda, such as calls for closer integration with Russia.
Meanwhile, some political analysts continue to insist that a more likely coalition would be based on Our Ukraine and Regions, in which case Tymoshenko would slip into the opposition. It remains unclear whether Tymoshenko will return as premier through formation of an Orange coalition or move into the opposition, which she pledged to do if Our Ukraine forms a coalition with Regions. Either scenario would be acceptable for Tymoshenko, who analysts say currently finds herself in a win-win situation.
“I think she wants power now, not opposition. She will make every effort not to go into the opposition … but to return as prime minister,” Karasiov said, adding that Our Ukraine will try to prevent her from moving into the opposition, while also trying to get Regions into a coalition to muster more than 300 votes in the 450 seat legislature – the majority necessary to pass constitutional changes.
“But Tymoshenko will not risk losing face by going into a coalition with Regions,” Karasiov said, adding that Tymoshenko could also gain popularity in the opposition by criticizing the government’s performance in the next several years of painful reforms.
“If Tymoshenko moves into the opposition, Our Ukraine would lose more of their electorate - the so-called Maidan votes. There is also a risk that Our Ukraine could split if Our Ukraine and Regions form a coalition. Many members of Our Ukraine would fear losing their electorate in western Ukraine and would reposition themselves behind Tymoshenko, recognizing her chances of becoming the dominant political force in the country,” Karasiov said.
Yermolaev said such a split would be painful and possibly end Yushchenko’s political career. The best way for Yushchenko to combat Tymoshenko would be to fight fire with fire, Yermolaev said, adding that Yushchenko should stop whining and become a stronger cutthroat politician.
Dmytro Potekhin, who heads Znayu, a non-profit democracy watchdog, said Tymoshenko finds herself in a win-win situation. She can either return as prime minister, accept a compromise post as parliament speaker or go into the opposition to criticize the mistakes of the new government.
Either move would be a “good start for her presidential campaign.”
Given Tymoshenko’s ability as an effective communicator, she will be able to gain more popularity either as premier, parliament speaker or opposition leader, Potekhin said.
Yushchenko faces a tough choice between blocking with Tymoshenko or Yanukovych.
“This is a lose-lose situation for the president,” Potekhin said. “A coalition between Our Ukraine and Regions will not be acceptable for most of their electorate.”
If Regions remains in the opposition, they could destabilize the situation in the country by calling for Russian to be recognized as an official language and by sabotaging Ukraine’s western integration plans.
Having Byut in the opposition can be even more dangerous for Yushchenko, according to Yermolaev, as she will try to discredit every step the president takes.
Source: Kyiv Post