Celebrities To Enliven Ukraine's Election

KIEV, Ukraine -- Athletes and artists are listed on party tickets for Ukraine's parliamentary election this October.

Andriy Shevchenko (L)

But some observers say that this time around they may be more than just glamorous extras.

Almost all of Ukraine's leading parties are relying on stars from the sports and entertainment world in their bid to take the parliamentary election on 28 October 2012.

But the biggest surprise has been the popular retired soccer player Andriy Shevchenko, who is listed second - just after party leader Natalia Korolevska - on the "Ukraine - Forward!" ticket.

Following his retirement from the sports world, 35-year-old Shevchenko aims to serve his country by employing some of the experience he gained across Europe as an athlete.

His opposition party is one of the future, he says, adding that he would like to focus his activities in the areas of sports and social issues.

Klitchko - everything but an extra

Another internationally known athlete, world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko, will be the frontrunner for the opposition Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) party, which he himself founded.

The 41-year-old said it would be a "tough, but fair" election battle against President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Ukrainian political analyst Olexiy Haran told DW that VIPs are normally only extras on the party tickets, but there are exceptions, and Vitali Klitschko is one.

"He's spearheaded his own party, attempting to unite the roles of athlete and politician," Haran said.

In contrast, Shevchenko plays only a minor role in the activities of "Ukraine - Forward!" party, despite his prominent place on the party ticket.

Pop, pop, pop music

During the last parliamentary election, in 2007, Our Ukraine party of former president Viktor Yushchenko, which was then in power, placed its bets on pop singer Ruslana, winner of the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest, for a successful campaign.

But the parties of the Orange Revolution won't be heading up this election with stars and celebrities.

That's also the case for the United Opposition, which includes the Fatherland party of imprisoned former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the Front of Changes party of former foreign minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and several other smaller ones.

The governing Party of Regions, on the other hand, is counting on the Ukrainian pop singer Taisia Povaliy, who is extremely famous in her homeland, to help them win the election.

She's booked in second place on the party ticket.

Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies in Kiev, told DW that the governing party has relied on the "classic election campaign cliché", which dictates that the top five candidates on the ticket must include a woman.

"It's also a way of shaking up the rigid line-up of leading government and parliamentary party members," the Ukrainian expert said.

Shevchenko could mobilize fans

The "election trick" of using prominent athletes and singers for election campaigns was filched from Russian political strategists, but "the ploy doesn't really work in Ukraine," says Fesenko.

However, he admits that Shevchenko may be an exception.

On the back of this summer's European Soccer Championship, he may be able to mobilize people for the parliamentary election at the end of October.

After all, Shevchenko is still fresh in Ukrainians' minds: he scored two goals during the match against Sweden this past June in Kiev's Olympysky Stadium, securing his country's only victory in the whole tournament.

But Fesenko comments that Shevchenko will only manage to win over for "Ukraine Forwards!" those of his fans who are still undecided.

Disgruntled with politics

Fesenko says that the parties' continued attempt to tie prominent people to their campaigns shows that Ukrainian political strategists haven't come up with any other new ideas.

Most Ukrainians are disappointed with politicians all across the spectrum, he says, which is why celebrities are having to pick up the slack and liven up the parties.

According to DW surveys made last year, Ukrainians are indeed disgruntled with their politicians, and the trend is increasing.

A March poll by DW showed that nearly one in four people (24 percent) did not intend to participate in the parliamentary election this October.

Source: Deutsche Welle