There’s always an alternative in Ukraine.
Director of the Maidan of Foreign Affairs Foundation, Head of the Kyiv organization of the UKROP party Bohdan Yaremenko spoke about the situation in Ukraine on the eve of the presidential and parliamentary elections, as well as how the topic of Belarus is discussed during the election campaign.
- Ukraine is to hold presidential and parliamentary elections this year. In your opinion, how has the country changed for the five years?
- Today, Ukraine is very fragmented and split. In 2014, we went to the extraordinary presidential elections with the understanding that we do not have time for political games - we need to elect a president in the first round. The majority (54%) voted and no one had any suspicions or complaints of fraud. This is the real result of the 2014 elections.
Now the situation is completely different. We can easily predict that the previous result is impossible in principle. Moreover, the 15-10% ratings of the leading three or the four politicians indicate that anti-ratings are much higher, and the future president of Ukraine will unite people not so much around himself, as against himself. That is, the majority will be against the future winner of the election.
This, of course, stimulates some deep thinking. The main challenge for the Ukrainian democracy is to get out of this situation, since there will be a lot of people willing to play on it and, first of all, it is beneficial for Russia.
Will Ukraine be able to overcome the crisis after the presidential election? The elections themselves have already proved very tough, the campaign is very black in terms of the use of technologies. I hope that Ukrainians will once again demonstrate the ability to transfer power by peaceful means, and not only by revolutions and uprisings.
However, what will happen next is a much more complicated question. Although the result of the election is still very difficult to predict. Sociological polls give preference to Volodymyr Zelensky, but the gap between him and the other candidates is so small that even now, a month before the election, no one can confidently name the winner.
- That is, whoever becomes the president, he or she may not stay at the post for five years?
- This is way too categorical. Yes, there will be an uncertainty, after all, the country is at war, the economy is in a rather difficult situation, the social situation is very tense. I don’t want to talk about uncertainty as a post-election phenomenon. But the phenomenon will be what I have mentioned already: the majority of the population will be against the winner. The winner will not have the support of the majority.
This is a rather complicated situation, but it does not mean that theoretically the winner will not be able to turn his opponents into friends in some time. Because Ukrainians complain, feel unhappy, moan, but the majority of the population has no desire to ruin their country. People would like to believe in something, hope for something, and therefore there is a theoretical opportunity to turn them to their side. But in practice, this will be very difficult, especially since parliamentary elections will take place soon after the presidential election.
Instead of cooling down the political pressure, we will go to the second round, and it will be very hard for the President to form a majority around him. It is very important what methods he will strive for, because no matter who is the winner, his next task will be to form a coalition majority and the government, elect a new prime minister. The president in this struggle has such trump cards as control over the special services. How far will the winner of the presidential election be ready to go is a very difficult question, on which much depends.
- Let’s consider the option of Yulia Tymoshenko winning. What will Ukraine face in this case?
- A small window of opportunity associated with personnel reassignments. Yulia Tymoshenko can reformat the political spectrum of the country. Many political forces and players of national and regional scale will have a desire to join the winner. This can be either a unifying factor, or something not very good. Nevertheless, a window of opportunity for changes in Ukraine will open for a short time, as with every new government or new face on the political stage.
- President Volodymyr Zelensky?
- A very poorly predictable situation. On the one hand, this opens the window even wider, since Zelensky is not connected with the overwhelming majority of political players by any ties, commitments, and so on. But the problem with Zelensky’s forecasting is that there is no political history behind him. And therefore it is very difficult to understand his values, his inclinations, his political style. He simply does not have it. He will shape it on the go. This creates both opportunities and problems.
- President Hrytsenko?
- It is possible to predict the general political course that he will choose. However, so far I would question his ability to unite and quickly build own system of administration. Given that Hrytsenko is more than anyone inclined to massive changes in the staff of the government and authorities. But his ability to build this vertical effectively, not only for himself, but also for the purpose of solving problems is a great enigma.
- Well, at last, what if Poroshenko remains?
- I think this is the most problematic option for Ukraine, because I don’t see any motive for him to change anything, except to strengthen his own power and complete the formation of a management method that will allow him to exercise full control over the financial flows of the country. There will be a strengthening of the regime, which will be built on corruption. Given that corruption will remain a phenomenon of government in any case. This, unfortunately, is a way of thinking of the national elites and owners of the country's economy.
However, Poroshenko is not only a product of this system, but also its manager, blood and essence. Therefore, it is not necessary to expect any changes from him more than from anyone else. Moreover, the past five years have allowed everyone to make sure that any, even symbolic, steps in the fight against corruptionhave been done by Poroshenko only under the strong pressure from the Ukrainian society or the Western partners. He seems to have no reason to change the country in this regard. This will be the preservation of the worst sides of the Ukrainian reality.
However, this will not be the end of the world: Ukraine exists in the current conditions. Obviously, something like this will continue to happen with the intensification of the political struggle, but with the amendment that Poroshenko will have the opportunity to clear out the political opposition. There will be no prospects for change for five years. During this time, of course, many political forces will lose their internal resources for development. Poroshenko will have the opportunity to become if not a dictator, then in any case, a quite authoritarian leader controlling the entire country.
- But will the UKROP party struggle with authoritarian tendencies if they occur?
- The UKROP party in this case is no different from other parties that nominate their candidates and give them the authority to fight in the presidential and parliamentary elections in order to achieve change. We do not believe in rapid revolutionary changes and are conducting systematic work that requires organizational, personnel and political efforts.
Our party works within the framework of the Constitution and laws, trying to show which alternative it can be. This is done by other political parties, which do not have the opportunity to take full power on themselves.
- The rating of your party is growing quite rapidly.
- Yes, the rating is growing at a pace that allows us to optimistically look at the prospects for parliamentary elections. Of course, we hope to come to power, but for now, most likely, we will play the role of a certain deterrent factor, showing that there is a different opinion.
We understand that the situation in the country will not improve very quickly, there are no prerequisites for this. But about stability, as a phenomenon that should be achieved, it is necessary to speak from the point of view of increasing people’s confidence that there is always an alternative, that the victory or defeat of some political force is not the end of any process.
We see our role - to come into power, to try to change the situation with the resources that will be available at that moment, but at the same time to stay committed not to the power coalitions and agreements, but to the ideas of forming people’s feeling that there is always a force that you can rely on and entrust power in the future.
- Is it possible to make any predictions about the results of the parliamentary elections? Or is it too early?
- Most likely, the political composition of the future parliament will be as fragmented as the society. That is, the number of political parties represented in the parliament will be bigger than now, there will be a very mixed legislative body in which it will be very difficult to form a coalition. It is likely to be situational.
In this regard, I would not have expected a dramatic change, deterioration or improvement of the situation. The changes in the situation, either deterioration or improvement, will occur very gradually, which will enable the main players to notice new trends, to somehow react to them. This is not bad.
- How is the topic of Belarus covered in the presidential election campaign in Ukraine?
- Now we are criticizing the president for a very shameless appeal to the topic of patriotism. From the point of view of building or shaping the perception of Belarus, such a radical “hurray-patriotic” approach of the president contributes to the fact that attitudes towards Belarus have somewhat changed. But this was influenced not only by the political approaches of the president, but also by a change in the situation in Belarus itself, in the Russian-Belarusian relations.
It seems to me that there have become more of those who think that we cannot rely on Belarus as a country, with rather warm feelings for Belarusians as a nation. Such voices and informational trends have intensified in Ukraine over the past few months. This was facilitated by the military drills that Belarus conducted together with Russia, and the complications that arise from Putin’s desire to aggressively absorb Belarus.
A few years ago, Lukashenka had here the image of a cunning rural guy who knows how to fool everyone, in any case, fool Russia, as it seemed to Ukraine. Now the understanding has come that this cunning guy is trying to fool Ukraine as well.
But can a person be deceived and outwitted by someone who does not have full power in his country besides the ability to suppress freedom of speech and political freedoms? It seems to me that the image of Lukashenka in Ukraine is deteriorating. The image of the Belarusian authorities is changing in the direction of understanding their lack of independence, and dependence on the senior partner, on the economic owner - the Kremlin.
We have a growing sense of threat from Belarus, despite the fact that for a long time after the revolution, for several years our politicians, including the president, liked to visit your country and persuade Lukashenka to do something. In the Ukrainian media space this was presented as an attempt to ensure non-aggression from Belarus. Disappointment in this policy has become a factor in the political life of Ukraine. Everyone understands that the attack on Ukraine by Belarus is quite possible.
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