x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Yushchenko loses support

Many Ukranians feel their president and leader of the Orange Revolution has failed to stem the influence of the oligarchs.

Igor Shcherbyna, a company manager, shares the disenchantment of many of his countrymen.
Igor Shcherbyna, a company manager, shares the disenchantment of many of his countrymen.

Helen Dashkovckrr was among the thousands who thronged Independence Square in the capital of Ukraine in support of what became the country's Orange Revolution. Like many of her countrymen, she believed the presidential victory declared for the pro-Russian prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych, in November 2004 was a sham and she was prepared to brave freezing winter temperatures to show how she felt.

Eventually, the protesters prevailed and the country's supreme court annulled the result, with the rerun election won by the western-orientated Viktor Yushchenko. Nearly five years after those heady days, which came one year after the Rose Revolution in Georgia propelled Mikheil Saakashvili to power, Ms Dashkovckrr has, like many of her countrymen, grown disenchanted. The Orange Revolution, she now says, "was a mistake".

"Because we didn't live better," she said. "I don't think people have become more happy. We believed in this revolution. We believed in the person. But in the end we have nothing." In his time in office, Mr Yushchenko has partially regained the good looks he lost so suddenly during the last election campaign after an apparent poisoning, but his political fortunes look harder to salvage. His support in opinion polls has been as low as two per cent, so although recently he officially launched his campaign for re-election in the January presidential polls, his chance of winning is slim. According to Olga Demyanets, 23, a lawyer who took part in the Orange Revolution demonstrations while a student, Mr Yushchenko has represented less of a break with the style of his Moscow-orientated predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, than expected.

In particular, many feel he has failed to stem the influence of the oligarchs, the wealthy industrialists who made fortunes when state companies were privatised after Ukraine became independent following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Many oligarchs hold parliamentary seats, and the political system under Mr Yushchenko has failed to become the transparent one many expected after the cronyism complained of during Mr Kuchma's 10-year spell in power.

"There were a lot of hopes connected with the revolution and promises made by the politicians, and they've not kept their promises," Ms Demyanets said. "The same people are running the country. It was promised they would change at the highest level, but for them it was better to make some arrangement with these than to change it." It is a view echoed by Kristina Bidny, 32, a logistics manager, who said: "The main problem is the oligarchs. They have their people in each party so it doesn't matter who wins. Corruption is the biggest problem of this country."

A major issue reducing Mr Yushchenko's effectiveness in pushing through reforms has been a lack of unity within the Orange Revolution camp and in particular his falling out with a former ally during the campaign, Yulia Tymoshenko, who became his first prime minister. Poor parliamentary election results for the former Orange Revolution allies even allowed Mr Yanukovych to secure the prime ministership between 2006 and 2007.

Although Mrs Tymoshenko regained the post, relations between her party, All Ukrainian Union Fatherland, and Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine remain at a low ebb. Mr Yanukovych, who at the last presidential election was Mr Kuchma's favoured candidate, and who heads the Party of the Regions, now stands a better chance than either of his rivals of winning next year's election. Aside from the political infighting that has plagued the former Orange Revolution allies, Mr Yushchenko has also suffered as a result of Ukraine's economic difficulties. The country has been heavily affected by the global financial crisis.

There have also been tensions with the country's neighbour, Russia, which has cut gas supplies more than once in a dispute over fees. Many think the regional superpower raised prices to punish Ukraine for Mr Yushchenko's enthusiasm for EU and Nato membership. Some believe Mr Yanukovych is a more credible candidate than Mr Yushchenko to bring Ukraine out of its economic malaise. "People thought that five years ago some big change was coming, but there was no such change," said Igor Shcherbyna, 22, a manager in a private company, summing up the disenchantment of many.

People expected "stability and a growing of the country and their lives. Yanukovych proclaims he will make it more stable than Yushchenko, and I think that's why he's much more popular now". dbardsley@thenational.ae