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English \ Mayor news \ Yushchenko gives Yatsenyuk the poisoned chalice

Taras Kuzio

For Ukraine group leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko told Channel 5 television on April 10 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has chosen former Parliament Speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk as his successor. It remains unclear if Yatsenyuk has gotten round to sending a "thank you" to the president for his endorsement.

This reminds me of the U.S. elections, but not in the same way as Ukrainian diaspora Mychailo Wynnyckyj [Kyiv Post, March 19, "Yatsenyuk, unlike current leaders, inspires hope for better democracy"] and Roman Olearchyk [Financial Times, April 7, "Fresh face wins reputation as Kyiv's Obama"] have wrongly described Yatsenyuk as Ukraine¹s new Barack Obama.

In the U.S. presidential elections, the popular television show, Saturday Night Live, used comedians to depict President George Bush, Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin ( The best episode is when the actor playing McCain is seen to be extremely unhappy at receiving the actor Bush¹s endorsement because of the real Bush's low popularity of 20 percent.

Now think of Ukraine, where the real President Victor Yushchenko has only 3 percent support and gives his endorsement to Yatsenyuk, who must be as thrilled to receive it as the actor playing candidate McCain on Saturday Night Live.

How can Yatsenyuk claim to be a "candidate of change" if he is Yushchenko¹s chosen successor? This is where Wynnyckyj and Olearchyk have typically, as the romantic Ukrainian diaspora, gotten their analysis wrong as Obama was an outsider to the Democratic Party which initially backed Hillary Clinton.

Since when has Yatsenyuk ever been an outsider?

Yushchenko and presidential chief of staff Victor Baloga see Yatsenyuk and ex-Prime Minister Victor Yanukovych as two candidates who can halt the election of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Indeed the entire Yushchenko-Baloga strategy can be called "Halt Yulia!"

What Yatsenyuk has yet to come to terms with is that if he wants to receive Yushchenko-Baloga¹s administrative resource support it means that he cannot act like Obama did in the US elections. Like Obama, Yatsenyuk has sought to act positively and not get drawn into negative campaigning. This has assisted Yatsenyuk who, while hardly saying a word, has risen in the polls while support for Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have declined.

Will Yatsenyuk agree to become involved in the president's strategy of negative campaigning against Tymoshenko in exchange for their support? If he does agree, then he has no right to be compared to Obama and he can expect that voters will punish him as they have those in power. During the Ukrainian elections, Yatsenyuk will have to take a stance, for a change.

In Saturday Night Live, the actor playing Bush says: "When you go into the voting booth and vote for McCain, think of me," as he points to his face. In the voting booths in October, Ukrainian voters should likewise think of Yushchenko¹s face and then vote for Yatsenyuk.

Taras Kuzio is editor of the bi-monthly Ukraine Analyst and teaches in the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected].

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