Ovsiyenko v Tymoshenko (Opposition presidential strategy)

June 1, 2013

A few days ago, Yulia Tymoshenko stated she was not in favour of a single opposition presidential candidate in the first round of any Ukrainian presidential elections, if the election was to be carried out over two rounds.

Her thoughts are that, if it is a two round race where the most popular two candidates proceed to a second round run-off, then there is no need to identify a single candidate before hand and that the opposition should unite behind the candidate that progresses.

Here, both Ms Tymoshenko and I would agree if genuine choice in Ukrainian democracy is to prevail, all opposition candidates who want to run should run – although I suspect Ms Tymoshenko has very different motivators behind arriving at that result.

For myself, with 3 different opposition parties, 3 different leaders, and thus 3 ideologically different constituency groups being represented via these 3 parties, it would seem the only democratic way to unite behind a single opposition candidate is via survival of the most popular amongst them via the ballot box in the first round.

I am not sure, however, that this is a winning strategy.  If, for example, I were to vote for Klitschko in the first round and he failed to make it through to the second – and either Oleh Tiahnybok or Arseney Yatseniuk were left standing – would I bother to turn out to vote Tiahnybok or Yatseniuk for the second vote when I didn’t vote for them previously for good reason?

In effect, my horse is out of the race and the two left in (remaining opposition candidate v Yanukovych)  I equally dislike.  Will I want to go to the trouble of voting again when whatever the outcome, I am not going to be happy with it?  Do I really want to take another few hours off work again, travel to my local voting station again, mess around with passport checks again, stand in a line waiting for a voting booth again, when the choice is between two candidates I did not support the first time around?   In fact I may decide that my remaining choices are so poor and/or unrepresentative of what I believe, that I will deliberately not vote in order to display my dissatisfaction (rather than apathy).

If, however, from the very beginning I am faced with a choice of Yanukovych or a single candidate from the opposition parties in the first round, I am more likely to vote for somebody from either side I am not particularly keen on – as I won’t have to go through the process twice – despite my disappointment that my preferred candidate may not have been the opposition candidate.

This would appear to be a fear of the well known political activist, dissident, (Order of Yaroslav Mudry (The Wise) – as honoured by ex-President Yushenko in 2009) – Vasyl Ovsiyenko, who takes issue with the view of Ms Tymoshenko regarding this matter.

In short, it is his opinion that the failure to nominate a single opposition candidate for the first round of the presidential elections will in fact gift President Yanukovych a second term – something that Ovsiyenko is despairing of.

So whilst I am supportive of the 3 opposition leaders all running in the first round in order to see democratic choice offered to the opposition voters as a point of democratic principle, I can certainly see that this may, ultimately, not be a winning tactic.  Ovsiyenko has a very valid point to make when the presidential election is a zero-sum game.

Why then, is Ms Tymoshenko in favour of no single candidate until the second round given the obvious probable drawbacks?  Has she developed a deep-seated  appreciation of democracy in prison that she didn’t have when Prime Minister?  Perhaps she is more supportive of democracy now she is not actively in a political race herself?  Maybe, rather than just having “read” many philosophy and political science books in prison – she actually “understands” them?

Sadly, one has to suspect that quite simply it is self-interest that forms her view.

Whilst there are many horses in the opposition race, her opinion – and thus she –  remains more relevant.  As soon as the opposition close ranks behind a single candidate, her relevance becomes far less.  Maybe not quite divide and conquer, but certainly divide and remain relevant.  The sooner the opposition close ranks behind a single candidate, the sooner she becomes less relevant politically.


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