Ukraine's Gas Princess and Chocolate King fight for presidency

Analysis: Yulia Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko both tainted by past decade of political failure

Petro Poroshenko greets people in Kiev’s Independence Square yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Maks Levin

Petro Poroshenko greets people in Kiev’s Independence Square yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Maks Levin

Mon, Mar 31, 2014, 01:00

Dr Iron Fist may have thrown in the towel, but the Chocolate King and the Gas Princess should make Ukraine’s presidential election a fascinating fight.

Vitali Klitschko, a former world boxing champion with a doctorate in sports science and political party called Udar (Punch), dropped out this weekend and put his considerable weight behind Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire who owns Ukraine’s biggest confectionery maker.

The Chocolate King has a handsome lead in opinion polls ahead of a May 25th vote to find a successor to Viktor Yanukovich, the disgraced former president who fled Ukraine in late February.

But Poroshenko, a former foreign minister who speaks at least three languages fluently, finds his path to the presidency blocked by a tenacious political survivor and fierce campaigner – Yulia Tymoshenko, whose 1990s exploits in the energy trade saw her dubbed the Gas Princess.

The day after the collapse of Yanukovich’s regime, parliament quashed Tymoshenko’s seven-year prison sentence for abuse of power and she returned to Kiev from the eastern city of Kharkiv. The European Union and United States said she was a victim of persecution by Yanukovich.

She has since received treatment in Germany for back problems, and on Saturday told adoring supporters at a party rally that she was plunging back into the political fray.

Tymoshenko (53) seems to have lost none of her fire while in jail, and is still an icon for many Ukrainians, particularly in western regions. But she received a mixed response when she made a comeback speech, tearful and wheelchair- bound, on Kiev’s Independence Square last month, reinforcing a feeling that for a large part of the country she and Yanukovich were different sides of the same coin – rival leaders of a political elite that brought a decade of disaster to Ukraine, and must now be swept away entirely.

Poroshenko (48) is not tainted as strongly by the abject failure of the years following the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Tymoshenko was premier to Viktor Yushchenko’s president, and their disastrous rule allowed Yanukovich to take power.

Tymoshenko and Poroshenko agree on the big issues: they both opposed Yanukovich, want Ukraine to move away from Russia and towards the EU and reject Russia’s annexation of Crimea. But their relations may be strained by Poroshenko’s closeness to Yushchenko and his alleged role in undermining Tymoshenko when she was premier.

Poroshenko has urged Tymoshenko to support him, to avoid a potentially damaging split in Ukraine pro-EU forces that could boost the chances of candidates who were close to Yanukovich and will hope for strong backing from eastern regions and from Russia.

The Regions Party on Saturday formally expelled Yanukovich and named Mikhail Dobkin as its presidential candidate. He vehemently supported Yanukovich and his often brutal riot police during protests in Kiev, and was governor of Kharkiv when Tymoshenko was imprisoned there. Dobkin (44) advocates a Russian-backed plan to give more autonomy to Ukraine’s regions.

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