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Spot the reformers among Ukraine’s presidential candidates

Many of Ukraine’s presidential candidates systematically lie about their support for reforms and European integration. Finding the real reformer is hard – but urgent if Ukraine is to break the cycle of corruption and Russian aggression.

March 26, 2019 - Taras Kuzio - Articles and CommentaryUkraine elections 2019

Kyiv, the old and the new city. Photo: Francisco Anzola (cc) flickr.com

It is already a sad fact that only ten out of 44 candidates include NATO and EU membership in their programme’s. But it is also bad that only five out of the sixteen candidates who are parliamentary deputies have supported reforms since they were elected after the Euromaidan Revolution in 2014.

One of the ironies of a new study by Vox Ukraine concerns the two Tymoshenkos. Yuriy Tymoshenko, a parliamentary deputy from the NF (former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s Popular Front) is obviously a technical candidate meant to take votes away from Yulia Tymoshenko in a very tight election race where every vote counts.

This project was the subject of a scandal on March 7th when three people, including Batkivshchina MP Valeriy Dubil, sought to bribe Yuriy Tymoshenko with 200,000 US dollars to drop his candidacy. He reported the attempt and the police were waiting for them and detained all 3. To what extent Yulia Tymoshenko knew if this is of course unclear.

For the sake of continuing Ukraine’s reforms and path to European integration, Ukrainian bloggers asked maybe it would have been better for Yulia Tymoshenko to withdraw her candidacy in favour of Yuriy Tymoshenko. Yuriy – unlike Yulia – supports NATO membership in his election programme. There is no likelihood of Yulia Tymoshenko withdrawing from the elections which she believes, in many ways like Hilary Clinton in the US, are hers to win. Of course this presupposes that Yulia wants IMF-mandated reforms and Europeanisation at all – which the last five years of her voting record shows she does not.

During the life of the current parliament since October 2014, Yuriy Tymoshenko has supported reforms while the leader of Batkivshchina has not. Yuriy Tymoshenko is ranked by Vox Ukraine as one of the strongest voters for reformers with an 85 per cent Index in Support for Reform and 62nd place out of 423 parliamentary deputies. Yulia Tymoshenko has been opposed to most reforms since 2014 and has a very low 34 per cent Index in Support for Reforms and in 328nd place out of 423 deputies.

Even Oleh Lyashko, also a populist and leader of the Radical Party, has been a far stronger supporter of reforms than Yulia Tymoshenko. He has 73 per cent Index in Support for Reforms and is 160th out of 423 deputies. This is doubly ironic because the Radical party is funded by Opposition Bloc deputy and Donetsk oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. Batkivshchin, although Socialist and populist, is an associate member of the European Peoples Party.

There are other surprises among the 16 presidential candidates who are parliamentary deputies. Olha Bohomolets, a high profile activist in the Euromaidan Revolution, for example, who is in 302nd place, competes with Yulia Tymoshenko’s 328th to be near the bottom of the reformers in parliament. Bohomolets is the 11th worst of the 135 deputies of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in terms of her weak support for reformers.

It is of course not surprising that three deputies from two opposing Opposition Blocs show themselves to be dinosaurs on reforms. Oleksandr Vilkul (392nd place, 14 per cent Index in Support of Reforms), Yuriy Boyko (399th, 9 per cent) and Yevhen Murayev (417th, 2 per cent) are true representatives of the inheritors of the kleptocratic, and now defunct, Party of Regions.

False Promises

We know from cross-comparative analyses of populists in Europe and the US that populists are very economical with the truth and their speeches and tweets are full of exaggerations and manipulations of facts. This is why it is not surprising that Ukraine’s populists are economical with the truth or that Yulia is the biggest liar.

Candidates who are not supporting reforms and Euro-Atlantic integration are complimented by their high propensity to lie. Vox Ukraine had earlier undertaken biannual assessments of Ukrainian politicians regarding the truth of their statements and the top three liars in Ukrainian politics were always Yulia Tymoshenko, Boyko and Vadym Rabinovych.

Although we should not be surprised that ex-Party of Regions and current Opposition Bloc leaders Boyko and Rabinovych are liars, we should be shocked that a political leader claiming to be pro-European is often caught blatantly not telling the truth. For example, Yulia Tymoshenko has repeatedly said that Ukrainians earn sixteen times less income than Europeans, which Vox Ukraine point out to not be true. Germany is one of the wealthiest European countries and its wages are 4.5 times higher than in Ukraine.

Vox Ukraine created a new web site for the elections entitled Антологія Брехні (Anthology of Lies). President Poroshenko and Anatoliy Grytsenko have results similar to the rest of the field, with 56 per cent and 68 per cent, respectively, of their statements declared to be truthful by Vox Ukraine. Seventeen per cent of Poroshenko and 15 per cent of Grytsenko’s statements are declared to be lies, again a similar result.

Compare Poroshenko and Grytsenko’s results to those of Yulia Tymoshenko. Thirty-three per cent of her statements are lies and another 35 per cent are manipulations and exaggerations; a total of two thirds of what she says is in some way not factually correct. Only 31 per cent of what Yulia Tymoshenko says is truthful – which is the same as that of the radical populist Lyashko.

Vox Ukraine only checked 5 statements by Volodymyr Zelensky, compared to over 200 for Poroshenko, Grytsenko, Yulia Tymoshenko and Lyashko. This is because he has become popular in opinion polls despite hardly saying anything during the election campaign. Zelensky has an even worse record than Yulia Tymoshenko, as only 20 per cent of what he said was truthful and nearly two thirds (60 per cent) was manipulation.

Even pro-Russians tell more truth

It is interesting to compare Yulia Tymoshenko (33 per cent) with pro-Russian candidate Boyko (24 per cent) and his supporter Rabinovych (40 per cent), as all three have similar percentages of statements that are lies. You might, or might not, be surprised to hear that Boyko (24 per cent) is less of a liar than Yulia Tymoshenko (33 per cent). When the pro-Russian lies more than someone claiming to be a reformer, that should be disturbing. Meanwhile, Rabinovych (32 per cent) says a similar number of truthful statements as Yulia Tymoshenko (31 per cent). When we add manipulations and exaggerations, Yulia Tymoshenko has the highest score of 35 per cent, similar to Boyko’s 32 per cent.
There are three conclusions one can make.

The first Grytsenko is like Yulia Tymoshenko running his third election campaign but he has a far better relationship to the truth. Poroshenko is not new to Ukrainian politics but his team in parliament have been second to the Popular Front in their support for reforms and he has a good relationship to the truth similar to Grytsenko.

The second is whether candidates are new faces does not always reflect on their support for reforms and relationship to the truth. Tymoshenko is the longest in Ukrainian politics, is running her third presidential election campaign, and has regressed in her support for reforms and relationship to the truth. Tymoshenko in the 2019 elections is far more socialist and populist than she was in 2010 when she faced then incumbent Viktor Yanukovych. In both reforms and lies, Tymoshenko is closer to Boyko and Rabinovych than she is to pro-Western politicians in Ukraine.

The third is that many candidates have not changed their approach and are running election campaigns in a country which has dramatically changed. They still think they can hoodwink Ukrainian voters, experts and journalists by, for example, voting in parliament for constitutional changes on NATO and the EU and then not including these goals in their election programme’s. Of the candidates whose names are well known, only incumbent Poroshenko and nationalist Ruslan Koshulynsky include NATO and EU in their election programs.

Taras Kuzio is a Professor in the Department of Political Science, National University of Kyiv Mohyla Academy and Non-Resident Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. Author of Putin’s War Against Ukraine (2017 and 2019).

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