The question on everyone’s mind is whether he will be the face of the party in the Oct. 28 parliamentary elections.
Tigipko, who holds the post of deputy prime minister for social issues, said that he would have liked to lead the party. But his boss, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, doubles as leader of the party. It was formerly led by Viktor Yanukovych, but he had to give up any formal party affiliation after being elected president in 2010.
The merger of Strong Ukraine and the Party of Regions was announced on Aug. 16. Anatoliy Hrytsenko, an oppositional member of parlaiment, then said that “Tigipko just bought himself a ticket on the Titanic.”
Many in Tigipko's own party shared that view, particularly representatives of the business community who saw him as a middle-of-the-road alternative during the presidential election in 2010, when he challenged Yanukovych.
After a hard debate within Strong Ukraine and the loss of many of its members (including Tigipko’s two deputies), the party self-destructed on March 17 at its last congress, just hours before the Party of Regions congress began.
Tigipko looked cheerful and confident. “Of course, I feel sorry about Strong Ukraine Party that I devoted my energies to, but I always consider a party as a tool of politics,” Tigipko told journalists, when asked about his feelings for the dead party.
He added that he wasn’t afraid of political rivalry in the ruling party. “It’s important for me that there is a competitive atmosphere inside and any party member, who may sit on the last chair in the back row, would know that his work for the benefit of people could move them over to the presidium,” he said.
He added that he perceived the Party of Regions as another tool “to work for people.”
Tigipko addressed the party congress later. His remarks stood out from the other speakers, including Yanukovych and Azarov. He actually spoke, as opposed to reading prepared remarks, and did not spend most of his time blaming predecessors of Ukraine’s current woes.
He talked his usual talk of the need to reform the nation, but some in the audience could not shake off the feeling that the 51-year-old Tigipko was in it for his own gain.
The former central bank governor and multi-millionaire looks like he’s preparing to take over the Party of Regions leadership. He does not talk publicly about it, saying instead that he’s very new and the party has many members with decade-long memberships.
Yet Volodymyr Rybak, another deputy chairman, said Tigipko had a good chance of leading the party, as does its parliamentary faction leader Oleksandr Yefremov.
Kyiv Post staff writer Denis Rafalsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org