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Brian Bonner: In stroke of political genius, it looks like President Poroshenko and Mayor Klitschko

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March 29, 2014, 7:21 p.m. | Op-ed — by Brian Bonner

Ukrainian businessman and politician Petro Poroshenko (2nd L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd R) shake hands as the head of the Ukrainian UDAR (Punch) party Vitali Klitschko (L) and Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk look on prior to a meeting during the Munich Security Conference at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel February 1, 2014 in Munich, southern Germany. The annual meeting of the global "strategic community" was set to deal with thorny international issues, from the Syrian war and Ukraine's turmoil to Iran's nuclear programme and US online surveillance. AFP PHOTO / POOL / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
© AFP

Brian Bonner

Brian Bonner has served as the chief editor of the Kyiv Post since 2008. He also held the job in 1999, three years after first arriving in Ukraine to teach journalism. Bonner is a veteran American journalist who spent most of his professional life with the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, where he covered international, national and local news during a nearly 24-year career in which he was a staff writer and an assigning editor. For American newspapers, he has reported from abroad in Russia, Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos. Bonner left the St. Paul newspaper in 2007 to become the associate director of international communications at the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids in Washington, D.C. He also worked as a member of the core teams with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during six election observation missions in Ukraine, Belarus, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. To contact: email bribonner@gmail.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/brianbonner, Twitter @BSBonner, Skype at brian.bonner1959.

Two millionaire guys leading in the polls to be Ukraine's next president may have just taken the wind out of the sails of a third millionaire candidate, the twice imprisoned, twice prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in her quest to be Ukraine's president.

Vitali Klitschko, who has been trailing in the polls lately behind Petro Poroshenko, decided to withdraw from the presidential race and throw his support to Poroshenko. Klitschko will run for mayor of Kyiv on May 25, the same day as the presidential election.

The unstated, unsubtle message in Klitschko's surprise announcement: Yulia, get out!

So in quick order, the two candidates with the most credibility and highest standing in the polls joined forces and started muscling out the rest of the field. 

Let me, of course, say that as an American citizen in Ukraine, I make no endorsements and neither does the Kyiv Post, under the policy of publisher Mohammad Zahoor. But we do have opinions and analysis. And this is mine.

Whether Tymoshenko will heed the coming calls to withdraw her candidacy and unite all democratic forces behind Poroshenko remains to be seen. But she will look like a selfish climber if she stays in; she will look magnanimous if she pulls out.

Her continued candidacy is more complicated by the fact that she speaks well of Klitschko and Poroshenko, and they speak well of her.

Assuming Tymoshenko opts for unity,  it is hard to see anybody stopping Poroshenko, who -- as Ukraine analyst Taras Kuzio warns -- is a champion political chameleon over the years.

However, Poroshenko has come down on the side of democracy in courageous ways in recent years, not least of which is is clear and consistent support for the EuroMaidan Revolution long before it was clear that it would succeed in toppling Viktor Yanukovych as president on Feb. 22.

In surveying the rest of the presidential field, one only sees a collection of political losers, Yanukovych apologists, people who have escaped Ukraine's short arm of justice and other political malcontents, as well as some promising newcomers.

Here is my snap assessment of the candidates' current ratings of credibility with the electorate and chances of winning the election, on a lowest-to-highest scale of 0-5:

Sergiy Tigipko

Sergiy Tigipko, the millionaire Party of Regions businessman who fooled his own supporters and 13 percent of the nation in 2010 into thinking his Strong Ukraine party is an independent political force. He slithered right back into the Party of Regions fold after Yanukovych won. However, seeing the demise of Yanukovych coming, Tigipko scrambled to get out of the way. Credibility: 2; election chances: 1

Yuriy Boiko

Given his association with billionaire Dmytro Firtash and Ukraine's, shall we say, murky gas industry, it's amazing that former Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Boiko is talking about running for president. He is one of the Donetsk clan who soared under Yanukovych's patronage. They may still love him in Horlivka, but nowhere else. Credibility: 0; election chances: 0.

Mikhail Dobkin

Assuming he doesn't land in prison before the May 25 elections on a conviction of trying to undermine Ukraine's territorial integrity, Mikhail Dobkin, the former Yanukovych governor of Kharkiv Oblast, has a lot of nerve to be even showing his face in public. The Party of Regions -- the disgraced former ruling party -- will ensure its quick trip to political oblivion by making Dobkin the party's standard bearer in the presidential race. He doesn't win any points by having billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, another Yanukovych backer, in his corner. Credibility: 0; election chances: 0.

Petro Symonenko

This Communist Party fossil is still standing, perhaps the most amazing fact of all. In a new parliamentary election, he and his Soviet lovers and Yanukovych apologists will be out on the street, in the political wilderness where they belong. Credibility: 0; election chances: 0.

Vadym Rabynovych

Most people don't know who he is anymore, and when they find out, they won't be voting for him. Credibility: 0; election chances: 0

Dr. Olha Bohomolets

She will forever have a bright place in Ukrainian history, for her family's legacy with the nation's leading medical university but also more recently for her fearless determination to treat the EuroMaidan Revolution's wounded and honor its dead. She refused a post in the interim government because he said they were not committed to stamping out the corruption schemes in the Ministry of Health. She is, however, untested as a politician and unknown to the masses. Credibility: 4; election chances: 0.

Renat Kuzmin

Considered to be the henchman of disgraced fugitive General Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, who remains on the run from mass murder charges, Kuzmin will carry a freight load of baggage into the presidential race. Credibility: 1; election chances: 0.

Viktor Medvedchuk

If the majority of Ukrainians want to secede from the nation and join Russia, Viktor Medvedchuk's their man. But time and again, Ukrainian voters have rejected him. Credibility: 0; election chances: 0.

Oleh Tiahynbok

The Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tiahnybok is a fiery orator and one of the heroes of the EuroMaidan Revolution. His nationalist party still scares too many people to be elected. Credibility: 3; election chances: 2.

Anatoliy Hrytsenko 

The former defense minister who brings strong democratic credentials to the race has not been able to generate any enthusiasm for his candidacy. Credibility: 4; election chances: 1.

Oleh Lyashko

The strident Radical Party leader has been moving up in the polls, but doesn't seem capable of winning a majority of votes. Credibility: 3; election chances: 2.

Dmytro Yarosh

The head of the militant Pravy Sector, which played an instrumental role in toppling President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, is considered a hero to many and a dangerous radical to others. Among other problems, the nation does not know Yarosh and his ultra-nationalistic views wll not play well in the east. Credibility: 4; election chances: 0

Inna Shevchenko

The FEMEN activist announced her interest in becoming president soon after it became safe for the topless protest group to return to Ukraine after Yanukovych's exit. Credibility: 2; election chances: 0.

The analysis, of course, assumes that Russian President Vladimir Putin has not carved up Ukraine before May 25, in which case, Ukrainians may be electing the president of Greater Galacia with Kyiv as its eastern border.

Kyiv Post chief editor Brian Bonner can be reached at bribonner@gmail.com, and on Twitter at @BSBonner.

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