Opinion: Political pragmatism needed in Ukraine | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 30.03.2014
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Opinion: Political pragmatism needed in Ukraine

Vitali Klitschko is right to favor unity among Ukraine's pro-democracy forces by supporting the entrepreneur Petro Poroshenko's bid for president, writes DW's Bernd Johann, who says Tymoshenko is taking the wrong course.

Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann heads DW's Ukrainian Department

Ukrainian politicians are not known for voluntarily taking a pass when power and influence are at stake. That's why Vitali Klitschko's withdrawal from the presidential race is a highly noteworthy step. The chair of the UDAR party has acted responsibly. He wants to prevent a splintering of those in favor of democracy and supports finding a shared candidate. As such, Klitschko is backing Petro Poroshenko, the businessman and politician seen in current polls as having the best chances at taking the presidency after the vote on May 25.

The billionaire and owner of multiple companies is not uncontroversial, having belonged to the oligarchs who divided up the country's economy among themselves. However, Poroshenko is arguably the only candidate who might succeed in leading the country out of its crisis of political division and economic turmoil. The "chocolate king" - Poroshenko's nickname due to his ownership of the Roshen confectionery company - supported the Maidan protest movement. He has also served as a minister in various governments. Seen as a moderate politician, he can be expected to strike compromises, to forge closer ties with Europe but also to seek understanding with Russia.

Broad support is essential

Ukraine urgently needs politicians with the ability to reach consensus and strike the right balance. After the fall of the criminal Yanukovych regime, the country is facing massive problems. Its economy is in a catastrophic state. The billions in aid from the IMF that the country desperately needs will only be paid out once it has undertaken economic reforms. They will spell serious change for Ukrainians. Furthermore, Russia is threatening the country: first by annexing Crimea in the South and now, above all, with its large-scale military presence along Ukraine's eastern border.

In light of these circumstances, the presidential election represents a challenge. The country must be stopped from further breaking apart. Radical forces on both the left and right are playing only a subsidiary role in the election. At the fore is an approach of national reconciliation. A polarizing election campaign would be destructive. That's why Klitschko did the right thing in favoring unity among pro-democratic powers. The future president will need as broad a base of support among the populace as possible.

Wrong moment for Tymoshenko

But Yulia Tymoshenko seems to be in favor of a divisive political approach. Now that Klitschko has withdrawn from the race, the former prime minister is Poroshenko's most important rival. Her candidacy is hardly what the country needs in terms of stability both domestically and in its foreign policy. During her time as head of state, Tymoshenko's solo maneuvers often caused controversy. They were one of the factors that helped bring the autocrat Yanukovych to power, plunging the country into chaos.#

Freshly back on the political stage, Tymoshenko's anti-Russian tirades have already brought a new sense of polarization. That's hardly a testament to her suitability as president. She is doing the country no favors by running for office. While her Fatherland party is still standing behind her, current polls show the majority of voters don't feel the same.

Politically, Ukraine's citizens want a new beginning. That will require politicians that can unite and reform the country. Fostering consensus while minimizing divisiveness - those will be the new president's tasks. Now that Klitschko is out, Petro Poroshenko could find himself charting the country's course in the months ahead. It's all up to the voters on May 25.

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