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Klitschko votes in Ukraine's elections
Image: Reuters

Klitschko's long battle

Roman Goncharenko / gsw
May 27, 2014

Vitali Klitschko wanted to become president. But he renounced his candidacy in favor of billionaire Petro Poroshenko. Now, as mayor of the Ukrainian capital, Klitschko will have to tackle many problems.

https://p.dw.com/p/1C7dC

"Closed for renovation" reads a sign blocking the entrance of Vitali Klitschko's new office. On Sunday (25.05.2014), the 42-year old politician and boxing world champion became the new mayor of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, after having gained more than 50 percent of the votes - according to the preliminary results. His UDAR party appears to have been equally successful, securing the highest number of votes - over 30 percent - in city council elections.

Klitschko will soon move into the impressive building of Kyiv's city administration, which is also the seat of the mayor, on the Chreschtschatik, one of the city's most elegant avenues. During the revolution in the winter, the building had been occupied by opposition protesters. It's in need of thorough renovations due to damage it incurred then. The inscription "Revolution Headquarters" that someone had smeared on the facade in black has already been partially removed.

Early frontrunner

Initially, Klitschko had his sights set on an even bigger office close by - that of the president. For months, he was seen as a favorite for head of state in an election ultimately held on Sunday. When there were still expectations of holding a normal election, he was the first one to announce his candidacy.

Kyiv's city administration building
Kyiv's city administration building needs a renovationImage: DW/R. Goncharenko

Klitschko sided with the demonstrators during the protests in the winter, speaking to both radical activists as well as security forces in an effort to prevent bloodshed. He later negotiated with former President Viktor Yanukovych, alongside other leading opposition politicians in the name of the protest movement. After the latter had fled to Russia, Klitschko emerged as a hopeful for president.

Klitschko backpedals

But things soon took a turn. Calling on his supporters to back billionaire Petro Poroshenko, Klitschko decided against running for president in March, saying he would instead seek the mayor's office in Kyiv.

Klitschko had also mounted unsuccessful bids in 2006 and 2008 to become mayor of the city of three million at the Dnieper River. As the supervisor of the country's biggest and richest city, Kyiv's mayor oversees billions of dollars.

The former administration under President Yanukovych repeatedly postponed regular mayoral elections in order to retain control over the city.

Alliance with Poroshenko

The reasons behind Klitschko's renunciation of his candidacy are unknown. It's evident, though, that Poroshenko is grateful to him. At their first press conference following the closure of polling stations on Sunday evening, the two men's names glowed side by side and in bright red letters on a wall in the Kyiv arts center Mystetskyi Arsenal.

Klitschko congratulated Poroshenko for his decisive victory in the first and final round of voting, while Poroshenko responded by thanking and congratulating him on his mayoral win. The two leaders embraced each other and shook hands. The message seemed to be: Together, we will clean up this mess.

New opportunities

As mayor, Klitschko will finally get the chance to become seasoned as a politician. Despite being active in politics for 10 years, he hadn't yet held any influential offices - a shortcoming that had not remained unnoticed by critics.

During the Orange Revolution in 2004, both Klitschko and Poroshenko supported the former pro-Western presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. Klitschko then shifted his allegiance among several political parties before making a breakthrough in 2012 with his own UDAR party. Straightaway, the pro-European party raked in around 14 percent of votes during parliamentary polls, thus becoming the second biggest opposition party. The future President Poroshenko will need the support of Klitschko‘s representatives in parliament.

Aims to renovate the Maidan

"I want to turn Kyiv into a truly European capital," Klitschko said prior to his election - a goal that will keep him busy.

One of the biggest challenges he will have to face are Kyiv's permanent traffic jams. Many citizens lament modern skyscrapers destroying the city's historic skyline. Corruption in real estate is rampant. Klitschko has promised to tackle these problems.

What he wants to take on first is the renovation of the Maidan square, the epicenter of the protests that toppled Yanukovych's government. During a press conference on Monday, he said it was time to remove the protest movement's barricades and tents - to send the message, he added, that peace will once again reign in Kyiv.

Poroshenko and Klitschko seen congratulating each other
Poroshenko and Klitschko celebrated their victories togetherImage: Reuters
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