By Dmitry Zaks
Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine’s highly-divisive opposition leader and former premier Yulia Tymoshenko announced plans on Thursday to contest snap presidential polls set for May 25 following last month’s fall of a pro-Kremlin regime.
“I intend to run for president of Ukraine,” the 53-year-old told reporters after walking into a press room with the help of a walking stick she has been forced to use because of persistent back pain.
The dramatic announcement completes a highly improbable return to national politics that underscores the scale of changes that have shaken the former Soviet republic of 46 million in the past few weeks.
Tymoshenko — one of the most charismatic and outspoken leaders of Ukraine’s 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution — lost a close presidential poll to Yanukovych in 2010 after heading two pro-Western cabinets that became embroiled in fighting and eventually lost popular support.
Her political downfall after the 2010 vote was rapid and seemingly fatal.
Yanukovych’s government quickly launched a series of criminal probes against his political rival that led to a controversial trial over Tymoshenko’s role in agreeing a 2009 gas contract with Russia that many Ukrainians thought came at too high a cost.
Tymoshenko was convicted in October 2011 for abuse of power and sentenced to a seven-year jail term that Western nations denounced as the use of selective justice.
But she emerged triumphantly from the state hospital in which she spent most of her sentence under guard on February 22 — the day parliament ousted Yanukovych for his role in the deaths of nearly 100 protesters in Kiev earlier that month.
Tymoshenko then immediately went to the protest square in the heart of Kiev that also served as the crucible of the 2004 pro-democracy movement that propelled her political career.
Yet the crowd’s reception of the one-time opposition icon was guarded — a sign of their growing weariness of the corruption allegations that have stained Tymoshenko’s reputation in recent years.
Some analysts believe that the pro-Western movement that Tymoshenko once headed is now looking to a new generation of leaders who played a more prominent role in the latest protests and who now hold key positions in the new interim government.
Tymoshenko on Thursday attempted to paint herself as a compromise figure who could look after the interests of her old supporters as well as the Russian speaker who look toward the Kremlin for assistance and predominantly live in the southwest of Ukraine.
“I will be able to find a common language with everyone who lives in the east,” she said.
Tymoshenko also vowed to commit herself to breaking the close links between big business and government that have led to the enrichment of select tycoons through shadowy deals that have also paid off big for political insiders.
“I stand out from all the other presidential candidates because I will actually be able to do this: I will be able to break up these huge clan-like corporations.”
“None of the other politicians that intend to run for president understand the depth of the lawlessness gripping Ukraine,” she added.
An opinion poll published jointly on Wednesday by four respected Ukrainian political research firms showed Tymoshenko holding on to third place with the support of 8.2 percent of prospective voters.
Chocolate baron Petro Poroshenko ranked first with the backing of 24.8 percent of the respondents.
Former boxing champion turned opposition leader Vitali Klitschko was second with 8.9 percent of the vote.
Sergei L. Loiko/Los Angeles Times/MCT