The Ukrainian Central Election Committee has counted 99.94% of the ballots and prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is down by almost 3.5%. The European Union has endorsed Sunday’s election, praising it for its “calm atmosphere,” “open campaign,” and the “genuine choice” presented to the voters. Yanukovich supporters partied in the streets on Monday as the international press crowned their man the presumptive winner.
What did Yulia do? She sulked through the day, remaining uncharacteristically silent before postponing and then canceling a press conference. It was a sign of scrambling. And then this morning, news leaked that, last night, in a closed-door meeting with her party members, Tymoshenko called for them to fight on, to contest ballots in the courts and to — oh geez — push for a third round of voting. “A third round is not actually stipulated in the law,” said a deputy head of Tymo’s party. “But it wasn’t stipulated in 2004 either,” she added, referring to the third round of voting that swept Yushchenko and Tymoshenko into power.
In 2004, the OSCE instantly reported that there was intimidation, multiple-voting and other violations at the polls. Given the unanimous endorsement of election observers this time around, given that her party members are publicly pleading with her to concede and go into the opposition (which, according to her advisers, she’s better at anyway) — given all this, asking for a third round just looks insane and undemocratic.
It’s also classic Tymoshenko.
After returning from Kiev in December, I wrote a profile of her for The New Republic in which I noted that Tymoshenko’s thirst for victory — and power — often blinds her.
Tymoshenko’s mania for quick victories, however, has often cost her, or her country, in the long run. Her constant back-biting with Yushchenko, for example, may have hurt his ratings, but it has dragged hers down as well. In November, she made a big show of fighting a swine flu epidemic that didn’t exist (the WHO said there was nothing unusual about Ukraine’s flu numbers). The spectacle briefly boosted her popularity but also triggered a dangerous hoarding of supplies. Within a month, Ukrainians had caught on to the game, costing Tymoshenko a dip in the polls…
If she wins, Tymoshenko’s presidency could also be hampered by the fact that, while she thrives on clashes with those she seeks to overtake, she often miscalculates once she’s on top. “She feels more comfortable in the opposition,” says her campaign adviser Taras Berezovets, “but she loves power.” Most notably, when Yushchenko called for new parliamentary elections in 2008, Tymoshenko blocked them in the courts in order to remain prime minister and refused, against the urgings of many in her party, to join the opposition. Then came the financial crisis, which slammed Ukraine especially hard. “If she had been in the opposition, she’d be the number one candidate right now, without a doubt,” says Fesenko of Kiev’s Center for Political Studies. “But she made the decision to get power and, as prime minister, ended up taking on all the responsibility for the crisis.”
A friend of mine once mocked Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential elections in the U.S., saying that she seemed like the type of woman who, at the age of 7, haggled and quibbled and cheated at Monopoly. Hillary, however, knew when to pack up the battle gear and get on board for the sake of the country. While she serves as a discreet and competent Secretary of State, observers of Ukrainian politics see a future in which Tymoshenko, back in the opposition, makes life hell for Yanukovich.
Because, to Tymoshenko, governance is a game, and the way to win is to haggle and quibble and cheat.