Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former parliamentary speaker and foreign minister, has seen a surge in support in recent months as voters in the presidential election early next year look for a candidate who can put an end to the political paralysis and turn around an economy that contracted 20.3% in the first quarter.
The mass protest in 2004 against an allegedly rigged presidential ballot swept pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to power on a reformist, anticorruption platform at the expense of Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovych. But integration with the West has hit the rocks with overhauls delayed amid political infighting and in the face of an increasingly assertive Russia.
Ukraine's politics look ripe for a new approach. President Yushchenko is locked in a political battle with his former ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Mr. Yanukovych's opposition party has added to the deadlock, blocking the work of parliament on several occasions in recent weeks. The political turmoil is exacerbating the economic crisis, as the government struggles to meet the terms of a $16.4 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.
The dual crises go a long way in explaining the surge in popularity that Mr. Yatsenyuk has enjoyed over the past six months. Promotional posters bearing his portrait and saying "To save the country" have been plastered across Kiev.
Mr. Yatsenyuk is a touch less bombastic. "No messiahs," he said in an interview this month. "But Ukrainians are frustrated with current political figures."
Polls show he is right.
With his support at 11.8%, according to a June survey by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, he is snapping at the heels of Ms. Tymoshenko, who is at 14.5%. Mr. Yanukovych leads the way with 23.4%, with Mr. Yushchenko languishing at 2.3%, a turnaround from the 60% he garnered following the Orange Revolution.
Mr. Yatsenyuk shot up from only 3.4% in October, stealing support especially from Ms. Tymoshenko in her stronghold in the west and center of the country. Mr. Yanukovych, popular in the pro-Russian east and south, has made limited advances.
At 35 years old, Mr. Yatsenyuk is from Ukraine's first post-Soviet generation. A lawyer by training, he Twitters and speaks fluent English. He has already collected a bulging résumé as parliamentary speaker, foreign minister, acting head of the central bank and economy minister. A member of Mr. Yushchenko's party, he is forming his own, on the basis of his movement, "the Front of Change."
Rather than focusing on contentious issues such as the future of a Russian naval base or the status of the Russian language -- key rallying points for Mr. Yushchenko that have alienated Russia -- Mr. Yatsenyuk promises to focus on developing the country's industry and agriculture, education and health care by building consensus in the country's fractious parliament. He also stressed the need to curtail the political influence of powerful business tycoons.
"Mr. Yatsenyuk belongs to a new generation of the elite that isn't weighed down with corruption and unfulfilled promises," says Yevhen Bystrytsky, executive director of the Soros Foundation in Ukraine. "His discourse is fresh, and he is able to talk to people and put his ideas across in simple but clever language."
Mr. Yatsenyuk faces a number of obstacles in the run-up to the Jan. 17 election. Beyond the need to back up his rhetoric with substance, analysts say his campaign could struggle against the established parties. Mr. Yatsenyuk is only now creating a regional support network and has yet to name any political allies. Even more damaging could be the claims from Ms. Tymoshenko and analysts that Mr. Yatsenyuk is receiving support from oligarchs whose political influence he says he wants to reduce. He strongly denies this.
His efforts to balance between the West and Russia also could founder on contentious issues like NATO membership, something Moscow bitterly opposes.
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