VIKTOR Yanukovich, the embattled president of Ukraine, could call early elections in an attempt to defuse a political crisis that has left around six people dead, hundreds injured and threatens to pull the former Soviet republic apart.
Opponents of Mr Yanukovich have included presidential elections ahead of those scheduled for 2015 in a list of demands they say would help Ukraine move away from his allegedly authoritarian and corrupt rule.
Thousands of anti-government demonstrators remain in Kiev’s Maidan Square, the epicentre of the protests, and some government offices are still occupied by activists. Until now early elections had seemed unlikely but Yuri Miroshnichenko, a close ally of the president, hinted that they could go ahead as one of “two scenarios”.
“The first is the release of occupied buildings and an amnesty and the second is early elections. The amnesty is not working out,” he said, referring to the release of detained protesters.
An announcement of early elections could remove some of the volatility still permeating a crisis triggered at the end of November when the Kiev government walked away from an association agreement with the European Union that many Ukrainians regarded as a step towards strengthening both democracy and the rule of law.
But any presidential election would probably involve a bitter scrap for political power.
As an indication of the personal animosity dividing Mr Yanukovich and his opponents, Vitaly Klitschko, the former champion boxer who has risen to the forefront of the opposition movement, accused the president of rampant corruption and embezzlement.
The extent of the president’s wealth remains a source of great speculation for Ukrainians, and Mr Klitschko highlighted the possession of a 35,000-hectare hunting estate as just an indication of the assets the Ukrainian leader may have garnered during his term in office.
“His property is now estimated at over €200 million [£165m], but his official tax returns have amounted to barely $3m [£1.84m],” Mr Klitschko wrote in an article for the German newspaper Bild, adding that much of the alleged wealth is hidden in accounts in Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
“There is no politician in Ukraine who has used his power so shamelessly to enrich himself,” he claimed. “It’s really difficult for me to sit with this imposter during negotiations.”
Political experts in Ukraine point out that the allegations of massive corruption swirling around the president, his family and political colleagues could make Mr Yanukovich dig in for a desperate fight for survival. Suspecting that if he lost power he could face a criminal investigation for corruption and a possible jail sentence, he might fight to the bitter end rather than accept a peaceful solution.
Mr Klitschko’s corruption allegations came just hours before he held an inconclusive meeting with the president yesterday.
“I told the president the temperature of society is growing and I told the president we have to immediately make decisions,” said the boxer after the meeting.
One of the opposition’s main goals now is for Ukraine to return to its 2004 constitution.
This placed much of the constitutional power with the Kiev’s parliament and gave it the right to appoint the prime minister. But the constitution was amended in 2010, following Mr Yanukovich’s victory in the presidential elections, with most of the power being shifted back into the hands of the president.