Boxer pulls no punches in his bid for parliament

Vitali Klitschko: party has moved into second place in the polls
Vitali Klitschko: party has moved into second place in the polls
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The Western-style liberal party of heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko has surged into second place behind president Viktor Yanukovich’s party ahead of Ukraine’s parliamentary election, new polls show.

Mr Klitschko, a relative political novice, has been highly critical of Mr Yanukovich’s leadership and is focusing his party’s campaign on fighting high-level corruption in the former Soviet republic of 46 million people.

Mr Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions and its allies are seeking to retain a majority in Ukraine’s 450-seat parliament in elections on 28 October.

They are opposed by Mr Klitschko’s party, UDAR (“Punch”) and a bloc which includes the Batkivshchyna (“Fatherland”) party of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

A survey published yesterday by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation showed UDAR had the support of 16 per cent of the voters, while the Regions stood at 23.3 per cent. It revealed that UDAR had overtaken the United Opposition bloc, which includes Batkivshchyna, whose support had slipped to 15.1 per cent.

The poll seemed to confirm the towering Mr Klitschko, 41, as a powerful newcomer to Ukraine’s political scene with UDAR an emerging force to challenge both the establishment Regions and the Batkivshchyna opposition.

The reigning WBC heavyweight champion, who is running for parliament for the first time, said ratings of 16 per cent for UDAR could mean a parliament split of 50-50.

He said: “It would not be telling the truth if I said I was not satisfied with this. I am satisfied that the curve of our support is being maintained and, with three weeks left, that we will be able to increase our electoral support even more.”

Mr Klitschko – who won 41 of his 45 career victories on knockouts and is known as “Dr Ironfist” because he also holds a doctorate in sports science – has accused the Regions of representing only the interests of the financial-industrial elite.

He ruled out any coalition with the Regions, saying: “The Party of the Regions has lost its reputation and we consider any links with this party impossible.”

A previous survey by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation published on 27 September put support for the Regions at 28.1 per cent, United Opposition at 25.6 per cent and UDAR on 11.5 per cent. But another pollster, marketing firm GfK, last week flagged a sudden rise in UDAR’s popularity, putting it at 17 per cent against 25 per cent for the Regions and 15 per cent for the United Opposition.

In the interview yesterday, Mr Klitschko, who trained in Germany for much of his professional boxing career, said UDAR remained committed to “open politics” in Ukraine based on European democratic standards.

“The ratings show that people believe us … It means that more people from our political force will be represented in the Ukraine parliament.”

Under rules reintroduced by the Regions party, half of the mandates in the 450-seat assembly will be decided by voting for party lists and half via individual constituency races. Voting in the latter is widely regarded as favouring the Regions Party.

The ratings of the Yanukovich government have been hard hit because of unpopular tax and pension policies. But the Regions have made big efforts to claw back lost ground by raising public sector salaries and returning to people a part of savings lost with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.