Leitura para o fim-de-semana: o Willy Wonka que pode ser presidente da Ucrânia

Fez fortuna na indústria do chocolade. Patrocinou os protestos que levaram à queda do presidente ucraniano Viktor Yanukovych. Agora é candidato às eleições deste domingo. Pode ser presidente – mas diz que gostava de ser deputado europeu. 

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Ukraine’s Chocolate King to the Rescue

Ukrainians hope that Petro Poroshenko can lead them out of the current crisis. But can one man provide the solution to all the country’s problems?

BY ANNABELLE CHAPMAN

“Petro Poroshenko has a dream. As the 48-year-old Ukrainian business tycoon told journalists earlier this week, he hopes one day to represent his country in the European Parliament — which was an odd thing to say since Ukraine is not a member of the European Union and has little chance of joining anytime soon. You’d think that Poroshenko would have his mind on a more immediate task: winning election to the presidency in the election scheduled for this coming Sunday, May 25.

Of course, there’s a deeper logic to Poroshenko’s European aspiration: It echoes the longing for a European future that played a part in the protests that toppled President Viktor Yanukovych earlier this year. The Euromaidan protests, which were actively and visibly supported by Poroshenko, also vaulted him into the ranks of Ukraine’s most popular politicians — and now to the leading position in this weekend’s presidential race. In the run-up to the balloting, eastern Ukraine has been wracked by the worst violence since the political crisis there first erupted earlier this year. On Thursday, at least 13 Ukrainian soldiers were killed by pro-Russian insurgents at a checkpoint 20 miles south of the restive city of Donetsk. The rebel group behind the attack said one of its militants was also killed.

Still, if the vote goes off without a hitch, Poroshenko is so far ahead of his rivals in opinion polls that he could even win in the first round. Last week, a poll put support for him at 54.7 percent among likely voters — embarrassingly far ahead of opposition bigwig and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was in second place with 9.6 percent.

To be sure, Poroshenko is no ordinary politician (even in a country that abounds in outsized political personalities). He made his fortune, now estimated by Forbes at $1.3 billion, in the chocolate business — an unlikely achievement that has led some to dub him “Ukraine’s Willy Wonka.” That hint of magic befits a man whose followers believe that only he can rescue the country from its current predicament.

After he announced his decision to run for president a few weeks ago, a crowd of supporters began to chant his name. “I won’t let you down,” he told them.

Easier said than done. Winning the presidency is one thing; leading Ukraine out of its crisis is another. Though the Ukrainian media have been speculating about his running for president for months, Poroshenko’s strong lead in the polls does come as something of a surprise. When the protests against Yanukovych began in Kiev’s central square last year, Poroshenko probably wouldn’t have been considered an obvious candidate for future national leadership. Yet his early decision to side with the protesters raised his profile. At the same time, he remained aloof from the three main opposition leaders, all of whom were regarded with various degrees of skepticism by the Euromaidan demonstrators. Poroshenko said the right things but also knew when to stay out of the way.

This ultimately worked to his advantage. The three opposition leaders were left discredited for signing a deal with Yanukovych on Feb. 21, the night before the embattled president fled Kiev, eventually showing up in Russia. (Poroshenko was not among the signatories.) In March, boxer turned politician Vitali Klitschko, who had been the favorite candidate throughout the protests, announced his withdrawal from the race — and threw his support to the more popular Poroshenko, whose ratings then shot up even further. Poroshenko has since widened his lead over Tymoshenko, who was released from jail the day that Yanukovych fled.

The dramatic developments since then — first in Crimea and now in Ukraine’s east — have distracted attention from government business in Kiev and pre-election political scheming. Of course, Ukrainians have long been wondering whether the election will actually take place, and now separatist leaders in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk have said they will boycott the vote.

Poroshenko’s election slogan, promising no less than “a new way of life,” aims to capitalize on the widespread yearning for dramatic reform in the wake of the struggle against Yanukovych. “A new country was born and a new people was born,” he told Reuters in a recent interview. Referring to the casualties incurred during the protest, he added that Ukraine’s future leaders “should know why 104 people gave their lives.” It’s a line that echoes the mood of dissatisfaction among people who backed the protests, who wonder why more than 100 protesters died for the sake of change that is yet to come.

But can Poroshenko deliver? Ukraine is not the same country it was during the Orange Revolution of 2004: Society has evolved dramatically, even if Tymoshenko’s famed hairstyle has remained the same. Yet there is also something distinctly anachronistic about Poroshenko, whose political career dates back to 1998.”

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