Ukraine's presidential election: Surprise results of ex-head of state security service Smeshko

Author : Natalia Lebed

Source : 112 Ukraine

According to the exit poll, Smeshko misses the top five, but the gap with popular presidential aspirant Anatoliy Hrytsenko is less than 1%
13:00, 1 April 2019


One of the main sensations of the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine was an unexpected rise of Ihor Smeshko, a contestant for the presidency, to the sixth place. He did not overcome the barrier of the second round, but would make you talk about himself. According to the exit poll conducted by the Austrian Institute for Social Research and Consulting SORA in conjunction with the Ukrainian Center for Social Monitoring for the channel 112 Ukraine, Smeshko gains 6.6% of the vote. And this is twice (!) more than the opinion polls gave him before the elections.

This candidate has spent 71,000 USD on his campaign, and more than 6% of the votes in the presidential election is an unrealistically good start. And the most striking fact is that according to KIIS, Smeshko is one of the three most desired "new faces" and "politicians of the new generation," for whom the Ukrainians voted in the elections. Smeshko also considers himself a new political face, as he recently stated in an interview.

Related: Vote of confidence of Ukrainian presidential wannabe Ihor Smeshko

The paradox is that Ihor Smeshko represents neither a fresh face nor a new generation. Although if we proceed from the fact that the new is well forgotten old, he can be counted among the debutants. In fact, Smeshko has both a background and a taste of one rather loud scandal. Therefore, let us who is Igor Smeshko.

All-Ukrainian savior

Smeshko is a 63-year-old retired colonel-general. He leads the Strength and Honor party, created in 2009. This party did not take part in the parliamentary elections of 2012, in 2014 it decided to run for the Verkhovna Rada, but lost (only 0.08% of voters voted for her, that is, about 13,000 people). Smeshko did not remain completely without work – in 2014, Petro Poroshenko urged him to head the intelligence committee under the President of Ukraine. But, however, already on January 30, 2015, the committee was liquidated by Poroshenko’s decree, and Smeshko was dismissed.

Related: Meet 39 candidates running for president in Ukraine

However, much more interesting is what preceded in 2010. In September 2003 – February 2005, he led the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). At least two key events should be remembered from that time. First, Yushchenko's poisoning at dinner, attended by Smeshko. Secondly, the orange Maidan revolution, which gathered soon after this dinner, or rather, after the second round of voting for the President of Ukraine.

Regarding the first event, then, as you know, there is a version that Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned while having dinner at Smeshko’s deputy Volodymyr Satsyuk’s place. The host himself (Satsyuk), his chief Smeshko, and then close associate of Yushchenko David Zhvania attended the dinner. Who wanted to poison Viktor Yushchenko – it is still unknown, because, actually, the "dioxin case" has not been solved until now. Smeshko also denied (and denies) the very fact of the attempt on Yushchenko. As for his own involvement in the crime, Smeshko hints, not without boasting, that if the SBU had a goal to eliminate the presidential candidate, this would have been done.

Related: On the homestretch: Outcomes of election campaigns of Ukraine's presidential hopefuls

Now let us remember about Maidan of 2004. Nowadays, Smeshko is credited with the merit of the bloodless Orange Revolution. According to the legend, it was the then head of the Security Service of Ukraine who became an obstacle to possible bloodshed by stopping the internal troops, which had already moved to Kyiv on the orders of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.  It is not entirely clear how the leaders of one department (SBU) gave orders to another (Ministry of Internal Affairs) that controlled the internal troops.

Stalking horse?

After 2004-2005,  Smeshko was out of public media attention. About a year ago, his Strength and Honor attacked Prime Minister Groysman, demanding to repeal the law on the accrual of pensions to the military.

The informational boom around Smeshko began at the behest of Dmytro Gordon, one of the Ukrainian journalist, who released a long interview with the former SBU head.

Related: Coming out of political hibernation: Why Russian PM Medvedev met with Ukraine's wannabe prez?

Apparently, Smeshko misses the top five, but the gap with another presidential aspirant Anatoliy Hrytsenko is less than 1%. Smeshko’s electoral field intersects with Hrytsenko’s one, and therefore, before the elections, some experts called him a technical candidate from Petro Poroshenko (against Hrytsenko). Smeshko fundamentally disagrees with this statement. He adds that Anatoliy Hrytsenko offered him to unite, but the negotiations failed, because "unfortunately, we did not hear whether they agree with the ideology of a conservative democracy in Ukraine, developed by us."

Conservatives have found their partner

But why Ukrainians believed in a man who did not appear on TV and did not ballyhoo from the billboards?

Open source

Ruslan Bortnyk, Ukrainian Institute for Policy Analysis and Management director, explains Smeshko’s unexpected take-off by the fact that “there is a definite demand for a “strong hand” in the society:” If you look at the survey, the most popular foreign leader in Ukraine is Oleksandr Lukashenko. The current head of the state partially corresponds to this image, but his anti-rating is very disturbing.”

Other interviewed experts also believe that “Smeshko’s electoral field significantly overlaps the fields of Nalyvaychenko (another wannabe prez and former SBU head, - ed.) and Hrytsenko, where whose voters support a “strong hand,” military people in power, adherents of a tough fight against corruption, and so on. Smeshko looks like a kind of antipode of Nalyvaychenko. Both of them at different times led the same special service, but they have a different position regarding the far-right and nationalist forces. Let us not forget that Dmytro Yarosh, ex-head of the far-right Right Sector organization, came out of Nalyvaychenko’s wing." Smeshko, on the contrary, has a certain “grudge” against the far-right. In August 2014, he even complained about them to President Petro Poroshenko and then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Related: Elections-2019: Ukrainian presidential candidate Lyashko shows his ballot paper

Another thing is important here. People of conservative views who oppose the "grease-smeared" politicians, but do not believe in Volodymyr Zelensky, seem to have found their own candidate. And after such a result, Smeshko will raise his recognition by the fall.

Parliamentary breakdown

The pre-election presidential election gives Igor Smeshko good prospects for the parliamentary elections, scheduled for autumn 2019. "The decision was made: I am in... Our Strength and Honor party, based on the ideology of democracy, will definitely be in the new parliament. You will see it. We will not turn from creating a real conservative-democratic party in Ukraine. We are going to win, and we will not stop," Smeshko said on the eve of the presidential election.

Related: Voters’ turnout made 63,45% at Ukrainian presidential elections

For now, he states that he has no one to unite with from the existing political forces. “We would be happy to unite now, but with whom? We need to unite with someone who has a strategy, a program for changing the system. To date, only Christian Democratic Union of Volodymyr Stretovych has declared an intention to unite with us. By the way, Stretovych is my confidant… We really want to create the first ideological party based on the ideology of a conservative democracy," Smeshko assures.

Related: What to happen to parliamentary coalition after presidential elections in Ukraine?

His program relies on the ideology of a conservative democracy, based on the basic laws of democracy, in particular, the distribution of power into three branches, decentralization and maximum transfer of power to the localities, tight control over the executive branch of power. Smeshko wants autumn elections on open lists. 50% of the population should belong to the middle class. "For a stable democratic system, at least two systemically important parties are needed, based on the ideology of democracy, for example, liberal and conservative, like in several Western countries. These two main parties create a balance of power. The president should also propose a draft law on the opposition, where the depth of this control should be spelled out,” Smeshko argues.

According to him, Ukraine should move not so much to the European Union as to European standards of living. The same applies to NATO.

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