There a kind of electoral sensation in the second or even the third echelon of presidential candidates. Its, so to speak, mini-Zelensky (contestant for the presidency, leader of polls, - ed.), who would not overcome the electoral threshold, but would be a household name. This is Ihor Smeshko. According to a survey conducted by the SOCIS center, conducted from February 8 to February 18, Smeshko was supported by 3.1% of the voters. And this is despite the fact that his name did not appear in the earlier polls.
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For a candidate who has just appeared in the presidential race, 3% of the votes in the presidential election is a pretty good start. Let us compare this result with the pitiful ratings of Evgen Murayev and Oleksandr Vilkul, who are gaining 1.6% and 1.3% respectively. Or, with the level of support for Lviv’s mayor, Andriy Sadovy, who has been campaigning for a long time, but is only by a tenth of a percent ahead of Smeshko. According to Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), Smeshko is among the three most desired "new faces" and "politicians of the new generation," for whom Ukrainians will vote in the elections.
The paradox is that Smeshko represents neither a fresh face nor a new generation. In fact, Smeshko has a great background and has been involved in one rather loud scandal. So who is Mr. Smeshko?
First of all, Smeshko is a 63-year-old retired colonel-general. He leads the "Strength and Honor" party, created by him in 2009. The party did not take part in the 2012parliamentary elections, but in 2014 it decided to run for the Verkhovna Rada but lost the election. Then only 0.08% of voters voted for it, that is, about 13 thousand people.
In 2014, Petro Poroshenko urged Smeshko to head the intelligence committee under the President of Ukraine. But already on January 30, 2015, the committee was liquidated by Poroshenko’s decree, and Smeshko was dismissed.
However, much more interesting was his political life of the 2010s. In September 2003 - February 2005, he led the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Then two key events took place. First, Yushchenko's poisoning at dinner, attended by Smeshko. Secondly, the “orange” 2004 Maidan, which gathered soon after this notorious dinner, or rather, after the second round of voting for Ukraine’s President and after the election results announced by the CEC were categorically contested by Kyiv.
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Many link Viktor Yushchenko’s poisoning at the dacha to Smeshko’s deputy Volodymyr Satsiuk. The host himself (Satsiuk) and his chief Smeshko, then Yushchenko’s close associate David Zhvania, were at the dinner. Who of them could want Yushchenko’s death? It is still unknown because the 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, here Smeshko hints that if the SBU had a goal to eliminate the presidential candidate, it would have done it.
Today Smeshko is credited with the merit of the bloodless Orange Revolution. According to 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 (MIA), in charge of which were internal troops. However, let us leave the Orange Revolution alone for now.
Who lights the stars?
After 2004-2005 Smeshko was out of the news and TV shows. About a year ago, his "Strength and Honor" party attacked Prime Minister Groysman, demanding to repeal the law on the accrual of pensions to the military. We cannot add anything more to the achievements of Smeshko. The boom around his figure began with the filing of a journalist Dmytro Gordon, who recorded a long interview with the former SBU head. Therefore, well-known political scientists expressed support for the candidate, and even Yevhen Marchuk (also the former SBU head, the former prime minister, and the former candidate in the presidential election).
Even astrologers, in particular, the Astroobserver resource, which does not pay attention to all candidates, quite seriously assess Smeshko's chances. “At the time of the election campaign, Smeshko has simply excellent transit indicators,” the website writes. And he makes this conclusion: “Smeshko will not get into the second round, but his result will be quite noticeable (as for the one who declared his presidential ambitions only during the official nomination of candidates.) Getting into the top five is also very likely."
Well, if someone lights the stars (both literal and figurative), it means that someone needs it. Andriy Zolotarev, head of the Third Sector Center, observes that "sociologists systematically undermine their own credibility." But if we assume that Smeshko really (and not only on paper) has his three percent of the rating, then, according to Zolotarev, he acts as a "technical candidate from the current president."
Against whom is such a weapon directed? “Most likely, Smeshko will pull votes away from Anatoliy Hrytseko, because Hrytseko has his own electoral core, and a technical candidate should be turned against him. It does not make sense to turn him against Valentyn Nalyvaichenko (candidate for Ukraine's president, - ed.), who does not have such a core,” Zolotarev assumes.
Ruslan Bortnyk, director of the Ukrainian Institute for Policy Analysis and Management, has a different point of view. He does not consider Smeshko a technical candidate, although he admits that he "plays a role in detracting votes from Hrytseko or someone else, but still his main goal is not a fight against Hrytseko." The main goal is the "game for the parliamentary elections." Because “even if Smeshko’s party cannot take the lucky five percent, a one-two percent rating would allow him to actively fight for the majority districts,” the political analyst is convinced.
Three men in a boat
Bortnyk also explains Smeshko’s unexpected take-off by the fact that “there is a definite demand for a strong hand in society. If you look at the poll, the most popular foreign leader in Ukraine is Oleksandr Lukashenko. The current head of state partially corresponds to this image, but its anti-rating serves as an impediment.” Hrytseko could play the role of this “oppositional strong hand,” but he is unable to cope with these expectations.”
The other experts also believe that "the electoral field of Smeshko substantially covers the fields of Nalyvaichenko and Hrytseko, supporters of a "strong hand," fans of the military in power, adherents of a tough fight against corruption, and so on. At the same time, Smeshko looks like a kind of antipode of Nalyvaichenko. They both led the same special service at different times, but they have a different position regarding the far-right forces. It was not without reason that Dmytro Yarosh, Nalyvaichenko’s former assistant and ex-leader of paramilitary authoritarian far-right Right Sector organization, went out of his wing.
Smeshko harbors a grudge against the nationalists; he even complained about them in August 2014 to President Petro Poroshenko and then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. "We, veterans of law enforcement and law enforcement agencies of Ukraine, are watching with great concern the situation that has developed in the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine in connection with the requirements of the Right Sector concerning the dismissal of First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, General Volodymyr Yevdokimov," a letter was signed by Smeshko and other members of his party.
Public positioning of Smeshko, Nalyvaichenko, and Hrytsenko are so similar that they can merge into a single whole in the eyes of the voter, and it will be difficult to identify the most attractive candidate. But these are the problems of the candidates themselves and their political consultants.