Could Tymoshenko’s release lead to her becoming Ukraine’s president?

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Just hours after Mr. Yanukovych fled Kiev, the former ‘Gas Princess’ Yulia Tymoshenko appeared dramatically in a wheelchair on the stage in Independence Square, the main gathering point of the opposition in Kiev, to give an emotional speech.

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There is a belief that she now has just one goal in mind: victory in the presidential election to be scheduled for May 25. Her political stature has already meant that in the few days since being released she has met with the American ambassador and envoys from Europe, while it has also been reported she has spoken by phone with Angela Merkel, members of Congress and Stefan Fule, the European Union official charged with tightening ties with Ukraine.

Despite being a divisive figure who many of the demonstrators would prefer to remain a part of Ukraine’s history, Ms. Tymoshenko retains a large bloc of wildly loyal followers and even while she was in jail opinion polls put her neck-and-neck with boxing champion Klitschko as the most popular opposition leader.

Tymoshenko hails from the Russian speaking eastern Ukraine, while she’s also been a champion of the Ukrainian language. She has long supported Ukraine developing closer ties with the EU, but has also always maintained a strong relationship with Russia and is acknowledged to get on very well with Putin. She has been referred to in the French press as ‘Machiavelli in a skirt’ and her canny ability to wheel and deal, make and break alliances and manipulate supporters has meant that she has never been far from power. There is no doubt she is a skilled political operator whose influence will only grow in the coming months now that she has been released.

Yes, we’re not talking about Ghandi here, but her tainted reputation is perhaps outweighed by the much-needed experience she would bring as president, while no other politician appears to match her fearsome ambition and charisma. If she is able to build broad consensus across the political board and public opinion then the Ukrainian people, driven by the fear of political instability, may well elect her as the new president.

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