Vitali Klitschko: Knocking out corruption in the Ukraine

Lars Baron

Vitali Klitschko's much-discussed political career isn't just for show, as the 41-year-old heavyweight champion is very serious about his aspirations in Ukraine.

Guest post by Matt Naugle.

In America, when boxing champions retire, they sell hamburger grills.

But in the Ukraine, a country which has only been independent since 1990 and struggles from ethnic fragmentation, heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is poised to knock out political corruption.

At 240 lbs and with a towering 6'8" frame, "Dr. Ironfist" Klitschko (who also has a Doctorate in sports science) is a boxing world champion, who holds the second best knockout-to-fight ratio of any champion in heavyweight boxing history after Rocky Marciano.

Having recently ended his sporting career, he founded in April 2010 the populist political party Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform or UDAR, an acronym which translates to "punch" in Russian and Ukrainian.

With an election set for October 28, a survey published by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation last week indicated that UDAR had the support of 16.0% of registered voters, while the President Viktor Yanukovich's Regions party has 23.3%. It showed UDAR had overtaken the United Opposition bloc, which includes the Putin-connected jailed Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, whose support had slipped to 15.1%.

The poll confirms the rugged 41-year-old Klitschko as a powerful newcomer to Ukraine's political scene with his UDAR an emerging force to challenge the Regions and the Batkivshchyna opposition.

All things considered, the transformation of the Ukraine after the dioxin-attack of former President Victor Yushchenko and Orange democratic revolution has been impressive. Once considered a hotbed of political corruption, in an effort to join the EU the new Ukrainian authorities are working to transform the country into a more transparent market economy.

Why should Americans pay attention? Because it directly affects our nation's interest and we have misguidedly supported anti-Democratic forces. The US Senate recently voted for a resolution to Former Prime Minister Tymoshenko, who shot to power during the Orange Revolution. Once applauded by neoconservatives in Washington as a democratic reformer, she tried to sell Ukraine out from under the Ukrainian people when she signed an illegal gas contract with Putin's Russia. After losing her election, the investigation was re-opened and she remains in prison.

The spirit of the Orange Revolution lives on in serious, fair, and transparent electoral reforms which should be the model for all former Soviet bloc countries. Adopted by the Parliament on November 17, 2011 with votes from every political faction, the new rules set the Ukraine on a path to becoming closer to Europe. With a new 450 member Parliament, half of the members are directly elected, and the other half are appointed in a European party-list system where each party are allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes they receive nation-wide. This will ensure greater responsibility of elected representatives to their constituents while insuring a plurality of representation.

To avoid fringe parties and Putin-cronies from causing disruption, parties must have at least 5% of the votes to be admitted to parliament, an increase from 3%. In addition, parties can no longer run in electoral coalitions.

So far, the economic and political reforms are working. Despite the global economic slowdown, the country's economy grew by 5.2% in 2011, with a 37% growth in exports.

And because of the reforms, this polling data puts Klitscko's UDAR party in position for a 50/50 split. His party is campaigning against unpopular tax increases and pension reforms, with surprising success.

As the Ukraine continues to become more economically free and is on track to join the European Union, Klitschko may provide the ultimate "punch" to Putin-associated political corruption.

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