Community News

Monday, January 18, 2010

Presidential Election in Ukraine Goes to a Runoff

[18.01.2010 12:06] By CLIFFORD J. LEVY, New York Times

Two of the chief combatants in the 2004 Orange Revolution, which brought to power a pro-Western government that has left the public increasingly disillusioned, began their campaign on Monday for a presidential runoff after neither received enough votes to win outright in balloting on Sunday.

That runoff, scheduled for Feb. 7, is seen as a referendum on the Orange Revolution, which has mired Ukraine in political and economic upheaval for much of the past five years.

The results of the voting on Sunday reflected the revived fortunes of the opposition leader, Viktor F. Yanukovich, who was the loser in the Orange Revolution but who has taken advantage of the public’s soured mood and bickering among Orange politicians.

Once criticized as a tool of Moscow, Mr. Yanukovich has retained an American political consultant and softened his image. He is to face Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, one of the Orange heroes, in the runoff.

According to official results released on Monday, with 82 percent of the ballots counted, Mr. Yanukovich had 35.7 percent, and Ms. Tymoshenko had 24.8 percent. The other candidates were far behind.

The official turnout was 66.7 percent.

On Sunday night, both Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko reached out to losing candidates for endorsements. A looming question is whether those more ideologically aligned with Ms. Tymoshenko will support her.

Ms. Tymoshenko, with her provocative speeches and peasant braid, has long been a polarizing figure. But if she unites the other candidates with her argument that Mr. Yanukovich represents a step backward for Ukraine, then she could make a strong showing in the runoff.

President Viktor A. Yushchenko, another Orange leader, was projected to be in fifth place in Sunday’s voting, with 5.4 percent, all but ending his political career. He is unpopular because of the weak economy and the paralysis in the government.

Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko have feuded for years, and it remained unclear whether he would support her against Mr. Yanukovich.

The Orange Revolution grew out of huge protests in Ukraine over what many voters said was Mr. Yanukovich’s fraudulent victory in the 2004 presidential election over Mr. Yushchenko. The results were overturned, and Mr. Yushchenko won a new election.

Mr. Yanukovich said Sunday night that his strong finish this time showed that the public craved new leadership. “I realize very well that I am obliged to do everything that I can to unite the country so that it will be strong and independent,” he said.

Ms. Tymoshenko assailed Mr. Yanukovich as a marionette of shady oligarchs, and contended that he would drag Ukraine away from Europe. “To vote for Yanukovich is to go back to the stone age,” Ms. Tymoshenko said.

Mr. Yanukovich’s aides said he intended to press ahead with his strategy of painting Ms. Tymoshenko as an incumbent responsible for Ukraine’s problems.

Ms. Tymoshenko’s challenge is to position herself as an outsider who was unable to adopt the changes that the country needed because she was not president.

Interviews with voters at a polling place in Kiev on Sunday hinted at the level of discontent with the country’s direction.

Many people said they had once been Orange supporters, and had hoped that the leadership in the past five years would chart a path toward integration with Europe.

Artur Kulish, 27, who works at an Internet cafe, said he pulled the lever for “against all,” which is allowed under election law.

“I dislike them all equally,” Mr. Kulish said. “None of them is going to change anything. And I very much regret supporting the Orange Revolution.”

People complained about the government’s inability to address the fallout of the global financial crisis, which has hurt Ukraine more than many of its neighbors.

“What we have now is absolutely not effective,” said Lidia Korotchenko, 24, an economist who supported Sergey Tigipko, a businessman who placed third. She said she had also considered Mr. Yanukovich.

“We all favored the Orange Revolution, we all came out and demonstrated, but in these five years, we have been extremely disappointed,” she said.

Some, though, still had faith in the Orange leaders.

“This is our only chance for Ukraine,” said Valery Alenikov, 65, a biochemist who voted for Ms. Tymoshenko.

Ukraine, which has 46 million people, has been a focal point of the struggle for influence in post-Soviet space. It has long been divided, with Ukrainian speakers in western regions wanting ties to Europe and Russian speakers in the east and south more sympathetic to Moscow.

President Yushchenko is an antagonist of the Kremlin, which was angered by his efforts to join NATO.

Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko have both indicated that they will try to smooth relations with Russia while continuing to court Europe. Neither has called for Ukraine to join NATO.

Interviews of voters showed the geographic split.

Irina Matseva and her husband, Sergey, who are both 62 and scientists, said they supported Mr. Yanukovich because they were appalled by Mr. Yushchenko’s attitude toward Russia. Ms. Matseva said the two countries had profound historical ties.

“I do not want us to lose each other — Ukraine and Russia,” Ms. Matseva said. “I think that to spurn Russian culture is a big mistake.”

Nearby was Yekaterina Romashchenko, 42, who said she voted for Mr. Yushchenko.

“Yanukovich will sell us to Russia,” she said. “We don’t want history to repeat itself.”


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