Ukraine Voters Have Modest Hopes For Sunday Ballot

KIEV, Ukraine -- Five years after the Orange Revolution inspired hopes for broad economic and political reforms, many Ukrainian voters expect little from today's presidential election.

Former economics minister and the Presidential candidate Sergey Tigipko is a wealthy businessman who has seemingly come out of nowhere to challenge the front-runners in the final days of Ukraine's presidential election contest. The first round of voting in Ukraine's presidential election is set for today.

One recent poll showed a majority of voters are concerned the election could be rigged. Some wonder whether even an honest vote can make life here better after years of political paralysis and the country's deep economic recession.

Elena Galitskaya, a Kiev psychologist, said Ukraine's presidential hopefuls demonstrated their "scorn" of voters during the acrimonious campaign. "I don't know if I'll go to vote, because, speaking honestly, I think that the elections won't give anything to our country," she said.

Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is expected to top the first-round ballot, but with 18 candidates taking part he is likely to fall short of the 50 percent needed for overall victory.

That would force him into a runoff with the second-place finisher, who is expected to be Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have spent much of the campaign attacking each other on personal and policy grounds.

In a December opinion poll, only 34 percent of Ukrainians said that they expected the election to be fair overall, while 57 percent said the results could be manipulated or were certain to be stolen. The rest couldn't say.

Many analysts and candidates this week warned of potential large-scale voting fraud.

As part of an international effort to bolster confidence in the election, foreign observers have fanned out across Ukraine to monitor voting in this country of 46 million people with 36.6 million registered voters.

Jens-Hagen Eschenbacher, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said Saturday that about 600 OSCE election monitors are in place, in addition to thousands of other foreign observers.

Allegations of widespread fraud in Ukraine's 2004 presidential election led to the mass protests of the Orange Revolution. In the wake of those protests, Ukraine's Supreme Court threw out the results of the ballot and ordered a revote.

Voter disenchantment with the country's current political leadership could bolster the fortunes of candidates who cast themselves as outsiders.

One little known candidate, Sergei Tigipko, a former economics minister, has surged in the polls in recent weeks, in part by portraying himself as a fresh face and an outsider.

A recent poll showed him edging ahead of Tymoshenko for second place, which could put him in the runoff with Yanukovych. "I want very much to be the biggest sensation of this elections," he told The Associated Press on Saturday.

A key factor, he said, is whether he can make inroads against Tymoshenko in her rural base. "She is my main rival in getting into the second round, but the number one of course is Yanukovych," Tigipko said.

Another candidate appealing to disillusioned voters is Vasily Gumenyuk, 63, a former mayor from western Ukraine, who legally changed his name to Vasily Protivsikh, which translates as Vasily Againstall. He appears on the ballot under that name. The Ukrainian presidential ballot allows voters to choose "Against All."

In an interview with AP Television News, Protivsikh attacked the front-runners, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko.

"Why are you lying?" he said, addressing his rivals. "You are making promises to the people, but why weren't you doing anything before?"

Like the other candidates, Protivsikh's $300,000 filing fee is non-refundable if he fails to finish first or second in the first-round ballot Sunday.

The Orange Revolution's failure to live up to its promise has also discouraged some of the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who thronged the streets of the capital, Kiev, day and night for weeks in 2004.

Roman Kalyn is a member of the rock group Grynjoly, also known as Greenjolly, which recorded the reggae-beat anthem of the Orange forces, "Together we are many — we will not be defeated!"

The song blared night and day on loudspeakers in Kiev's Maidan, or central square, during the protests.

Kalyn said the leaders of the Orange-backed government seemed to quickly forget the spirit of those days. "When they didn't want us to play in 2005 during the first anniversary of the Maidan, I realized that politicians don't need such groups as Greenjolly," he said.

Not all voters are discouraged. Some Ukrainians feel that their next president will not face the same daunting challenges as the incumbent, President Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-Western politician who waged a losing battle to impose sweeping reforms.

Voters blamed Yushchenko in part for the plunge in the Ukrainian economy during the 2008 global financial crisis. The next president could take credit for the recovery.

"I think this year the level of the economy will be increasing," said Alexei Sukachev, a Kiev marketing specialist. As a result, he said, Yushchenko's successor will find it easier "to come out of the crisis, easier to restore the economy."

Source: AP