Yushchenko Faces Fallout

KIEV, Ukraine -- When Ukraine holds presidential elections Sunday, the biggest loser is expected to be President Viktor Yushchenko, whose disfigured face became a rallying point for the Orange Revolution five years ago.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko kisses a woman wearing a traditional costume during a campaign stop in the central city of Cherkasy on Sunday.

Now the question is whether the collapsed trajectory of Mr. Yushchenko's career will sink with it his vision for a free and Westward-leaning Ukraine.

Barring a major upset, Mr. Yushchenko looks likely to finish fourth or fifth, while his archrival during the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych, will likely come away with the most votes.

Critics say Mr. Yushchenko, 55 years old, has run a political campaign as lackluster and disorganized as his presidency. With his approval ratings hovering in the single digits, he is fighting to become more than a political footnote.

Mr. Yushchenko's trajectory from idol to also-ran in this France-size country, which has been traditionally caught in a tug of war for influence between Russia and the West, raises a host of worries for the U.S. and Europe.

Mr. Yushchenko's predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, skillfully played Russia and Western powers off one another in leading this nation of 46 million. Mr. Yushchenko took a sharply different tack: Western-inspired protests swept him to power in 2004, and Mr. Yushchenko has blamed suspects in Russia for his poisoning that year, which disfigured his face and made him a symbol of the revolution.

As president, Mr. Yushchenko called for closer relations with Europe, membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and a stridently pro-Western foreign policy. But even Mr. Yushchenko's admirers say his lofty ambitions were torpedoed by his poor political skills.

Mr. Yushchenko continually fought with his former ally in the Orange Revolution, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, creating years of legislative deadlock. Even his supporters were disgruntled by the lack of progress on issues like the economy and corruption.

Diplomats say Mr. Yushchenko's unsolved poisoning in 2004 -- which permanently scarred his face and forced him to undergo 24 operations -- sapped him of strength through much of his presidency.

Pollsters say the front-runners in the race, Ms. Tymoshenko, the prime minister, and Mr. Yanukovych, who lost in 2004, lead the field by a wide margin and likely face a February runoff.

Source: The Wall Street Journal