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Russia Profile
November 1, 2004
What Happens After the Victory of Viktor Y.?
As Expected, Ukraines Presidential Elections Head Into a Second Round

By Gennady Petrov

KIEV, Ukraine Viktor, 38, a longtime resident of Kiev, packed his belongings for a trip to Italy several days before the elections. Im glad that Im going to be out of the city during this whole mess, he said. Both sides distrust each other, so the results may be contested. I would rather watch them sort it out between themselves from abroad.

Viktor has a point. The Ukrainian capital was rife with rumors about possible unrest and violent protests if opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko were to lose in the first round. By early Monday afternoon, however, the race was virtually tied. According the Central Elections Commission, pro-government candidate Viktor Yanukovich had 40.11 percent of the vote while the opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko was trailing with 39.1 percent. The rest of the vote was divided between two leftist candidates. Since no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, there will be a second round of voting to decide the winner.

From the viewpoint of civil peace, this is the best possible outcome, said Mikhail Delyagin, head of the Institute of the Problems of Globalization in Moscow, who came to Kiev to monitor the election. If Yanukovich won in the first round, the risk of unrest would be much higher.

Long before the first official results were released, the teams of both candidates former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich were crying foul over numerous irregularities during the vote and in the pre-election campaign. The only difference was that the Yanukovich camp and most Russian TV channels concentrated their attention on the situation in the western regions of Ukraine, where Yushchenko has more support because of his pro-NATO and pro-EU rhetoric, while the opposition and most Western media spotlighted possible vote-rigging by the government in the pro-Russian east and south.

Yanukovich enjoyed the clear (although not officially declared) support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, a popular figure among Ukrainians, especially in Russian-speaking regions. Several days before the vote, Putin invited Yanukovich to his birthday party in Moscow and on the eve of the election Putin visited Kiev to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Kievs liberation from the Nazis by the Soviet Army.

I am very impressed by Ukraines economic growth of 13.4 percent a year, said Putin, commenting on the performance of Yanukovichs government. The Ukrainian government managed to convert this growth into higher pensions and salaries. This is a model Russia should imitate. Moreover, just before the vote Putin suddenly eased restrictions on Ukrainians ability to travel to Russia, which were a nuisance for millions of Ukrainian seasonal workers earning their living in Moscow and other Russian cities.

Yushchenko enjoyed the equally clear support of the Polish government and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski, and only slightly milder encouragement from the U.S. and the EU. The U.S. spokesman even threatened to impose sanctions on Ukraine if the elections were unfair.

The meaning of the American statement is quite clear, said Ivan Narimanov, a political analyst with the FromUA website. If the opposition doesnt win, the U.S. will say that the vote was rigged and the country will face sanctions because of that. The Yushchenko camp and his Western friends are trying to create the impression that irregularities are possible only on the side of the authorities.

Oleg Rybachuk, spokesman for Yushchenkos party Nasha Ukraina (Our Ukraine), diasagreed. Only falsifications and dirty tricks can prevent Yushchenko from winning the election, he said.

As for the rumors of possible unrest, the opposition blamed it on the government in advance. Like cockroaches, the authorities are waiting for darkness to start provocations, said Alexander Zinchenko, head of Yushchenkos campaign, when the first exit polls started to come in on Sunday night.

The war of exit polls was short but fierce. One exit poll conducted by the Razumkov Center and several other organizations stated that Yushchenko was the winner, giving him a 1 to 9 percent lead over Yanukovich. Another exit poll conducted by the Ukrainian Institute of Sociological Research disagreed, giving Yanukovich a 4 percent lead. Similarly, the exit poll of Russias Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) gave Yanukovich a 5 percent lead. Both camps proclaimed their polls each of which gave their preferred candidate the greatest lead to be the most objective ones.

Now the question is which of the two front-runners will receive the support of undecided voters. More than 10 percent of the vote went to the two leftist candidates, Communist Petro Simonenko and Socialist Alexander Moroz. Moroz and Simonenko split the leftist vote almost evenly, getting about 5 percent each.

Simonenkos supporters will most likely side with Yanukovich as the lesser evil with close ties to Russia. Simonenko himself has criticized Yushchenkos camp even more than the capitalistic ruling regime. The rightists threats to repeat the Georgian scenario, toppling the government through violent street protests, mean that they are prepared to seize power in the interests of the Americans, he said at a press conference in Kiev before the elections.

Yushchenko probably has a better chance attracting the voters of Socialist leader Alexander Moroz, who made his career criticizing ruling President Leonid Kuchma, an open supporter of Yanukovich. But Moroz stopped short of endorsing Yushchenko as a replacement for himself in the eyes of his voters. [Yushchenkos party] Our Ukraine is not a real opposition party, he said, but just another interest group competing with the current authorities in the struggle for power.

The leaders of the left point to the fact that Yushchenko and his chief ally Yulia Timoshenko, leader of a political bloc named after her, formed part of the regime which ruled Ukraine in the 1990s and was notorious for its corruption.

Timoshenko, the former energy minister, had close ties to former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is now facing a trial for money laundering in the United States and who was indicted several times for embezzlement in Kiev courts. While Yushchenko was Prime Minister in 2000 and 2001, he called President Kuchma his father and stopped short of supporting the radical protest Ukraine without Kuchma in 2001, which was aimed at removing Kuchma from power for his tape-recorded order to kill a Ukrainian journalist.

If the opposition had gone all the way in 2001 and held elections in the period when people were still suffering from the effects of the 1998 default in Russia, it could have had a chance, said analyst Leonid Yankelevich of the FromUA website. Now it is too late. The economic situation has improved and the authorities are capitalizing on it.

In any case, both experts and politicians alike do not expect a profound change in Ukrainian politics. So what if the authorities removed NATO and EU integration from their doctrine a few weeks before the elections? asked Mark Urnov, chief analyst at the Expertiza think tank in Moscow. They can easily return it when they need better relations with the West. And Yushchenko can be even friendlier to Russia than Yanukovich, because Yushchenko is not an opponent of the Russian coal and steel industry like Yanukovichs sponsors in eastern Ukraine.