New Ukraine president, he or she?

10:37, February 05, 2010      

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The second round of Ukraine's presidential election on Sunday will see a tense runoff between opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Who will have the last laugh remains elusive.

TENSE RUNOFF

Yanukovich, head of the Regions Party, scored 35.32 percent of the votes in the first round of the election, while Tymoshenko followed with 25.05 percent. Incumbent president Viktor Yushchenko obtained a miserable 5.45 percent amid widespread disappointment with his presidency.

According to a poll conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, about 55 percent of the respondents replied they would vote for Yanukovich in the second round, while 40 percent voiced their support for Tymoshenko. But analysts noted the poll may not reflect a full picture because it failed to include the country areas, where Tymoshenko enjoys more support. Yanukovich, who enters the final round as the front-runner, may not necessarily be the winner of the endgame.

Igor Zhdanov, President of the analytical center Open Policy, says the election outcome will, firstly, depend on which candidate will be able to win over the 40 percent of votes cast to the other candidates in the first round. It is also linked to the two candidates' capability to mobilize their sympathizers to vote. Yanukovich's main power base is in the eastern and southern area of the country, while Tymoshenko has more supporters in the central and western area.

Tymoshenko, dubbed as Ukraine's “Iron Lady”, will undoubtedly try to improve her support rate, but turnout in the middle and western regions, her targeted area, has been lower than the 2004 election due to disappointments with former leaders of the Orange Revolution, according to Andrey Ermolaev, president of the Center for Social Studies (Sofia). Yanukovich would see a better turnout, he said.

According to results published by the Central Election Commission, other first-round candidates, banker Sergei Tigipko, ex-parliament head Arseniy Yatseniuk and incumbent president Yushchenko, scored 13.05 percent, 6.96 percent and 5.45 percent of votes, respectively. Falling behind Yanukovich by more than 10 percentage points, Tymoshenko has launched campaigns to woo those ousted in the first round.

She has repeatedly held dialogues with the three politicians and promised to offer Tigipko the post of prime minister under her presidency in return for his support.

Tigipko and the other two ousted in the first round have claimed to remain neutral in the final duel. But they are more inclined to support Yanukovich in the hope of grabbing parliamentary seats for their parties, which is possible if Yanukovich wins the election, according to Alexei Garan, director of the Political Analysis School. The situation therefore posed immense barriers to Tymoshenko's attempts to turn the tables, he said.

TIPPING TOWARDS RUSSIA

Sitting in the heartland of the Eurasian area, Ukraine is of strategic importance to both Russia and the Unites States. The country is seen as a key to U.S. efforts to forge a Baltic-Black Sea-Caspian circle to squeeze the Russian sphere of power. Analysts have speculated that a new Ukraine president will try to improve ties with Russia, shaking up the geopolitical power game between Russia and the United States.

Both Yanukovich and Tymoshenko have included the improvement of ties with Russia as part of their election plan. After the debacle of pro-west Ukrainian leader Yushchenko in first round election, Russia missed no time in filling the long-vacant ambassadorial post by sending Mikhail Zurabov to Kiev. Meanwhile, ex-ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin also visited Kiev in the capacity of the Russian president's adviser. Analysts say that both moves indicate that Russia is ready to mend fences with its neighbor.

The United States, on the other hand, will not want to cede its influence over Ukraine and has been wooing the presidential candidates. The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Tefft has pledged that the U.S. would continue to support the country no matter who is the new President.

With the change of guard in Ukraine, the regional geopolitical power balance was obviously tipping towards the Russian side, said Vladimir Kornilov, head of the Ukrainian branch of the Institute of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Source: Xinhua
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