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16 Jan, 2010 07:15

Day of silence in Ukrainian election

Election campaigning came to close yesterday as Ukraine prepares for Sunday's presidential poll.

Campaigning is not allowed on the day before the election, giving the 18 candidates in the running a chance to catch their breath while almost 40 million voters contemplate the future of their country.

The Ukrainian capital Kiev lies covered in snow and very quiet, like the calm before the storm.

Ukrainians are most familiar with three names among the candidates – the head of the Party of Regions Viktor Yanukovich, current Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and current President Viktor Yushchenko.

Presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich is the front-runner with recent polls giving him 30% of the vote, while Viktor Yushchenko lags far behind with only 3%, due to an overwhelming sense of disappointment among voters with his politics after the Orange Revolution.

Ukrainian elections are notorious for campaigns of criticism and this year’s presidential race has been no difference.

Last night some candidates made high-profile speeches. Viktor Yanukovich even held a gathering on a square in central Kiev (but not on the famous Independence Square which has been made off-limits during these elections).

Once again Yanukovich said that the current administration has failed to deliver on its promises while bankrupting the country.

Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko appeared on national television last night speaking about national unity. This is an important time for Ukrainian people to come together and make their voices heard and stand strong, she said.

The Ukrainian Postal Service has been conducting an intensive election awareness campaign, which seems to have paid off as recent polls showed that up to 89% of eligible voters intend to cast their ballot in Sunday’s election. Still, there is some conflicting information about voter apathy, with a number of voters expressing disappointment and saying they doubt anything will change.

Selling a vote as motivation to go to polls

Despite colorful and expensive campaigns, some voters do not feel persuaded to leave their homes on Election Day. Real estate agent Dmitry Kushnerenko is one of those. Moreover, he has decided to sell his vote.

“They keep promising things, but I never believe them. I’ve been voting properly, for free, for my entire life, but nothing has changed,” said Kushnerenko. “So this time I’ve put my vote up for sale for $US 50. I’m not selling my country, I’m just trying to motivate myself.”

Proposals like Dmitry’s have rocked the Internet during the last week of the campaign. And despite a general feeling that voting is crucial for the country, a risk of insufficient turnout still remains possible.

But the leading candidates seemed confident. “We are doing everything to improve the lives of ordinary people. On January 17 we will take an important step towards the future. The Ukrainian people must take this step with us,” declared presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich.

Today our country depends on how well our tycoons are doing. But we must live according to the constitution if we want a better future. I want the law to be respected in Ukraine,” echoed another presidential hopeful Yulia Tymoshenko.

Pundits say the actions of politicians over the last few years have left many Ukrainians disillusioned about their actual ability to run the country.

“Pedophiles could easily be among them”

Although the presidential campaign was clear of major scandals, it had a rather dirty start.

A child sex abuse story at a popular Crimean summer camp involving several parliamentarians made headlines in Ukraine on the very first day of campaigning. The case quickly died out and nothing was proven, but it still made some re-think their attitude.

“People easily believed that story simply because we have had cases of politicians [in Ukraine], who murdered people,” said political analyst Dmitry Vydrin. “We have had cases of politicians who became millionaires and cannot explain how they earned their first million. We have had cases of politicians who bribed their universities to buy their diplomas. So therefore there easily could have been pedophiles among them.”

Inevitable second round

Eighteen candidates are running for the presidential post with no one likely to garner more than 50% of the vote in the first round. Only two will make it to the second round run-off. The public doesn't know what to expect once the race moves into its most decisive stage, between January the 18th and the final ballot on February the 7th.

Experts have described the campaign as rather quiet, but many suggest the main candidates have been saving their strength for the second round. And given that nobody doubts who will make it, it may well turn into a battle to remember.