Voter apathy could hit Ukraine elections

Ukrainians are preparing to go to the polls this Sunday in elections designed to get the country out of its political stalemate. The vote will be the fourth in three years, and there are growing signs that the population is suffering from election fatig

Many Ukrainians see the upcoming early vote as a déjà vu election because they will have to go to polling stations for the fourth time in three years. This could mean low voter turnout.  During the presidential election in 2004, turnout was about 77%.  In last year's poll that figure dropped to 65%.  Many say that this time it could be less than that.

Some say the upcoming election could lead Ukraine out of its current political crisis, but many others are pessimistic. They don't believe it will change the balance of power and say it's just another political game.

President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved the parliament (the Rada) in April, causing months of protests in the streets of Kiev, which forced the emergency vote. Several months of protests on the streets of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, followed the President’s decision. The sides finally managed to find an agreement to hold early parliamentary elections, set for September 30.
 
Twenty-one parties have been registered to take part in the elections. This is a record for Ukraine. But the main fight for power will be taking place between the major political forces in Ukraine. They are the Party of the Regions, headed by the Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the so-called Orange bloc -made up of the Yulia Timoshenko’s supporters – the Our Ukraine party and the People’s Self-Defence movement.

According to reports, Yulia Timoshenko’s bloc and Yury Lutsenko’s People’s Self-Defence movement (‘Narodna Samooborona’) will form a coalition if they manage to win a majority of seats in the Rada.  And that, as many analysts say, could result in more people taking to the streets because that way Viktor Yanukovich’s party will find itself in opposition.

Yulia Timoshenko
Yulia Timoshenko

Ukraine’s beloved woman

Viktor vs Viktor

Tent city

Ukraine’s beloved woman

Yulia Timoshenko's plait became iconic at the time of the Orange Revolution. Yet behind the charming looks, there is an astute businesswoman. Directing several energy companies, she became one of the wealthiest tycoons in Ukraine. During that time she was nicknamed the “gas princess”, and faced accusations of smuggling gas between Ukraine and Russia and avoiding taxes. She was held in custody for several weeks but was later cleared of all charges.

As Prime Minister in the ‘orange’ government, she was criticised for trying to control prices and privatise big companies.

Yet for many, Yulia Timoshenko represents a historic chance to fight corruption and bring Ukraine closer to the West.

Viktor Yushchenko was highly regarded for his 
            good looks, but all that changed after he was 
            allegedly poisoned by a rival
Viktor Yushchenko was highly regarded for his good looks, but all that changed after he was allegedly poisoned by a rival

President Yushchenko shared the same platform with her during the revolution.  He was also highly regarded for his good looks. But all that changed after he was allegedly poisoned by a rival. With a scarred and blistered face weeks before the crucial vote, he toppled his foe in the presidential race.

But the euphoria soon came to an end.

Viktor Yushchenko dismissed Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko for an alleged slowdown in the economy. Promised reforms were delayed and those accused of rigging the vote never went to jail.

In less than three years, the presidential Our Ukraine party fell behind Yulia Timoshenko 's bloc to 3rd place. But still there are people who believe in them.

Viktor vs Viktor

Viktor Yanukovich
Viktor Yanukovich

Favourite in the latest polls, Viktor Yanukovich, no longer seems to be a tough street fighter. During the Orange Revolution, his opponents criticised him for his turbulent youth when he was convicted and jailed for robbery and assault. After a humiliating defeat, a team of American experts did miracles on his image and secured him a Prime Minister's job in less than two years. Backed by the richest man in Ukraine, Rinat Ahmetov, Mr Yanukovich is blamed for nepotism and heavy-handed authoritarian rule.

But for some, he may be the best bet to bring stability to Ukraine.

Tent city

As for the political platforms of the parties, they are mostly the same – they deal with bread-and-butter issues like increasing pensions and salaries and improving demography.

So, this election in Ukraine seems to be once again about personalities and not political ideas.

But whatever the outcome, the parties have already rushed to take up seats at Independence Square. The presidential Our Ukraine party is building the stage to protest in case they think the vote is rigged. Their rivals, the Party of Regions, pitched up their tents right here too for the same reasons. And for ordinary Ukrainians, it seems the election craze will never be over.

Ukraine’s former president, Leonid Kuchma, doesn’t think that the upcoming election will solve the political crisis in the country. 
 
“I don’t believe that early elections as a democratic tool will help Ukraine. The balance of powers will most likely stay the same – half the parliament from Eastern Ukraine, half from the West. Besides, the prime minister allowed the parliament to be dissolved, allowing such games to be possible in the future, if a certain political force isn’t satisfied with the results of the vote. So I think the elections will show that it’s not the solution for Ukraine,” Mr Kuchma said.