Ukrainians will go to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament in a vote that could signal the speed with which the country implements Western-oriented democratic reform. The race essentially boils down to a competition between the three main politicians of Ukraine's so-called Orange Revolution, but smaller opposition and protest parties are also expected to make some gains.
As campaigning drew to a close late Friday, incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko took to the airwaves to make one final appeal to the nation's voters to cast their ballots carefully.
With their one vote, Yushchenko says the nation's electorate will determine whether planned democratic reforms under his leadership will move forward quickly or, as he put it, stand in place.
In his words, the choice is a simple one between past and future.
Yushchenko also emphasized that continued reform will only be possible if the country's executive and legislative branches of power share the same vision of Ukraine's future, which he has said belongs with the Western-community of democratic nations.
But political and business leaders in Europe and the United States are watching the race closely given that latest projections put pro-Russia candidate Viktor Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions in the front-runner position with 30 percent of the vote.
At his final campaign rally Friday in Kiev, Yanukovych vowed that his forces would take back power.
Yanukovych has said the days since late 2004, when he saw his initial win as president annulled by Ukraine's Supreme Court, have been long and hard. But he says he is confident 2006 will bring big changes for everyone in Ukraine with "the owner back in power."
President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party is polling a distant second with 20 percent of the vote. Yushchenko is also in a tough fight for votes, due to new competition from his long-time political ally, former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who is now running in opposition to him.
Many supporters of the so-called Orange Revolution hope the two politicians will reunite at the last minute to form a majority coalition in parliament. Views on the chances of such a coalition are mixed, with others saying it is just as likely Yushchenko will choose to team up with his one-time arch-rival, Yanukovych, after the bitter, public dispute he had with Timoshenko, whom he fired as his prime minister last September.
There is also the option that a coalition could be formed with other parties of the more than 40 blocs that are competing in Sunday's race, like PORA, which played a major role in organizing the mass street protests of 2004.
If parliament fails to agree on a coalition in 60 days, President Yushchenko has the power to dissolve parliament and call new elections.