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Ukrainians Vote Sunday to Elect New President


Ukrainians go to polls Jan. 17 to elect a new president. There are 18 candidates running for president in Ukraine. But analysts agree there are only two who stand a chance of winning: Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich, leader of the powerful "Party of Regions" in the Ukrainian parliament, or Rada.

Public-opinion surveys indicate Mr. Yanukovich may get 30 percent of the votes cast while Ms. Tymoshenko around 20 percent. If no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes, a run-off between the two frontrunners will take place in February.

Far behind Mr. Yanukovich and Ms. Tymoshenko - with an estimated three percent of the vote - is current president Viktor Yuschenko.

"What is kind of curious to me, at least, is the way he [Yuschenko] talks and acts, as if he is really still going to be a major player, and that he is going to get through to the second round. And I really do not see how that is going to take place. He just simply does not have the popularity or support anywhere in Ukraine now to make the second round," said David Marples of the University of Alberta, Canada.

Analysts say that is a far cry from the heady days of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" when Mr. Yuschenko was elected president after hundreds of thousands of his supporters took to the streets. They were protesting the results of an earlier election declared fraudulent by the Ukrainian Supreme Court and international monitors. In a second election, Mr. Yuschenko defeated Mr. Yanukovich.

But since that time, says Robert Legvold from Columbia University, Ukrainian politics has been in a permanent state of gridlock. "It is clear that the original, powerful and important forces that made the 'Orange Revolution' in 2004 did not have an underlying coherence or an underlying impulse toward partnership. So that when personal ambitions and when the ambitions among the financial-industrial clans that supported one or another side began to pursue their selfish interests, then all of it began to implode or come apart at the seams," he said.

President Yuschenko and his former ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, engaged in bitter political fights - squabbling that continues to this day. Analysts say this current state has guaranteed political paralysis between the presidency, the prime minister's office and a divided parliament. And they do not see that changing with the election of a new president.

Experts say President Yuschenko's low standing is also due to his inability to address Ukraine's economic problems. Last year, the economy shrank by between 14 and 15 percent - the largest drop in Gross Domestic Product of any country in the post-Soviet region.

Marshall Goldman from Harvard University says Ukraine's economy has been severely affected by its emphasis on steel exports, where demand has gone down sharply. "How can Ukraine diversify its economy so it is no longer dependent on what we would regard as the old technology, particularly ferrous metals? They have to broaden it - and these are not easy things to change," he said.

Experts say government money reserves have been used to prop up the Ukrainian currency and the country has been heavily dependent on loans from the International Monetary Fund to meet budgetary needs.

Robert Legvold says another black mark against Mr. Yuschenko has been his lack of success in fighting corruption. "He has not done very much - at least he has not been very successful in whatever it is he thought he's done to deal with corruption, because the problem has gotten worse, not better in the interim. It is not clear that any single individual, whether it is [President Dmitri] Medvedev in Russia who has launched an anti-corruption campaign - it would not be the first time in Russia - or Yuschenko as president, no single leader can do this single-handedly, but it has to start there," he said.

Analysts say fighting corruption and stimulating Ukraine's economy must be the top priorities of the new Ukrainian president. Other issues include how hard to lobby for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and whether to mend relations with Russia, which have reached an all-time low during the Yuschenko presidency.

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