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Ukrainians Disillusioned with 'Orange Revolution'

Political squabbling and a dire economic situation in Ukraine are a far cry from the heady days of the "Orange Revolution" when there were high hopes for that country's future.

Ukraine's current pro-western president, Viktor Yushchenko, was elected in December 2004 after hundreds of thousands of his supporters took to the streets to protest the results of an earlier election declared fraudulent by the Ukrainian Supreme Court and international monitors.

That massive protest became known as the "Orange Revolution," named after the color worn by Yushchenko's supporters. In a second, court-ordered election, Mr. Yushchenko defeated pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovich, now head of the powerful "Party of Regions" in the Ukrainian parliament.

There was great euphoria in Ukraine then and confidence that the "Orange Revolution" would usher in a new era.

Oksana Antonenko, with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), says the "Orange Revolution" had a dramatic effect on Ukrainian politics. "That is Ukraine now has a pluralist society where different points of view are represented within the political elite - and where there is a genuine choice for the electorate of what kind of ideas and what kind of ideology they support when they go to the polls. And I think one should not diminish the importance of that achievement, given that in the entire post-Soviet area, with the exception of the Baltic States, that kind of pluralism simply does not exist. It certainly does not exist still today in Georgia. It does not exist in Russia. It does not exist in Central Asia or in fact in any other country. And I think in that sense Ukraine remains an exceptional case," Antonenko said.

But Antonenko and other experts, such as Robert Legvold of Columbia University, say this pluralism brought about bitter political fights between President Yushchenko and his former "Orange Revolution" ally, now Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko - squabbling that continues to this day.

"And that has produced not only a stalemate, political stalemate and an inability to make progress between the executive branch and the parliament, but a kind of poisonous, petty political competition among leaders that has alienated the public at large, which is for the most part very unsatisfied with all of the major political leaders in Ukraine. And that makes it very difficult for the government, even if it were to get its act together, to mobilize the population behind it," Legvold said.

Experts say the political infighting, coupled with allegations of corruption in the Yushchenko administration, have disillusioned Ukrainians even more.

Legvold says another black mark against Mr. Yushchenko is Ukraine's dire economic situation. "It is worse than in Russia, which is going to experience negative growth of between six and 7.5 percent this year, with an inflation rate of 13 percent or more. And in the case of Ukraine, the figures are considerably more negative. Ukraine is in worse shape than Russia on virtually all scores: unemployment, inflation, negative growth, prospects for slow or negative growth into the near future," he said.

David Marples, with the University of Alberta, says given all of Ukraine's problems, Mr. Yushchenko's approval rating is at an all time low. But that hasn't prevented him from becoming a candidate in January's presidential election. "His popularity is probably the lowest of any politician in Europe right now at around two percent. And it almost seems like he's oblivious to the problems that have been created - he's not addressing them. I read a speech of his quite recently where he was summarizing his years in office in order to justify running again, which of course he has decided to do. And he claimed that he had a good record and that he should be proud of his record. And I really wondered what there is to be proud of? Because in every particular area, it seems to have been a failure. And probably even more importantly, perceived as a failure by the population," he said.

Experts do not expect the political infighting and the gridlock between the president and the parliament to end before the January election. Some analysts even question whether the balloting will bring about any major changes and allow politicians to address Ukraine's major problems rather than continue fighting among themselves.