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Ukraine's Parliamentary Elections

Voters in Ukraine cast their ballots this Sunday to elect a new parliament, more than a year after the famed "Orange Revolution" brought president Viktor Yushchenko to power.

More than 7,500 candidates from 45 political parties are running in Sunday's election as Ukrainian voters decide who will represent them in the country's new parliament.

Robert Legvold, an expert on Ukraine and Russia from Columbia University, says this vote is more important than previous parliamentary elections because of the nature of the new parliament or Rada.

"This is a Rada that will be, under the new constitution, far more powerful than the old one. Indeed, it will select the prime minister who now emerges as the most potent, the most influential political figure -- probably more powerful than the president himself," says Legvold.

Orange Revolution

Ukraine's president is Viktor Yushchenko. He 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 international monitors. That massive protest became known as the "Orange Revolution," named after Mr. Yushchenko's signature color.

Experts said at that time, there was a lot of euphoria - and confidence that the "Orange Revolution" would usher in a new era in Ukraine.

But Frank Sysyn from the University of Alberta says that didn't happen. "Everyone had put their own hopes into what would go on. And what they wanted in many areas of Ukraine to see was a transparent, democratic Ukraine in which the forces of money and the old order could not control their lives. And that, of course, did not change to the degree that they had hoped it would. There was no rapid integration with Western Europe, for those who had hoped that the 'Orange Revolution' was going to open the doors to Europe for them. And then there were allegations of corruption within Yushchenko's circle. Certainly there were business interests who supported him who thought they had now come partially to power," says Sysyn.

A recent public opinion survey conducted by the human rights organization Freedom House indicates that the country's political leadership has not met the expectations of Ukrainians.

Sarah Jedrzejczak, a senior program manager with Freedom House says, "Reform just doesn't happen that quickly. And so this happened all over Central and Eastern Europe, when new governments came into power that, since reform doesn't happen that quickly, people get disappointed. And so what the poll showed was that 60 percent of Ukrainian voters believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction and of those, 44 percent who voted for Yushchenko believe that."

Yanukovich's Comeback

That disillusionment with the Yushchenko presidency has manifested itself in tepid support for his bloc running in the parliamentary elections. Mr. Yushchenko's bloc -- known as "Our Ukraine" -- is trailing in the polls to the one named the "Party of Regions" led by Viktor Yanukovich -- the pro-Russian leader who lost the 2004 presidential election to Mr. Yushchenko. And various polls show Mr. Yushchenko's bloc trailing or running even with the one led by Yulia Timoshenko -- a leading figure of the "Orange Revolution" who split with Mr. Yushchenko last year after he fired her as prime minister.

Many experts say the story of this election campaign is Viktor Yanukovich's remarkable political comeback following his presidential defeat. Marshall Goldman, from Harvard University says, "He lost the election, but it wasn't such a thing that he was completely discredited. So it was a close election under the best of circumstances and when one side seems to be a failure, you switch back again."

Experts say one of the reasons Yanukovich's bloc -- the 'Party of Regions' -- is doing so well is that the "Orange Revolution" alliance of Yuschenko and Timoshenko has split. Frank Sysyn from the University of Alberta says, "There is quite a bit of confusion on that side of the political spectrum as to what is the best choice and how one can support, since much of the electorate would like to see there still to be one 'Orange' bloc or coalition. On the other side, the 'blue' side or the 'blue and white' side that is what is now the opposition and which was before the presidential election, the government -- there is relative unity. The 'Party of Regions' has gathered those forces which lost the presidential election. The party will run very, very strongly in south and east Ukraine."

Sysyn says that is the traditionally Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, which favors warmer relations with Moscow, while Timoshenko and Yushchenko will get the majority of their votes from western Ukraine which favors closer ties with Europe.

This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.