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Ukrainian Voters Apparently Unhappy with Presidential Candidates

Ukraine holds a presidential election Sunday, but there appears to be widespread dissatisfaction among voters with incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko and his two main rivals, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Many Ukrainians say they have suffered because of a feud between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko that has undermined government policies.

Support for Mr. Yushchenko is said to be under five percent. Ms. Tymoshenko defends her record as prime minister, saying she prevented a bad economy from becoming worse. And former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, disgraced by a Supreme Court ruling that his 2004 presidential election bid was riddled with fraud, has returned from political oblivion.

Voters suspect all three of corruption, and despite low approval ratings, all have secured the nomination of their respective parties.

Vitaliy Bala, who directs a political consulting group in Kyiv, says Ukraine still has a Soviet-style political system based on personality. The system, he adds, rewards supporters and the status quo, rather than ideas.

Bala says only a team of stars can lift Ukraine out of its current crisis. A single star will not do it, but no star wants to be surrounded by other stars and share the glory of fame and power.

Bala adds that the system surrounds politicians with aids that agree with anything the leader says. This, he says, creates a gap between politicians and the people.

Bala says those who come out of nothing to become a big boss immediately try to create a vacuum around themselves to avoid contact with the people they came from.

Many Ukrainians say they are voting against, rather than for, certain candidates. Several workers in the top three campaigns say they do not support their own candidates, but they fear a vote for an alternative would be wasted.

Despite a field of nearly 20 challengers, surveys indicate none poses a serious threat to the established candidates.

Olexiy Haran, a political science professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, tells VOA that Ukrainian politicians have not matured as quickly as the voters.

Haran says there are efforts in Ukraine to create a Western style of political activity that is transparent. He says voters need a clear understanding of who is on a ballot and that the candidate is not involved in any corrupt schemes.

Haran adds that newcomers should have done these things but have not. So Ukrainians need to choose from among the old politicians.

Voters disgusted with the favorites or uncertain about newcomers could support the protest candidacy of Vasyl Humeniuk. He changed his name to Vasyl Protyvsikh, which translates as "Vasyl Against All," or "None of the Above." Valentin, from western Ukraine, supports him.

Valentin says there is no worthy candidate in Ukraine who can listen to the people and who was raised in simple circumstances. He notes that Protyvsikh is from western Ukraine, where he got experience in agriculture. Valentin says Protyvsikh can do something about it.

Opinion polls indicate no candidate is likely to garner the 50 percent vote threshold needed to win Sunday's election outright. The top two vote-getters, presumably Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych, will face off in a second round on February 7.

Watch a VOA Ukrainian Service roundtable discussion on the election. (In English)