For the first time since Ukraine gained independence, leftist parties that date back to the Soviet era will play a key role in determining the nation's next leader. This, after weekend presidential elections resulted in an even split between between pro-Russia Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and pro-Western opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko.
The two leading candidates - Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko - each received about 40 percent of the vote in the first round of elections. To win a majority, analysts say, each will now have to woo Ukraine's political left, and whoever does the best job of that will probably win the runoff election on November 21.
Ukraine's Communists and Socialists each got about ten percent of the votes cast in Sunday's poll and hope to use that performance to gain senior government posts in the next government, something neither party has had in the post-Soviet era.
Kiev-based independent political analyst Ivan Lozowy says Socialist Party leader Viktor Moroz, whose party came in third, may well hold the key to victory in the next round of elections. The analyst says Mr. Moroz has been critical of Prime Minister Yanukovich, saying he was from a "criminal element," so it is more likely he is inclined to support Mr. Yushchenko, the opposition leader.
"Putting [Mr.] Moroz on board will first of all strengthen [Mr.] Yushchenko's base of support in central and even Eastern Ukraine and make him look [that] much more appealing to that part of the electorate, which is not firmly behind Yushchenko today, which is the less patriotic, possibly more pro-Russian electorate," he said. "These are people who can support Moroz, if Moroz goes publicly behind Yushchenko. I won't say that will be a lock on the election, but that will be a 50 percent lock for sure."
Another political analyst in Kiev, Stephan Bandera,says the Socialist Party is indeed seen as the kingmaker in the runoff slated for mid-November. But he says Mr. Yushchenko will have to make some concessions to gain Socialist support.
"There is going to be some courting happening there and obviously [Mr.] Yuschenko would have to give in to [Mr.] Moroz on three issues, according to Mr. Moroz," he said. "The first is the constitutional reform, the second is the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and the third issue is the [ban on the] sale of [agricultural] land. And if Yuschenko and Moroz find understanding on those three issues, then [Mr.] Yushchenko will have the momentum of the Moroz vote going toward him."
Mr. Bandera says that even if the Socialist vote does swing his way, Mr. Yushchenko still has a lot of other work to do to secure an opposition victory, especially in view of the government's hold on Ukraine's media and many administrative resources. Analyst Lozowy agrees.
"He has to, I think, pay attention to a couple of regions where he should have done better, for instance, Lugansk or Kharkiv [in the east]," he said. "There were opportunities that were missed there. From what I've heard, local managers in these areas have not been terribly active, and I think he's got to show that he has a strong leadership management style and probably remove them? [and] put people in at the last minute, but active and influential people with resources who can make a difference in the final weeks."
Mr. Lozowy says he also thinks it would be helpful if Mr. Yushchenko could name a couple of people to posts in his would-be cabinet before the next poll, such as the prime minister, or several key ministries, in order to give the sense that he is the man who will be Ukraine's next president.
But not everyone is so sure. In fact, Ukrainian-government-linked analyst Mikhail Pogrebinsky does not rule out a second-round tie, especially given the incredible closeness of the race. Asked what happens in that event, the analyst shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
President Putin made an unprecedented trip to Ukraine just five days before the election, which was seen as a virtual endorsement of Prime Minister Yanukovich, whom he credited with boosting Ukraine's economy. The visit was welcomed by the pro-government camp, but was widely resented by Ukraine's political opposition, among others, as heavy-handed interference.
Some analysts, such as Mr. Pogrebinsky, even say the visit may actually have hurt Mr. Yanukovich's chances.
Whatever the long-term future may hold, all three analysts believe that over the next three weeks Ukrainians will see a real political battle.