Fourth time in three years
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Fourth time in three years

Ukraine's 35-million voters will troop to the polls this Sunday to vote in emergency parliamentary elections, reports Fred Weir.

world Updated: Sep 28, 2007 20:07 IST
Fred Weir
Fred Weir
Hindustan Times

Ukraine's 35-million voters will troop to the polls this Sunday to vote in emergency parliamentary elections that many hope will solve the country's crippling political crisis.

It's the fourth election in less than three years, and once again politicians are billing it as a "battle for Ukraine's soul", between the Western-leaning Orange parties led by President Viktor Yushchenko and ex-Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and the pro-Moscow Party of Regions led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

But the mood among voters is sour, and some say the repetitive election cycles Ukraine has been subjected to since 2004's Orange Revolution only irritate the population while holding out little prospect of change.

"Many people are disillusioned," says Anatoly Romaniuk, a political scientist at Ivan Franko University in Lvov. "We thought the Orange Revolution made a decisive breakthrough, and Ukraine would develop along the path of democracy and integration with Europe. Instead, we're still quarrelling over the same old issues."

The Orange parties, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko's BYuT, call for joining the European Union and the Western NATO alliance, and rejecting closer cooperation with Russia. The Blue parties, Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the old-line Ukrainian Communist Party, want Soviet-era economic links with Russia restored, the adoption of Russian as a second official language in Ukraine, and strongly oppose joining NATO.

Surveys taken in early September, before a ban on pre-election polling came into effect, suggest the results are likely to be very similar to the lineup in the outgoing parliament.

One survey, by the authoritative Kiev International Institute of Sociology, found the Party of Regions in the lead with over 33 per cent of likely voters, followed by BYuT with 23 per cent and Our Ukraine with 13 per cent.

Of smaller parties, only the Communists appeared certain to hurdle the 3 per cent threshold for gaining admittance to the Supreme Rada, with about 4 per cent support.

While many bemoan Ukraine's seemingly endless political chaos, no political force appears capable of bridging the country's profound regional and cultural split between the Ukrainian-speaking, nationalist west, and the heavily-Russified, industrial east.

Indeed, Ukraine's bitter east-west schism is so pervasive that some fear it could tear the country apart.

The two sides are divided by different languages, contending religious traditions, separate histories and sharply opposed geopolitical preferences.

Opinion surveys suggest that people in Ukraine's eight western provinces, with about a quarter of the electorate, are 8 times more likely to vote for Orange parties. In the three eastern provinces, also containing a quarter of the electorate, people are 8 times more likely to cast Blue votes.

Though Yushchenko was vaulted into the presidency by the Orange Revolution, the hope that he might find ways to heal Ukraine's divisions has fizzled out amid squabbling in the Orange camp and persistent political crisis.

First Published: Sep 28, 2007 19:59 IST