It's election season in Ukraine. On Jan. 17, voters in the country will take to the polls to have their say about who should guide the country through the economic crisis and represent the country's interests to both the west and Russia. Here is an overview of the election and some of the candidates.
Background and the Orange Revolution
Current President Viktor Yushchenko rose to power in the wake of a tumultuous election in 2004. Considered to be the main opposition candidate in that election, Yushchenko competed against the government-supported and Russian-favored candidate Viktor Yanukovych.
The victory did not come easy as there was initial widespread evidence of election fraud favoring Yanukovych. Public protests erupted over the initial results, which many said were tainted by corruption, fraud and voter intimidation. Thousands of Ukrainians demonstrated through acts of civil disobedience in what became known as the Orange Revolution. Ultimately a second runoff vote was ordered and Yushchenko won decisively.
In the years since, Yushchenko has grappled with numerous issues including his dissolution of parliament and corruption accusations directed at his own administration. Though he is registered as a candidate in this year’s election, opinion polls show him to be widely unpopular and unlikely to win a second term.
The top issues of concern in this year’s election include Ukraine’s economy, public health, housing, foreign relations with the west and Russia, constitutional reform and the status of the Russian language in Ukraine.
The Main Contenders
Even though more than 15 candidates have registered to compete in the election, only a handful are considered to be pivotal contenders.
Seen as the more “pro-Russian” candidate, Viktor Yanukovych ran against current President Viktor Yushchenko in 2004 – and lost. Currently the leader of the Party of Regions (the main opposition party) in the Ukrainian parliament, he has served in multiple political positions in Ukraine, including twice as prime minister. He has consistently ranked as the most popular candidate in public opinion polls of the presidential election.
Ukraine’s current prime minister rose to prominence as a key leader of the Orange Revolution. While Yulia Tymoshenko was an early ally of President Yushchenko, he fired her from the job of prime minister in 2007 during the first dissolution of parliament. She later regained the position in a special election and has since distanced herself from the president. She opposes adopting Russian as Ukraine’s second official language and favors stronger ties with western countries.
A former parliamentary chairman and former foreign minister, Yatsenyuk claims to have no allies among current Ukrainian politicians, though his policies are said to be similar to those of President Yushchenko. He has focused on Ukraine’s troubled economy as the basis of his campaign, pledging to use his experience as head of the national bank to bring the country out of its downturn. Polls have shown him in third place behind Yanukovych and Tymoshenko.
How Voting Will Work
The first round of voting for the presidential election will take place Jan. 17, 2010. After voting takes place, the results will be announced on Jan. 27. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent, a runoff will take place, most likely in late February, between the top two candidates.