[lg policy] PROFILE: Yanukovych the man to beat in Ukraine's presidential vote

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 13 16:26:56 UTC 2010

PROFILE: Yanukovych the man to beat in Ukraine's presidential vote

Posted : Tue, 12 Jan 2010 05:09:59 GMT
By : dpa

Kiev - Viktor Yanukovych, the undisputed frontrunner in Ukraine's
tense Presidential contest, is acting like he has already won. As well
he might, political experts agreed.
The former prime minister has staged a dramatic comeback since the
ignominious days of late 2004, when he won Ukraine's presidency only
to lose it a month later - after hundreds of thousands of
demonstrators took to the streets in the country's pro-democracy
Orange Revolution, to protest massive vote fraud in Yankovych's
Today Yanukovich stands six to 18 points ahead of his nearest rival,
depending on the polling firm, and there is little his opponents can
do to stop him, observers said.

"Yanukovich holds the cards in this election," said Sergei Shtukarin,
director of the Donetsk Centre for Political Studies. "It would take
something close to a miracle to change the current political
situation." The leader of Ukraine's largest Regions Ukraine political
party, with a solid base in the country's predominantly
Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions, Yanukovich is in the
position of offering an alternative to one of the worst-run
governments in Europe. Ukraine's problems are legion - the economy
contracted 12 per cent in 2009, real unemployment is running at around
20 per cent and relations with Moscow are so bad that Russian leader
Vladimir Putin last month described the current Ukrainian president,
Viktor Yushchenko, as a political has-been in need of an interesting
retirement hobby.

During the Orange Revolution, as alleged evidence of his moral probity
compared with Yanukovych, Yushchenko repeatedly cited jail time served
by Yanukovych from 1967 to 1970 for robbery and assault convictions.
Today, Yushchenko is arguably the most unpopular leader in Ukrainian
history, with about 3 per cent of the population willing to vote for
him, according to opionion polls. "Even a criminal record can hardly
harm Yankovych's chances now," said Myroslav Stasyk, a Kiev-based
political scientist. "All he has to do is not be his opponents." A
case in point, observers said, was to be seen in Ukraine's November
swine-flu epidemic. It was initially touted by Ukraine Prime Minister
Yulia Tymoshenko, Yanukovych's closest rival, as a dire emergency that
the Tymoshenko government nonetheless would handle with "the highest

A month later, Tymoshenko's already battered reputation was in
tatters, with Ukrainian flu-related deaths exceeding 500, her
government demonstrably unable to provide basic medical supplies.
Ukraine's independent media gleefully reported widespread graft and
corruption in the purchase and delivery of flu serum, and even
protective masks. "The current leadership is just discredited," said
Svitlana Komanchiuk, an analyst at the Ukrainian Centre for
International Security Issues. "Almost anything Yanukovych can offer
will sound good in comparison." Yanukovych's pitch to voters, at least
on the face of it, is eminently practical.

One of Yushchenko's few popular initiatives, nationwide government
cash support to families with small children, would be expanded under
a Yanukovych adminIstration, both in payment size and duration. Small
businesses would, in contrast with rigorous tax inspectors unleashed
by Tymoshenko, receive a five-year tax holiday, according to
Yanukovych's platform.  A native Russian speaker (like approximately
one in every three Ukrainian), Yanukovych has turned the politically
sensitive issue of its use in Ukraine to his advantage, calling for
"each Ukrainian to use the language he is is most comfortable with."
This would mean the cancellation of the current, and much- criticized,
language policy of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, which requires that only
Ukrainian be used in official documents and education.

But a Yanukovych presidency would be unlikely to do Moscow's bidding,
observers said, because of his close ties to Ukraine's steel and
energy tycoons who want a strong defence of Ukrainian economic
interests, both with Russia and the EU.  The Yanukovych campaign thus
far has played it safe, limiting his public appearances to prepared
speeches before television cameras and visits to regions hard hit by
the country's economic crisis. He has avoided unscripted meetings with
hostile media. Indeed, Ukraine's largest magazine, Korrespondent, in
late November devoted an issue to the 14 candidates running for
Ukraine's presidency, asking each the same questions about platform,
background and family.

Thirteen candidates responded. Yanukovych was the only one to refuse.
"Our goal (in this election) is not just to win, but to win in the
first round," Yanukovych said during a rare December television
appearance. "And when we win, there will be serious changes."


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