Outcome of Ukraine presidential runoff in shroud of uncertainty

By RIA Novosti,

Kiev : Opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will face a close race in Ukraine’s runoff presidential election on Sunday as none of the candidates has secured an overwhelming support of the voters since the first round.

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Yanukovych enjoys support of mainly Russian-speaking eastern regions. He won the first round of Ukraine’s presidential elections on January 17 with 35% of vote against 25% by Tymoshenko.

However, a 10-point lead in the previous round does not guarantee a clear victory for Yanukovych because those Ukrainians who “spread” their vote among other candidates could now opt for Tymoshenko as the only “democratic” candidate.

Tymoshenko believes that she could gain support of those who voted for former central banker Serhiy Tyhypko, who came third in the first round, ex-parliamentary speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk and incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko because they all share “similar ideology.”

In an attempt to attract “free votes,” she has offered Tyhypko the prime minister’s post, but he did not openly accept the offer and said he was ready to be prime minister if either of the two candidates wins a runoff.

Meanwhile, the officials from the Yanukovych election headquarters are certain that the majority of Tyhypko and Yatsenyuk electorate will support their candidate or at least will not support either of the candidates.

According to Ukrainian analysts, Yanukovych has an advantage as an opposition candidate with a fair economic record during his premiership while Tymoshenko has to take responsibility for a current dire state of the Ukrainian economy.

Both presidential contenders have continuously exchanged accusations of fraud and preparations for provocative acts before the crucial runoff.

In addition, Tymoshenko, who co-led mass protests against rigged elections five years ago, has threatened to call mass rallies over controversial amendments to the election law signed by President Yushchenko on the eve of the runoff.

Yanukovych and his supporters from the party of Regions insisted the amendments were needed to prevent Tymoshenko from avoiding defeat at certain polling stations by telling her representatives not to turn up, therefore invalidating the vote.

Yanukovych said there would be “no third round” or mass protests at Kiev’s central square — the site of the popular protests from late November 2004 to January 2005.

Both Yanukovych, who was openly backed by Moscow in the 2004 vote, and Tymoshenko, who has worked with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to resolve the bitter gas disputes of the past year, have pledged to improve ties with Russia.