Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 39

Eight months before Ukraine’s presidential elections, which are scheduled for October 31, incumbent President Leonid Kuchma leads other prospective candidates in a poll conducted jointly by Gallup and Ukraine’s Democratic Initiatives Fund. The poll–a follow-up to one taken in January–revealed that popular support for Kuchma has more than doubled in the last month. Had the elections been held now, Kuchma would have taken 21 percent of the vote, up from 10 percent. Natalya Vitrenko–the radical “red” Progressive Socialist Party leader who led the poll in January–would have taken 17 percent, up from 15. Communist leader Petro Symonenko and socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz followed, with 13 and 10 percent respectively. Former Foreign Affairs Minister Hennady Udovenko got 5 percent. Former Premier Yevhen Marchuk, despite his recent numerous electoral initiatives and his break with the United Social Democratic Party, which captured a significant media attention, held steady at 3 percent. Speaker Oleksandr Tkachenko, who, unlike Marchuk, continues to deny any presidential ambitions, also showed 3 percent. Former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who last week fled from corruption charges at home to Greece and then to the United States, trailed with 2 percent (Ukrainian agencies, February 24; see also the Monitor, February 2, 23).

Kuchma’s most dangerous presidential rivals–Vitrenko, Moroz and Symonenko, who share the same “protest electorate”–are still far from uniting their efforts. Symonenko said on February 24 that he still hopes that the leftists nominate a single candidate, but made it clear that their best choice would be himself (ICTV, February 24). Moroz’s chances have been considerably lessened by the parliament vote which lifted immunity from Lazarenko, his prospective presidential teammate (see the Monitor, February 18). Kuchma’s rise in popularity can be explained by this final “victory” over Lazarenko, relative success in recent negotiations with the International Monetary Fund and Kuchma’s public castigation of the government for the country’s poor economic performance–which was repeatedly televised to the nation in January and February and resulted in several dismissals. –OV