Incumbent Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma will face communist party challenger Petro Symonenko in a runoff vote scheduled for November 14. The two men finished atop a crowded field of presidential contenders in Ukraine’s October 31 presidential election. Kuchma won 36 percent of the vote; Symonenko tallied 22 percent. Voter turnout was 70 percent.

Kuchma, a former defense factory director, is moderate reformer who supports close ties with the West. His first term as president was tarnished by Ukraine’s poor economic performance as well as by charges of official corruption. For all of that, Kuchma is by far the preferred choice of the West. His opponent is a one-time Soviet Communist Party official who called during the campaign for greater government control of the economy and for the renationalization of some key industries. He also backs closer ties for Ukraine with both Russia and Belarus.

In the aftermath of the October 31 election, six of the twelve losing candidates united behind Symonenko. Their number included Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, who garnered 11 percent of the vote and was viewed by some observers as a potential king-maker in the upcoming runoff election. In an effort to make the left-wing alliance more palatable to voters, Symonenko appeared this week to moderate his election platform. He pledged, among other things, to support private businesses and to restore some churches as well as to pursue friendly relations with the West.