Ukraine’s Election: It’s On to Round Two…..

by Tammy Lynch

Although only 92% of the votes have been counted in the first-round of Ukraine’s presidential election, it is now clear that former PM Viktor Yanukovych will head into round two with a lead over current PM Yulia Tymoshenko that borders on insurmountable.

The man discredited as President Viktor Yushchenko’s opponent in 2004 has successfully propelled himself back to the top of the Ukraine political elite.

It appears the final results of round one will find Yanukovych with around 35% of the vote to Tymoshenko’s 25%. In third place is Yanukovych’s 2004 campaign manager and former central bank head Serhiy Tyhypko with 13%.

This election means that President Viktor Yushchenko now officially will be a one-term president. To his credit, he contested the election from the back-of-the-pack from the beginning. Although there is some question whether he truly believed the polling data that had him losing badly, one thing is clear – he made no attempts to systematically affect the voting in order to help himself or hurt others. Despite some concerns about use of “administrative resources” at his disposal, he generally campaigned and lost. And in doing so, he provided evidence of the most basic achievement of the 2004 “orange revolution” protests that swept him to power.

Yushchenko’s “orange revolution” ally PM Yulia Tymoshenko also apparently rejected the voting schemes used by her predecessors even though she trailed by up to 20 points in opinion polls prior to the election. Also like Yushchenko, she generated concerns over “administrative resource” use, particularly by combining her position with campaigning. But, in essence, she campaigned and finished second.

What other former Soviet country would find the sitting PM and the sitting President finish second and fifth, respectively?

As she heads into the February 7 run-off, Tymoshenko appears calm. She called for unity among the “democratic forces” during her remarks Sunday in a bid to attract voters who had cast their votes for other candidates. But, even this unity may not be enough.

Her two most plausible election opponents from the “democratic forces” are President Viktor Yushchenko and former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Together, they earned only around 12% of the vote combined (Yatsenyuk with 7% and Yushchenko with 5%).

On the other hand, Tyhypko’s strongholds are regions where Tymoshenko has little support, suggesting that his voters may be more predisposed to vote for Yanukovych. These votes, plus Yanukovych’s core 35%, as well as the roughly 3.5% cast for the head of the Communist Party, could potentially put him over 50%.

It will, therefore, be essential for Tymoshenko to convince Tyhypko to support her presidency bid and to stop his voters from migrating to Yanukovych.

Tyhypko put a crimp in that plan immediately after conceding, however. He said he will not be supporting either candidate and urged his voters to make up their own minds.

Is this a negotiating tactic or the final position of someone looking at his political career with a longterm view? Tymoshenko must hope it is the former.