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Will Sunday's Ukraine vote break political deadlock?

The Orange Revolution parties, mired in infighting, reached an impasse with pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovich, spurring emergency elections.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 28, 2007

LVOV, Ukraine

A little thrill swept through the thousands assembled on Lvov's main square when Yulia Tymoshenko, dressed in a flowing pink robe and her hair in her trademark peasant braids, took the stage.

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To warm up, the heroine of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" sang a patriotic song with one of the country's top rock groups. Then she launched into a passionate, 85-minute speech to convince skeptics that Ukraine remains on the path to democracy and integration with the West, despite the past three years of debilitating political crisis.

A victory for her Fatherland Party (BYuT) in this Sunday's emergency parliamentary elections could bring a breakthrough, she insisted. "I will do what needs to be done, I promise you that," she said, to scattered applause.

Ms. Tymoshenko is not alone in billing this campaign as a battle for Ukraine's soul, between the Western-leaning Orange parties led by herself and President Viktor Yushchenko, and the pro-Russian "Blue" Party of Regions headed by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich. But some voters say they're exhausted, and increasingly skeptical, because this is Ukraine's fourth election in less than three years, and most surveys suggest the lineup in the 450-seat Supreme Rada is unlikely to change.

"It's impossible not to feel disillusioned," says Nikolai Zhupylo, a social psychologist with the independent Socionika Center in Lvov. "There is a growing part of the population that will never again be interested in politics. Now people are more concerned with solving their own personal problems."

All surveys taken in early September, before a ban on publishing preelection polls came into effect, put Mr. Yanukovich's party in the lead with about a third of the votes. Tymoshenko's BYuT comes second with up to 23 percent, while Mr. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine coalition trails with under 15 percent. Of 20 or so small parties in the running, only the Communists appear poised to hurdle the 3 percent barrier for winning seats in the Rada.

'Strong temptation' to fix ballots

Recent elections in Ukraine have been deemed clean and fair by international observers, but concern about voter fraud – thought to have been banished by the pro-democracy Orange Revolution – have resurfaced during the current campaign.

Under Ukraine's election system, voters cast their ballots for a national party rather than a locally-based candidate. Thus, authorities in the heavily Orange west and Blue east have inducements to maximize their party's showing by any means possible.

"Half of Ukraine supports Orange, and the other half Blue, so a tiny additional margin added by cheating could make all the difference," says Roman Koshovi, Lvov chairman of the Committee of Ukrainian Voters, an independent monitoring group. "The temptation to fix some ballots will be very strong on all sides."