Ukraine braces for political showdown
Ukraine votes Feb. 7 in a runoff between bitter rivals Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych that some say could destabilize the democratic process.
An epic battle is shaping up in Ukraine as two bitter rivals, Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovych, prepare to slug it out for a dubious prize: leading a nation economically devastated and politically disillusioned, as well as profoundly divided between its Russian-speaking, pro-Moscow eastern provinces and its more nationalist, Europe-leaning west.Skip to next paragraph
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President Viktor Yushchenko, lofted to power five years ago on the wings of the pro-democracy "Orange Revolution," went down in flames in the presidential election's first round Jan. 17, winning a humiliating 5.5 percent of the votes.
The second round, pitting Mr. Yanukovych, who won 35.3 percent support in the first round, against Ms. Tymoshenko, with 25 percent, is slated for Feb. 7.
With Mr. Yushchenko sidelined, much of the East-West geopolitical tension that has marred domestic politics may dissipate, leaving the contenders to address the economic crisis, endemic corruption, and the status of the Russian language, spoken by about a third of Ukrainians.
Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have signaled they would go slow on anti-Moscow policies Yushchenko championed, including NATO membership, integration with the European Union, and plans to evict Russia's Navy from its historic Black Sea post in Crimea.
But experts say the contest is likely to be ferocious, revolving around clashing personalities and the differing styles of two political giants who have tussled in parliament.
On Thursday, Yushchenko signed a law repealing a requirement that representatives of both candidates be present to supervise vote-counting at polling stations. Tymoshenko warned that this could lead to ballot-box stuffing and fraudulent vote-counting. She has urged her supporters to come out in large numbers if she does not prevail in Sunday's election, and has said that protests could outsize those of the Orange Revolution.