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Thursday, 28 March, 2002, 09:35 GMT
Ukraine's election frontrunners
Viktor Yushchenko
Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine is riding high
When voters go to the polls on 31 March in Europe's second-biggest country, they will be confronted by a bewildering array of parties.

However only a few of the 30-odd groups on the ballot paper are likely to get more than 4% of the vote - the barrier they need to cross in order to gain a share of the seats in parliament allocated by proportional representation.

Final poll result
Our Ukraine 27-28%
Communists 18-19%
Social Democrats 9-10%
United Ukraine 7-8%
Tymoshenko bloc 6-7%
Women for Future 5-6%
Green Party 4-5%
They may still get some seats in constituencies - which are contested by a first-past-the-post system - but this alone will not be enough to make them movers and shakers in the next parliament.

It has been a frustrating campaign for most opposition groups, who have complained of difficulty getting media air time to put forward their platforms.

However, polls suggest that the party most likely to get the biggest share of the vote is the opposition group led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko.

Dissatisfaction with President Leonid Kuchma swelled last year, amid allegations that he had ordered the assassination of an opposition journalist, and this is one of the main factors contributing to Mr Yushchenko's popularity.

Main parties

  • Our Ukraine is Mr Yushchenko's "bloc" consisting of 10 right-wing and liberal parties professing commitment to democracy and a free market.

    What Yushchenko really is, nobody knows - nor what he is really capable of

    Zerkalo Nedeli newspaper
    Its election manifesto pledges to establish public control over government, fight corruption and relax business taxation.

    Mr Yushchenko was sacked as prime minister in April 2001 after upsetting both left and right with economic reforms they considered overzealous.

    But the serious Zerkalo Nedeli weekly recently dismissed Yushchenko as all things to all men.

    "What Yushchenko really is, nobody knows. Nor what he is really capable of. For this reason, for everyone in Ukraine, Yushchenko is their man," the paper said.

    Mr Yushchenko refuses to describe Our Ukraine as a bloc in opposition to the president, and says he is ready to work with any other political forces for the benefit of Ukraine.

    The bloc is the most popular force in western regions. It is weaker in the east and in Crimea.

  • The Communist Party of Ukraine advocates state control of the economy, wants Ukraine to join the Russia-Belarus Union and Russian to be given the status of second state language.

    Petro Symonenko
    Symonenko appeals to Russian speakers
    The party with the most seats in the last parliament, the Communists seldom criticised President Kuchma and generally supported his government's policies when it came to a vote.

    The party is led by Petro Symonenko.

    Speaking in a live debate with the main opposition candidate, Mr Symonenko said that hitherto reformers, including Yushchenko, had proved worthless "because their policies failed to protect national interests".

    The party draws its main support from Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. It has little appeal for the young.

  • The United Social Democratic Party describes itself as centre-left, though both its official leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, and its unofficial backer, Hryhoriy Surkis, are rich industrialists.

    This party is a distant third in the polls, with about 7-8% after a huge advertising campaign gained it a few points.

    In the past the ambitious Mr Medvedchuk has fallen out with the president, who sees him as a possible rival.

    Yet Mr Kuchma recently named the party among likely partners of the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine in the next parliament.

    No other party has more media clout and it includes the mainstream analytical Den newspaper among its impressive arsenal of outlets, as well as leading TV channels.

  • For a United Ukraine is also dubbed the "party of power" because the bloc was cobbled together from parties close to the president.

    President Leonid Kuchma
    President Kuchma: His men run "party of power"
    Leaders include key figures in the government and the business world.

    For a United Ukraine languished at just over the 4% hurdle for much of the campaign, but edged ahead in the last few weeks.

    The party is expected to do well in the votes in individual constituencies where its links with local and national authorities could be a major advantage.

    This party is led by Volodymyr Lytvyn, the president's chief of staff, with Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh as second in command.

    It supports a strong presidency and its manifesto leads on a promise of economic prosperity.

    "Since we are described as the party of power, think of us as a pro-presidential or presidential party," Mr Lytvyn said on Ukrainian TV.

    He has also said he supports cooperation with the Communists "if it serves the interests of Ukraine".

    For a United Ukraine is strongest in the industrialist east, the so called "red-director belt", which is the business base of its leaders.

  • Women for the Future is headed by Valentyna Dovzhenko, who has denied that the party's real backer is President Kuchma's wife, Lyudmyla.

    Yulia Tymoshenko
    Yulia Tymoshenko: Jailed, hospitalised, still fighting
    The party is ostensibly apolitical, campaigning for "social values".

    Yet Women for the Future have numerous friends in big business.

    One of the president's most outspoken critics, opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko, told the Ukrayinska Pravda daily that Women for the Future are "in fact just one woman, Lyudmyla Kuchma, acting in the interests of just one man, (President) Leonid Kuchma".

  • The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc is led by the eponymous Ms Tymoshenko, archcritic of the president and one of the most colourful and controversial Ukrainian politicians.

    Ms Tymoshenko headed the national gas company and was deputy premier under Viktor Yushchenko.

    She is standing on an anti-corruption ticket but is herself under prosecution for alleged embezzlement at the gas company, and was briefly jailed last year.

    She says the charges are politically motivated.

    Her bloc, like the Socialist Party, has been all but barred from the mainstream media.

    She was injured in a car accident at the opening of the campaign and spent some time in hospital.

    BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

  • See also:

    29 Jan 02 | Europe
    Ukraine opposition leader injured
    25 Jan 02 | Europe
    Name game mars Ukraine election
    28 Nov 01 | Media reports
    Press mourns failure of Ukraine democracy
    03 Jan 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: Ukraine
    28 Sep 01 | Europe
    Timeline: Ukraine
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