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Ukraine election: And then there were two

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Kiev

Viktor Yanukovych addresses reporters in Kiev, early on 18 January
Viktor Yanukovych led in the first round...

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the continent's top election monitoring body, has endorsed the first round of the Ukrainian presidential poll, saying it was of "high quality" and demonstrated "significant progress".

Opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych will now face Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a run-off in February.

Joao Soares, the head of the OSCE mission, said the vote was "very promising for the future of Ukraine's democracy".

That assessment is, of course, is in marked contrast to the election of 2004, when large scale vote-rigging initially returned a victory for Mr Yanukovych.

Indignation brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets in an event that became famous around the world as the Orange Revolution. The rest, as they say, is history.

But that history passed a milestone on Sunday, when large numbers of Ukrainian voters cast their ballots for the self-same Viktor Yanukovych, having lost faith in the Orange forces of Viktor Yushchenko.

Scepticism

It has been a remarkable reversal of political fortunes for Mr Yanukovych. He has bounced back from being the villain at the time of the Orange Revolution, tainted by allegations of fraud and support from Moscow, to take first place on Sunday, beating his nearest rival by around 10%.

Yulia Tymoshenko addresses reporters in Kiev, early on 18 January
...but Yulia Tymoshenko hopes to attract Yushchenko voters

Yulia Tymoshenko must now close that gap if she is to stand a chance of winning on 7 February. She is portraying herself as the inheritor of the Orange mantle, hoping to mop up votes in western and central Ukraine from disaffected former Yushchenko supporters.

Mr Yanukovych will be relying on votes from the Russian-speaking south and especially the east, his industrial heartland.

But geography may no longer be an entirely accurate barometer when it comes to predicting voting patterns in the second round.

Sure, there are differences between the two candidates. She is passionate - some say unpredictable; while he is solid - some say wooden. Some dismiss her fiery rhetoric as empty populism. Others say his down-to-earth style is mere bone-headedness.

But many voters across Ukraine see little of substance to differentiate the two. Both are backed by powerful business interests. Both say they want to integrate with Europe, while favouring closer ties with Moscow.

While the past five years have been marked by fractiousness and division in the political arena, many voters have united around a common sense of disillusionment - at politicians across the spectrum.

From the industrial Donbas in the east, to the rural villages in the Ukrainian-speaking west, you will hear voters referring to Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Tymoshenko as a troika - a trio of self-serving politicians who have since 2005 taken it in turns to look after their own interests at the expense of the electorate.

Rightly or wrongly, Mr Yushchenko has taken most of the blame for the chaos and unfulfilled promise of the last five years, and he has been punished for it at the ballot box.

On 7 February Ukrainian voters will deliver their final verdict. Whatever the outcome, if they do so in another free and fair election, that would represent one indubitably positive legacy, amid the disenchantment and missed opportunities.



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