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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK

Violence, mud-slinging mar Ukraine election campaign

Ukraine's presidential election campaign has been marred by violence and allegations of dirty tricks.

According to a recent opinion poll, the 31st October vote is likely to go to a second round, with incumbent President Leonid Kuchma in a runoff against one of three leftist candidates - Nataliya Vitrenko, Oleksandr Moroz or Petro Symonenko.

President Kuchma's opponents allege that he has used his position to project a favourable image of himself and undermine his opponents on state television, particularly the first programme.

Each candidate was allocated state-funded national media coverage: two ten-minute evening addresses on the TV's first programme, two ten-minute evening slots on Ukrainian radio and two printed publications - one in `Holos Ukrayiny' and the other in `Uryadovyy Kuryer'.

But Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz challenged Kuchma to "open and fair" TV debates, saying the president's power "rests exclusively on total lies in most of the media," the Ukrainian news agency Unian reported.

Moroz also accused Kuchma's campaign team of trying out various election malpractices, including the forging of ballot papers and vote-buying.

Council of Europe observers visited Ukraine earlier this month at the request of Moroz and three other leftist candidates who form an election alliance known as the "Kaniv Four" .

The other three are Oleksandr Tkachenko, Yevhen Marchuk and Volodymyr Oliynyk.

The Council of Europe concluded that coverage of the campaign "appears to be strongly biased in favour of the outgoing president" and "independent media that express criticism of Kuchma are subjected to numerous pressures by the state authorities," Ukraine's Intelnews agency reported.

Meanwhile, Kuchma characterised the "Kaniv Four" as " brutes" who were "interested in power and only in power - at any price," Unian reported.

Fifteen candidates are in the race to become Ukraine's third president since independence, for a five-year term.

To win in the first round, a candidate has to obtain over 50 per cent of all votes cast.

Ukraine has suffered a steady economic decline since independence in 1991, and market reforms have stalled.

The economic malaise has provided plenty of ammunition for Kuchma's rivals to condemn his administration.

Throughout the campaign, Kuchma's main rivals have reported incidents of harassment.

On 2nd October two grenades were thrown at Progressive Socialist Party leader Nataliya Vitrenko as she was leaving an election meeting in Kryvyy Rih.

She, two Progressive Socialist MPs and 26 others were injured.

The security forces immediately arrested two people, who were charged a week later.

According to the police chief heading the investigation, the two - Andrey Samoylov and Vladimir Ivanchenko from the Rostov region in southern Russia - admitted carrying out the attack.

Ukrainian state TV quoted the police chief, Serhiy Lyashenko, as saying the pair had coordinated the attack directly with Serhiy Ivanchenko, an election agent for Moroz.

Moroz himself described the attack as a "provocation" .

The communist-dominated parliament demanded that Moroz be allowed air time on TV to rebut the allegations against him, but the request was turned down.

Vitrenko later commented in a newspaper interview: "I always knew that I was an obstacle for Moroz" .

She warned that Moroz could rehabilitate the disgraced former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, wanted in Ukraine for embezzlement.

On 19th October the Russian Itar-Tass news agency reported that an election agent for Communist candidate Petro Symonenko had been seriously wounded in an assassination attempt in Kiev.

Vasyl Khara, a parliamentary deputy and prominent trade unionist, was attacked outside his home.

Meanwhile, Marchuk, a former prime minister, has accused Kuchma's campaign team of organising dirty tricks to undermine his chances, including distributing anti-Semitic leaflets with Marchuk's name on them, brawls at his election meetings and putting nails in the tyres of his aides' vehicles.

Source: BBC Monitoring Caversham 20 Oct 99

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.

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