- elections - Ukraine - Yulia Tymoshenko
Ukraine prepares for parliamentary elections
Ukraine heads to parliamentary polls Sunday for the first election since Yulia Tymoshenko lost to President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, with boxing star-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko emerging as an unexpected challenger to the ruling party.
Ukraine prepared Saturday for parliamentary polls in which superstar boxer Vitali Klitschko has emerged as an unlikely challenger to the ruling party in place of the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
The ex-Soviet strategic nation of 46 million nestled between the EU and Russia is holding the first election Sunday since Tymoshenko lost to President Viktor Yanukovych in a bitterly-fought contest in 2010.
The firebrand 2004 Orange Revolution leader was jailed less than two years later on abuse of power charges brought by Yanukovych's Regions Party that both Tymoshenko and Western nations saw as vendetta on the part of the president.
Sunday's election to the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada is now seen both as a warm up for the 2015 presidential ballot and a chance for voters to pass judgement on a jailing that has isolated Ukraine from EU states.
Opinion polls suggest that Yanukovych's alliance with the Communist Party and a top centrist politician will retain its narrow lead while Tymoshenko's opposition bloc will grab second place by the slimmest of margins.
But trailing in hot pursuit in third is the UDAR (Punch) party of world heavyweight champion Klitschko -- an opposition sympathiser who has served in the Kiev city council and now has the chance to expand nationally.
"I have a lot to lose," the towering boxer with a PhD in sports science said in comments posted on his website this week.
"The biggest and most valuable thing that I have is my reputation -- not only in Ukraine but across the world. I have staked the most valuable thing I have on these elections," the Ukrainian sports star said.
A long-mooted alliance between UDAR and the Tymoshenko bloc could give the opposition a parliamentary majority and still further limit the political options of Yanukovych -- already under heavy pressure from the West.
Opinion polls suggest the opposition could collect just a shade over 40 percent of the vote against the 38 or so percent mustered by the Regions Party and its allies.
Half of the 450 seats will be filled with voters casting ballots for parties that have to clear a five-percent minimum vote threshold. The remainder is comprised of votes for individual candidates who must win their districts to get in.
The vote was preceded by an extremely rare joint letter from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy boss Catherine Ashton calling on Yanukovych to prove his democratic credentials to the world.
"Important steps now have to be taken by the Ukrainian government to fulfil its full potential," the open letter said.
The question of whether Yanukovych will lose his ruling majority depends mostly on whether Klitschko -- assuming the dominant role of kingmaker -- follows through on his promise to work with Tymoshenko's team.
The ambitious political novice has thus far refused to dismiss the notion of himself one day running for president. He has also been remarkably coy about how far his alliance with Tymoshenko's party might actually go.
Analysts said this vote was being driven by personalities rather than any big subject such as the nation's closer ties with either Russia or the EU states -- a dominant theme of the historic 2004 vote.
"The issues are not that important here. This is really a dress rehearsal for the presidential vote," said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Centre for Political Studies.
"The results could shape the presidential ambitions of the incumbent as well as the leaders of the disparate opposition ahead of the 2015 election," the US-based IHS Global Insight agreed.
Tymoshenko herself has been jailed through 2018 and is facing still new charges related to fraud and tax evasion. There is also a separate murder investigation in which she has featured as a witness.
Several analysts noted that Klitschko was now heavily benefiting from voter fatigue with the corruption that has clouded the names of both the president and Tymoshenko in recent years.
"Society is tired of this endless confrontation between Vitya (Viktor Yanukovych) and Yulia (Tymoshenko)," Ukrainska Pravda political observer Sergiy Leshchenko wrote Saturday on the respected news website.
"Klitschko is filling the demand for fresh faces," Leshchenko concluded.