For the past few days, Ukraine has been flooded with rabid accusations of fraud, votes for sale and Russian stoogery. It’s been the colourful warm-up to tomorrow’s presidential elections when voters will head to the polls for the first presidential election since the Orange Revolution swept in a western-leaning government on the back of peaceful protests in 2004 and 2005.
Since then, the euphoria of casting off post-Soviet chains has devolved into incessant political infighting, making Ukraine one of the least functional states in a very dysfunctional neighbourhood. President Viktor Yushchenko, the revolution’s hero, has barely survived, with an approval rating of around 3 per cent. He is, understandably, not considered a serious contender in tomorrow’s vote.
In a sign of just how disillusioned Ukrainian voters are, leading the polls is Viktor Yanukovych, the man whose initial victory in late 2004 as a Russia-backed candidate prompted the accusations of fraud that launched the Orange Revolution in the first place. Polls have consistently put his support at just over 30 per cent.
Since it looks as though no candidate will garner the 50 per cent needed to declare victory, a run-off is almost certain, and is already scheduled for 7 February. Who will join Yanukovych? Either Yulia Tymoshenko, the current prime minister and co-leader of the Orange Revolution, or Sergei Tigipko, a banking magnate who has made a last-minute leap in the polls with the help of a €7.5m personal campaign investment. The latest poll, by Russia’s state-run VTsIOM agency, gives Tigipko 14.4 per cent and Tymoshenko 13.9 per cent.
No matter who wins, the vote will put the final nail in the rotting coffin of the Orange Revolution. Ukrainians decry the revolution’s unfulfilled promises – increased living standards, less corruption, a straight road to Europe. Instead they suffer from its reality: infighting among political divas who were barely able to keep the country afloat as the economic crisis struck. “What has changed in the past four years?” asks Andrey Ermolaev, a political analyst with a Yanukovich-linked think tank. “Ukrainian society has become disenchanted with politics,” he answers.
This time around, the frontrunners are all pro-Russian – even Tymoshenko, whose maniacal Russophobia of the Orange Revolution has since given way to a close pragmatic relationship with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. All hope to get Ukraine into the EU, but have dropped the task that irked Moscow most – NATO membership.
Initially, Ukraine’s new president will be more concerned with looking inward. The crisis struck the country harder than most, and it was forced to appeal to the IMF for £10bn (€11.2bn) in emergency loans. The economy shrank by 15 per cent last year, unemployment stands around 20 per cent and the currency has lost half its value.
Few expect the election to go smoothly, with accusations of vote-rigging starting before the first vote has even been cast. Websites where Ukrainians can sell their votes (going rate: 300 to 500 hryvnias – around €26 to €43) have flourished. And anyone who is really disillusioned can always vote for Vasyl Humeniuk, who last week changed his name to Vasyl Protyvsikh – which means Vasyl Against Everyone. How’s that for cynicism.