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Ukraine: Voters Mistrust Elections

By Katya Gorchinskaya

Kyiv, 23 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Just 23 percent of Ukrainians expect the upcoming parliamentary elections to improve the nation, and only 29 percent believe fraud will not affect the outcome of the March 29 vote, according to a public opinion poll.

The opinion survey, conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Fund jointly with the polling firm Socis-Gallup, questioned 1,800 people across Ukraine, and compared the results to those from a similar survey carried out before the 1994 election. The opinion comparison suggests voters' expectations - never high to begin with - have plumbed new depths since the last election produced a divided legislature, which has spent its term in trench warfare with the government.

"There wasn't much optimism in 1994, but by now it has decreased seriously," said Democratic Initiatives Fund analyst Iryna Bekeshkina as results were released last week.

The proportion of respondents who said the elections could improve the situation in Ukraine has shrunk from 32 percent in 1994 to 23 percent this year, and only eight percent of the respondents - half the 1994 total - believe their vote will make a difference.

Serhy Odarych, director of the Ukrainska Perspektyva policy assessment organization (think-tank), said such numbers are to be expected. "I think they are very logical," he said. "What else can you expect in the country, where corruption in the government is growing, and the population is shrinking at the same rate as it would during a war?"

Kyiv residents seem to share his fatalism.

The 33-year-old manager of a private company (who did not want to give his name) told RFE/RL Kyiv that, "people of my generation have seen several election campaigns, but they have changed nothing."

"I don't expect anything from a new parliament," chimed in Dmytro Begeka, a 22-year-old student. "I expect nothing to change."

Forty-four percent of those polled by the Democratic Initiatives Fund/Socis-Gallup said they were certain to go the polls, and another 20 percent described themselves as likely voters. But most of those cited their civic duty or force of habit - while just 15 percent of the probable voters were motivated by the desire to support a specific candidate or party.

By contrast, 38 percent of those expecting to stay home cited lack of faith in all politicians as their primary reason.

The opinion survey suggests older voters are more likely to come to the polls than young Ukrainians. That could boost the share of the vote predicted for the Communists, who have the loyalty of 17 percent of the electorate - three times the figure registered by the second-place Rukh, now described as a moderate nationalist party.

Anatoly Koltsov, a 60-year-old retiree who still teaches at a Kyiv school, was optimistic, saying, "I believe in the objectivity of the coming election, because a lot of parties and a lot of observers will be watching." But Koltsov also said he hopes for time for research in the coming weeks in order to choose among the 30 parties on the ballot. Several Ukrainian parties have put celebrities and well-known politicians at the top of their slates to attract confused voters.

As the opinion survey results were being released, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) accused Ukraine's government of curtailing press freedom. The OSCE assertion was based on the closing of one newspaper, and efforts to close another - each linked to a prominent opposition candidate.