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Tymoshenko, the debate moderator, and the "empty spot"

Tymoshenko, the debate moderator, and the "empty spot"

If you schedule a debate and only one candidate shows up, does it count?

In Ukraine's presidential race, it definitely does -- as an opportunity for Yulia Tymoshenko to level a few zingers at the "empty spot" representing her rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

"The important thing is that this empty spot will not become Ukrainian president," said Tymoshenko during the 100-minute debate-turned-monologue. "And although he is absent, I can sense a smell in this studio. This is the smell of fear. I don't want a banal coward to become the next leader of our nation."

In the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, residents generally agreed that in the war of wits, Yanukovych -- who famously misspelled "professor" on his own candidate application and recently referred to Russian writer Anton Chekhov as a "great Ukrainian poet" -- was coming up short.

"He showed weakness because he refused to debate a woman," said Andriy Shevchuk, a high school student speaking in the concrete-slab outskirts of town. "He's afraid to debate because he's just not smart enough."

"Yanukovych is illiterate," said Bohdan Perelyuk, a pensioner in snowy downtown Lviv. "She's intelligent, and he's a criminal who served two jail terms."

"He's poorly educated. He can only say what's handed to him to read," said Iryna Lipenskaya, a teacher. "And she's educated and cunning."

Lviv is not what you'd call a cradle of Yulia-mania. In the first-round presidential vote on January 17, the city backed incumbent Viktor Yushchenko, with Tymoshenko coming in second.

But this time around, most city residents say they'll probably vote for Tymoshenko, only because she's the lesser of two evils. They say all politicians are corrupt, but that a victory by Yanukovych would hand Russia control over western Ukraine.

-- Gregory Feifer in Lviv

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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