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Ukraine: 15 Candidates Race For Ukrainian Presidency

With less than a week to go until Ukraine's presidential election, there are still 15 candidates in the race, and incumbent President Leonid Kuchma is in the lead. RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky in Kyiv looks at the leading contenders, and at the policies they hope will win them the country's top job.

Kyiv, 26 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- All 15 candidates who entered the race for Ukraine's presidency are still in the contest as the election approaches Sunday (Oct. 31). But most analysts believe only a handful have a real chance at making an impact on this presidential election, Ukraine's third since the country became independent in 1991.

Polls show the incumbent, President Leonid Kuchma, in the lead, with a cluster of leftist rivals in pursuit. The top two of these are Natalya Vitrenko and Oleksandr Moroz. But in addition to them, three other candidates also command significant support. They are Communist candidate Petro Symonenko, Peasant Party leader Oleksandr Tkachenko, and the head of the democratically-leaning National Solidarity Party, Yevhen Marchuk.

If, as is likely, nobody wins more than 50 percent of the votes on Sunday, the two candidates with the most votes will compete in run-off elections two weeks later. Most observers believe a second round will take place between Kuchma and one of his leftist rivals.

The Council of Europe and Kuchma's rivals have accused the president of using his position unfairly, to force the mass media, especially television, to support his cause. He has rejected those accusations. Nevertheless, election coverage on television has mostly concentrated on Kuchma and has been overwhelmingly positive towards him.

Yaroslav Koshiw is a journalist and author of books about Ukraine's political scene. He believes Kuchma is set to win.

"I think President Kuchma will walk this election because all his opponents are divided, especially the opponents on the left. There are six of them, four who got together calling themselves the Kaniv Four, are unable to select a single candidate."

The Kaniv Four, an alliance among Moroz, Marchuk, Tkachenko and independent Volodymyr Oliynyk, had said only one of them would run. But earlier this week they announced that all four were still in the race. That will further split the vote, a boon to Kuchma.

Kuchma is campaigning on a platform of pro-market reforms, including privatization. He says he wants to continue his foreign policy, of wooing the West while avoiding offense to Russia. And the president wants to strengthen presidential powers by creating a senate, to turn Ukraine's parliament into a bicameral one.

Kuchma has presided over a drastic decline in Ukraine's economy, and has been criticized for failing to push through radical economic reforms. He is also perceived as doing too little to combat widespread corruption.

But in the last weeks of campaigning, Kuchma has portrayed himself as the only person who can prevent the return of communist or leftist rule to Ukraine. Many people who have little affection for Kuchma will likely vote for him simply to prevent a leftist comeback.

Koshiw believes a Kuchma victory could be damaging for Ukraine.

"If President Kuchma does win a second five-year term, it would probably splinter the society. And Ukraine would most likely not move forward economically or politically and there would be great destabilization in the society."

Polls show the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Natalya Vitrenko, as second behind Kuchma. Vitrenko has campaigned on an ultra-leftist platform and is virulently opposed to privatization of industry or agriculture. She wants to sever ties with the International Monetary Fund and suspend repayments of foreign loans.

Vitrenko laments the disintegration of the Soviet Union and wants much closer ties with Russia and Belarus. She also wants to rescind Ukraine's status as a non-nuclear power. Earlier this month, Vitrenko was wounded when grenades were thrown at one of her rallies. That is said to have boosted her popularity.

Moroz, the head of the Socialist Party and the other leading competitor for the leftist vote, is perceived as more moderate than Vitrenko. A polished orator with a reputation for honesty, he came in third in the 1994 presidential race. He was the speaker of Ukraine's parliament for four years until last year.

Moroz is opposed to land privatization. But he says he is open to market reforms, and that he sees his brand of socialism as similar to that of many West European governments. Moroz also wants to strengthen ties with Russia and Belarus.

The other leftist candidates are the deputy leader of Ukraine's Peasant Party, Oleksandr Tkachenko, and the leader of the Communist Party, Petro Symonenko. Both are trying to woo the voters, mainly the elderly, who are nostalgic for the Soviet Union. They are opposed to privatization and want to reinstate large Soviet-era subsidies for the agricultural and industrial sectors. Symonenko says that, if elected to the presidency, he will abolish the post and replace it with Soviet-style government.

Yevhen Marchuk is leader of a group called People's Solidarity, although he is campaigning under his own name. He is a former senior KGB official and chief of independent Ukraine's SBU security services. Accusing Kuchma of corruption, Marchuk is campaigning on an anti-corruption, anti-crime platform.

Marchuk, who was prime minister for 10 months in 1995 and 96, is seen as pro-Western and pro-market reform. He says he wants to encourage the development of small and medium-sized businesses. He presents himself as the strongest non-leftist option to Kuchma.

The largest democratic and pro-Western party in Ukraine, Rukh, split into two factions earlier this year. Both factions have candidates in the elections: Hennady Udovenko, who appears on the ballot as the Rukh representative, and Yuriy Kostenko, who is described as an independent. The split in Rukh was over personality issues rather than political differences. Both candidates advocate market reforms and a strong pro-Western orientation, including membership in the European Union and membership.

Koshiv says the lack of unity could prove fatal for the right wing.

"The right-wing parties are so split that they are unable to name a single person from the right to stand against Kuchma. They had a weekend meeting between Rukh One, represented by the former foreign minister of Ukraine, Udovenko, and his Rukh challenger Kostenko. And they weren't able to get together. And given that it's just a few days to the election, there's no chance either from the right or the left for a candidate to challenge the sitting president."

The remaining candidates have made very little impact on the race and are expected to gain an insignificant share of the vote.