KYIV -- Ukraine's leading presidential candidates are refusing to participate in televised debates ahead of the January 17 election, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.
The debates were conceived as one-on-one events in which each of the 18 registered candidates appears once.
But five of those official candidates -- including front-running former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- have said they won't appear with the lesser-known "technical" candidates with whom they were paired for the debates.
President Viktor Yushchenko has also said he won't participate.
The first of the nine hourlong debates took place on state television on January 4 and pitted former Environment Minister Yuriy Kostenko against former Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Tihipko.
Under the debate format's rules, if one candidate in any pair decides not to participate, then his or her debate partner is granted 30 minutes of broadcast time to deliver a speech.
Kyiv-based political analyst Andriy Yermolayev told RFE/RL that the debates are unlikely to significantly influence voter preferences but warned that candidates who skip the event might enable dark-horse aspirants to "surprise both voters and political opponents" with their televised appearances.
Although several Ukrainian TV channels have political talk shows, the major presidential candidates have thus far avoided appearing together.
Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, who lead all election polls, have said they would consider taking part in a debate if they were one of the two candidates involved in a possible second round of the election.