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Ukrainians Vote In Regional, Local Elections


A woman casts her vote in Ukraine's regional elections
Ukraine's local elections are being seen as the first real test of pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovych's popularity and his commitment to democracy.

Polling stations throughout the country were open on October 31 from 8 a.m. local time through 10 p.m. to accommodate some 36 million registered voters to elect local mayors and regional councils.

Some voters in Kyiv oblast and in the eastern city of Luhansk have criticized election workers for "poor preparations" with regard to the elections, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service correspondents report.

But the head of the Luhansk regional administration, Valeriy Holenko, says the voting process was well organized.

"People are freely expressing their opinion, the electoral process is proceeding normally, without any excesses," Holenko says.

Cameras In Polling Stations

Volodymyr, a voter in the Kyiv oblast who did not give his full name, says he was frustrated when he came to the polling station.

"I did not find my name on the lists, my wife's name wasn't on the list either. After half an hour in court, I defended my legitimate right to vote," Volodymyr explains.

RFE/RL correspondents in Crimea report that cameras were installed in each polling station. Opposition activists say the cameras are a form of pressure on voters.

Prior to the elections, opposition parties accused the president of planning to manipulate the vote in favor of his Party of Regions. The authorities, in turn, have accused the opposition of "provocations."

Yanukovych's bitter rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who lost the closely fought presidential race in February, predicted that the vote would be rigged.

"There is no limit to what these people will do," Tymoshenko told reporters. "They will falsify the vote."

RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service correspondents in the western region of Lviv report that voting there started late because a local court annulled the registration of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, barring their local candidates from participating in the vote.

On the eve of the election, Tymoshenko told the German magazine "Der Spiegel" that "the final achievement of the [Orange] Revolution is in the process of being destroyed: free elections."

Fate Of Free Elections

Yanukovych, however, has declared his support for free and fair elections. He has pledged that anyone attempting to manipulate the outcome of the vote will be prosecuted.

In a recent phone call with Yanukovych, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden highlighted "the importance of free and fair elections on October 31 and media freedom."

It is expected that the Party of Regions will get more support from the Russian-speaking east and south, Yanukovych's traditional power base. Voters in the Ukrainian-speaking west and central regions are expected to back pro-Western parties, including Tymoshenko's Fatherland party.

However, some opinion polls suggest that support for Yanukovych has diminished since he took office. A significant increase in domestic gas prices and the government's plan to raise the retirement age to 65 were instrumental in the shifting of opinion, local observers say. Many Ukrainians were also disillusioned with Yanukovych's failure to deliver on his presidential campaign promises, such as giving tax breaks to small businesses.

The rivalry between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko dates back to the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Yanukovych's controversial presidential election victory was cancelled following street protests in which Tymoshenko played a leading role. Yanukovych then lost the repeat ballot to Victor Yushchenko, Tymoshenko's ally at the time.

However, Yanukovych subsequently made a political comeback amid Ukrainians' disillusionment with the Orange Revolution leaders' failure to live up to people's high expectations.

Not everyone in Ukraine expects elections to bring any changes to their daily lives.

Stepan, a resident of Kyiv region, who did not want to give his full name, said, he didn't want to vote, because he knows "nothing will happen" as a result of this election.

Some 2,500 observers monitored the vote.

written by RFE/RL's Farangis Najibullah and Zenon Frys of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, with agency material
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