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Ukraine votes in crucial presidential elections

RIA Novosti

17/01/201009:53

KIEV, January 17 (RIA Novosti) - Ukrainians are voting on Sunday in the first presidential elections since the 2004 Orange Revolution, in a ballot set to determine the ex-Soviet republic's relations with Russia and Europe.

Election campaigning for 18 candidates in Ukraine's presidential race came to an end on Saturday. Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the opposition Party of Regions, and current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are seen as the main contenders for the president's post.

Both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have pledged to improve ties with Russia, soured over Kiev's NATO bid, gas disputes and the former Soviet republic's support for Georgia in the August 2008 war over South Ossetia.

Yanukovych has indicated he would follow Russia in recognizing the former Georgian republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia if elected, and has also criticized attempts to blame Russia for the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko has pledged that if elected president in January 17 polls she would seek EU membership for the ex-Soviet state as soon as possible.

Yanukovych will most likely win the first round of elections and hold a run-off election with Tymoshenko, a political analyst told RIA Novosti on Saturday.

"Yanukovych will be ahead probably by 12%. Tymoshenko's team is still confident she can catch up, she can still win, but the gap must be small, less than 10%," Andrew Wilson from the European Council on Foreign Relations said.

If election polls on Sunday show a 15% lead in favor of Yanukovych over Tymoshenko, then she will not have a chance in the run-offs, Wilson said.

He also said that if Tymoshenko loses the first round by 10%-15% to Yanukovych, then street protests and legal suits will be brought to the country's Arbitration Court by Tymoshenko.

Wilson believes presidential candidate Serhiy Tyhypko, favored in third place, could play a "key figure" in a run-off election between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko. According to the political analyst, Tyhypko is currently taking votes away from Yanukovych, which Tymoshenko needs to secure her position. Tyhypko would ask his constituents to vote for one of the other two candidates in the run-off.

Incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power after the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was triggered by allegations of fraud after Yanukovych was declared the winner of later discredited elections, will receive only 1.5% to 3.5% in the first round, ultimately losing the presidential chair, Wilson said.