Protagonists of Orange Revolution Vie Again

Yuri Lutsenko, above, a leader of President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party, greets supporters at a Friday gathering in Kiev. Below, backers of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych rally ahead of today's vote. (By Sergei Chuzavkov -- Associated Press)

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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 30, 2007

KIEV, Ukraine, Sept. 29 -- Ukraine's weary voters go to the polls Sunday for the third time in three years, a testament not only to the country's incessant political infighting but also to the Orange Revolution's legacy of genuinely open political competition.

Since the popular revolt in 2004, which overturned fraudulent presidential results, Ukraine has lurched from one political crisis to the next. The leading actors in the original drama continue to define Ukrainian politics, hard-nosed players on a merry-go-round of intrigue, shifting alliances and brinkmanship.

According to opinion polls, the coalition that led the street protests that swept Viktor Yushchenko into the presidency in early 2005 is running even with the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange Revolution's villain who reemerged as prime minister in March 2006.

The tight margin expected in Sunday's parliamentary election seems like a prescription for more of the kind of conflict that this year threatened to thrust different parts of the country's security services into violent political strife.

But for all the apparent chaos, Ukraine's political system stands out from much of the post-Soviet world as one in which there is a real choice between fierce rivals.

Political pluralism is visible in the country's lively debates, diverse media and the buoyant final rallies that all sides held without any hindrance in the capital of Kiev on Friday, the last day of campaigning.

"The Orange Revolution established an irreversible course," said Vadym Karasiov, head of the Institute of Global Strategies, a research organization in Kiev. "There is instability, but it's dynamic and no one will allow it to boil over. There is now a free political marketplace in which voters don't want anyone to have absolute power."

That point is now acknowledged by some in Yanukovych's Party of Regions, which long seethed over Yushchenko's ascension to the presidency.

"The Orange Revolution indeed changed this country," said Leonid Kozhara, a former diplomat and foreign policy adviser to Yanukovych who is running on the Party of Regions ticket. "If Yanukovych won in 2004, then we would have seen a different Ukraine. But now we see a different Yanukovych and a different country. He is more democratic. He looks more like a Western politician than a Russian politician, for example. He accepts political diversity."

Yushchenko's allies still view Yanukovych as an autocrat-in-waiting. His mask still falls, they say, including recently when he called Yulia Tymoshenko, a firebrand leader of the Orange Revolution, "a cow on ice."

"Either you vote for changes in your lives or you vote to bring back the past and those who have divided us and infected the very body of our nation," Yushchenko said in an election eve appeal.

Voters, however, seem exhausted by the political rhetoric and unhappy about this forced early election. The country was ill-prepared, and problems with voter lists already have led to mutual accusations of likely election fraud; court battles will almost certainly ensue.


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