Vitrenko shows staying power in presidential race
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - Several political surveys released on September 4 show that, contrary to most pre-election predictions here, the presidential campaign of Natalia Vitrenko continues to show considerable staying power and may even have sufficient electoral strength to wrestle the presidency from Leonid Kuchma if elections go to a second round.
The various polls were compiled by several sociological polling organizations, which have joined in a pre-election umbrella with citizen groups called Freedom of Choice. The organization's goal is to ensure free and fair presidential elections.
A nationwide poll of 2,400 Ukrainian voters taken by one of the organizations, the SOCIS Center for Social and Marketing Research, shows that Ms. Vitrenko, the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party and its nominee for president, could take second place in the presidential balloting scheduled for October 31. That would put her in a run-off with President Kuchma, who leads most pre-election polls. Currently, the president is not expected to gather the majority vote (50 percent plus one vote) that he needs to avoid a second round.
In the SOCIS survey, the president is favored by 30.6 percent of respondents, as compared to Ms. Vitrenko's 23 percent. Next in line is Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko with 19.9 percent. Yevhen Marchuk, the nominee from a bloc of parties from the political right, and Socialist Party nominee Oleksander Moroz follow at 6.5 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.
Bringing up the rear among the major candidates are the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada and the Peasants Party representative, Oleksander Tkachenko, at 2.7 percent; Rukh Party candidate Hennadii Udovenko at 2.6 percent; and the splinter Rukh Party is candidate, Yurii Kostenko, at 1.2 percent.
The other seven candidates in the presidential field of 15 have less than 1 percent support individually.
The numbers most encouraging to the Vitrenko camp are those resulting from a poll taken by the Center for Social Monitoring. The survey asked 1,681 Ukrainian voters who had stated that they "would definitely" or "sooner would than wouldn't" vote in the presidential elections to choose between two candidates in hypothetical pairings for the second round.
Ms. Vitrenko outpolled both of her closest competitors, President Kuchma and Mr. Symonenko. Those surveyed favored Ms. Vitrenko over the incumbent by a margin of 34.9 percent to 33.8 percent and over Mr. Symonenko by 33.8 percent to 22.7 percent. However, in the pairing with the president almost 14 percent of respondents said they could not decide, while in the pairing with Mr. Symonenko the number of "undecideds" was 17.7 percent.
If Ms. Vitrenko were out of the picture, President Kuchma would have no problem beating any of the other top six candidates should he make his way to a second round, according to the survey. He takes Mr. Symonenko 37.1 percent to 28.6 percent; Mr. Moroz 34.9 percent to 29.5 percent; Mr. Marchuk 34.4 percent to 19.2 percent; and Mr. Tkachenko 37.8 to 18.2 percent. (The poll's margin of error is plus/minus 2 percent)
The presidential campaign in Ukraine has an unusual quality in that many candidates are searching for coalitions among their fellow aspirants to the highest office of the land.
On Ukrainian Independence Day in the city of Kaniv, four candidates, Messrs. Tkachenko, Moroz and Marchuk and the lesser known Volodymyr Oliinyk, joined together in a loose coalition with the aim of putting forward a single candidate from among themselves by mid-October.
Mr. Tkachenko has made overtures to Mr. Symonenko to join the "Kaniv 4," as the press has dubbed them.
Meanwhile the splinter Rukh's candidate, Mr. Kostenko, has agreed to a bloc with Vasyl Onopenko, candidate from the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party, a coalition that could eventually include Yurii Karmazin of the Defenders of the Homeland Party.
However, none of the candidates in either coalition have shown any inclination to withdraw their candidacy in favor of another.
Rumors and innuendo still surround the candidacy of the Rukh Party nominee, Mr. Udovenko, who many pundits believe will opt out of the race in favor of the incumbent.
For his part, Mr. Udovenko has stated that he is committed to the end, as he pledged to his party upon his nomination, and is not looking for partnerships or coalitions.
Ms. Vitrenko, who has retained her strong rating even with little press coverage since the Verkhovna Rada went into it summer recess in mid-July, also has unequivocally asserted that she will continue to go it alone.
As will President Kuchma. At a September 6 press conference he said he is not running against one specific contender or party. "They are all the same to me. I am running one against 14," said the president.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 12, 1999, No. 37, Vol. LXVII
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