Ukraine sets election date, angering president
Kiev -- Ukraine will hold presidential elections on October 25, parliament announced Wednesday, in a fresh blow for pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko who is languishing in poll ratings.
An overwhelming majority of MPs — 401 out of a total of 450 — voted in favour of the bill, a statement on parliament’s website said. Another bill, proposing a date of December 27, was only supported by a single deputy.
Yushchenko had argued for holding the elections in January 2010, giving him additional months in office and offering more time for a turnaround in his political fortunes.
The pro-Western president swept to power after the Orange Revolution that ousted the corrupt old regime from office, sparking hopes he would ensure Ukraine’s long term prosperity and take it towards the European Union.
But Ukraine has been one of the worst-hit countries amid the global economic crisis and its politics have been paralyzed by a sometimes farcical row between Yushchenko and his Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Yushchenko’s latest poll ratings are less than three percent, possibly making him the most unpopular elected head of state in the world.
His administration reacted angrily to the parliament’s decision, saying that it would contest the date in Ukraine’s supreme court.
"The president will without doubt go to the supreme court about this question," presidential aide Marina Stavnichuk said, according to the Interfax news agency.
"I have no doubt that there are elements contrary to the constitution" in parliament’s decision, she said, adding that the date could yet be changed.
The constitution sets the date of the presidential election on the last Sunday of the president’s fifth year in office.
However interpretations vary over what date this implies. Yushchenko was elected at the end of December 2004 after a re-run of disputed elections and then took office on January 23, 2005.
Analysts see the upcoming elections as crucial for the future direction of Ukraine, at a time when the strategically-located country has been a major sticking point in relations between Russia and the West.
Opinion polls are being led by Tymoshenko and Viktor Yanukovich, leader of the Regions Party whose core support comes from the Russian speaking east of the country.
Tymoshenko has long been seen as a champion of Ukrainian nationalism but her agreement with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to end a gas crisis this year led many to speculate she was becoming closer to Moscow.
However a challenge could come from Areseniy Yatseniuk, 34, a pro-Western protégé of Yushchenko and an ex-parliament speaker, who is winning around 12 percent of the vote in presidential opinion polls.
The jockeying ahead of elections comes as Ukraine suffers a dreadful economic crisis that has seen industrial production plunge over 30 percent and is expected to push the economy into deep recession in 2009.