Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Supporters of losing party in Ukraine polls settle in for long protest

Business New Europe

Jason Corcoran in Kyiv

Supporters of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych are bedding down with the Communist party on the streets of Kyiv in anticipation of challenging the official result if the Orange bloc is confirmed as the ultimate winners in Ukraine's parliamentary elections.

Activists from Yanukovych's pro-Russian Party of the Regions were joined Sunday, September 30 at their encampment in front of the Central Electoral Commission on Lesi Ukrainky Prospect by Communist tents bearing red hammer-and-sickle flags. However, Vladimir Shapoval, head of the Central Electoral Commission, told journalists Monday at a press conference that the results so far were valid. "The figures have not yet been finalised, but the trend is obvious," he said.

Even so, Shapoval and his team will have their work cut out convincing Yanukovych's supporters camped outside his office that everything is above board.

Anton Dimoglo, a Party of the Regions member from Zapoloznie near Crimea, said: "If the Commission does its job, then we will have no complaints and we will go home. If it gets it wrong and doesn't perform its duties according to law, then our little city will grow and we will tell the world what a crime has been committed."

Not-so happy campers

Dimoglo, a maths student, and his friend Anton Zapadnuk, have been camped outside the commission along with 150 others for the past two weeks. On Sunday night, they were joined by a further 50 from the Communist party. Sources in Kyiv claim protesters from the Party of the Regions were being paid $10-$25 a day, but Dimoglo denied he was on any payroll. "Some parties are paying protesters to demonstrate at rallies but we are doing it to win the hearts of minds of our countrymen," he says.

Many of the city's natives are pessimistic and jaded by Ukraine's fourth election in three years. Sergey Mazerov, an agent from Kievlet.com, is predicting a hung parliament will emerge once the results are tallied. Mazerov spent many nights on Kyiv's Maidan Square, since renamed Independence square, during the 2004 Orange Revolution. "The parties are already saying they will dispute the results if their side loses, it will be just like the (2006) election," says Mazerov, who has become disenchanted with the political process since the heady days three years ago.

The local Delo newspaper said the three leading political forces could bring up to half a million onto the Maidan on election day to protest or protect the election results. However, political demonstrators in their distinctive orange and blue colours were far outnumbered by shoppers, buskers and people enjoying Kyiv's Indian summer.

Victor Semyevich, a 70-year-old standing in the street offering passers-by the chance to use his weighing scales, says all the politicians have betrayed the country's elderly by not doing enough to improve social benefits. He earns a pension of about €75 a month, and says he needs to travel to the city most days "to earn bread."

"There's no money for anything else like clothes or chocolates, and medicine is expensive," he says.

Alexander Kniaziev, a 22-year banking graduate and Kyiv native, said that in Soviet times you could live for a month on RUB100 ($4), but that now you could not live even on UAH3000 a month, which is about $600. The average salary in Ukraine is now $280.

On Saturday night, Kyiv's youth seemed more interested in their football team Dinamo's prospects against Naftovyk. "Football is a game, a life, a real emotion. The elections mean nothing to me. I don't want to want to vote and I don't think politics can change the game," says Kniaziev.

A football ticket costs UAH10, so attending a game at Lobanovsky stadium is one of the few affordable pursuits in a booming city fast resembling Prague for its numerous Western high-street outlets and growing number of English stag parties.

In a prediction of Dinamo's chances against bottom-of-the-league Naftovyk, Kniaziev forecast a 3-0 victory for the home side. They lost 1-0. His prediction for the elections: "One for the blue [Party of the Regions] and one for the Orange." A score draw could yet come true.


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