BFF-34 Presidential campaign starts in conflict-torn Ukraine

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UKRAINE-VOTE

Presidential campaign starts in conflict-torn Ukraine

KIEV, Dec 31, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Campaigning began for a key presidential
vote in Ukraine on Monday with President Petro Poroshenko facing an uphill
re-election battle among voters disillusioned with corruption and the slow
pace of reforms.

Poroshenko, whose government is locked in a conflict with Moscow-backed
insurgents in the industrial east, trails two-time ex-prime minister Yulia
Tymoshenko in the latest opinion polls.

Voting will take place on March 31, with a second round three weeks later
if no candidate takes more than 50 percent.

Poroshenko, a 53-year-old chocolate tycoon, sailed to victory in a May 2014
election after a popular uprising ousted the Moscow-backed regime of Viktor
Yanukovich.

He promised to pivot the ex-Soviet country of nearly 45 million people
towards the West and has sought to push through ambitious reforms.

But critics say the economy is in tatters, corruption is rampant and
Poroshenko has done little to rein in fellow oligarchs.

One poll this week showed 16.1 percent of expected voters planning to vote
for Tymoshenko, ahead of Poroshenko with 13.8 percent.

After the 2014 uprising, Moscow annexed Crimea and supported Russian-
speaking separatists in Ukraine’s east, in a conflict that has claimed the
lives of more than 10,000 people.

The war has been a huge burden for the country’s struggling economy, with
Poroshenko forced to rely on assistance from the West.

This month the International Monetary Fund confirmed it would give Kiev a
$4 billion, 14-month loan.

– Tough re-election bid –

Poroshenko is widely expected to stand for re-election even though he has
not yet confirmed he is running.

His re-election chances looked even more bleak in November when a Ukrainian
comic and showman, Volodymyr Zelensky, overtook him as the country’s second-
most-popular likely presidential candidate.

But Poroshenko’s popularity ratings increased after he oversaw the creation
of a Ukrainian Orthodox Church independent of Moscow.

His standing also received a boost after Russia seized three of Kiev’s navy
vessels and two dozen sailors as they tried to pass from the Black Sea to the
Sea of Azov in November.

Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Poroshenko of provoking the naval
crisis in a bid to increase his popularity ahead of the vote.

“The elections will be very dirty and very complicated,” Anatoliy Oktysyuk,
an analyst at Democracy House, a Kiev think tank, told AFP. “The stakes are
very high.”

He said many Ukrainians planned to vote for Tymoshenko “not because they
support her but because they are against Poroshenko.”

Tymoshenko, 58, was a star leader of Ukraine’s 2003-04 Orange Revolution,
served twice as prime minister and spent three years in jail for abuse of
power.

She lost the 2010 election to Kremlin-backed Yanukovich and unsuccessfully
ran against Poroshenko in 2014.

Pro-Russian lawmaker Yuriy Boyko and the head of the populist Radical
Party, Oleg Lyashko, are among those also expected to run.

BSS/AFP/SSS/1947 hrs