Scandal, intrigue mark Ukraine campaign

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ROME — Ukrainians will vote for a new parliament Sunday in an election overshadowed by political scandal, foreign intrigue and economic panic, as officials try to convince domestic and international critics that the balloting will be free and fair.

Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko said the election will show that the country is “continuing to advance [its] commitment to democracy after only 20 years of post-Soviet independence.” He cited the more than 5,000 international observers on hand and plans to videotape the voting to underscore that the government will respect the election results.

Many observers, however, remain critical of the government, especially after a court last year sentenced former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to seven years in prison on corruption charges that many Western observers say were politically motivated.

Mr. Gryshchenko said the criticism is undeserved and that Mrs. Tymoshenko received a fair trial.

“Some Americans and Europeans have tried to prejudge this election or cast doubt on our transparency, or they have tried to judge the election through the prism of last year’s conviction of Tymoshenko for abuse of office,” Mr. Gryshchenko said.

“But this election is about the aspirations of 36 million Ukrainian voters. It is about the direction and policies that the people of Ukraine wish for their country.”

Mrs. Tymoshenko’s All Ukrainian Union, the main opposition party, on Thursday accused President Viktor Yanukovych of allowing Russian agents to kidnap a Russian dissident to secure Moscow’s backing for his Party of Regions in the elections.

Mr. Yanukovych, who gets much support from pro-Russian Ukrainians, has lobbied Moscow to reduce the cost of imported natural gas, Ukraine’s main home heating fuel. Lower prices would help Mr. Yanukovych’s party in the elections, his critics have charged.

Mrs. Tymoshenko’s party and another opposition party are expected to make gains in the race for the 450-seat parliament, but Mr. Yanukovych’s party, which now holds 195 seats, is expected to retain a majority.

Mrs. Tymoshenko’s daughter Yevgenia has warned foreign election observers of the consequences of certifying the results of the elections.

“If the democratic world and observer missions do not state at the end of the day that [the elections] are not free and fair, we might see the legitimization of a Ukrainian dictatorship,” she said.

Mr. Yanukovych has been embarrassed by news reports that claim he secretly lives a lavish lifestyle on a luxurious estate with a massive mansion, a golf course and even an enclosure with ostriches.

Vitaly Portnikov, a political commentator, has compared Mr. Yanukovych’s government to the mafia and cited his estate as an example of corruption among his political cronies.

Viktor Yanukovych’s main goal is not to be president of Ukraine, but to be the No. 1 oligarch in Ukraine,” he said.

Meanwhile, many ordinary Ukrainians are more worried about the economy than the election, as they rush to banks to sell their Ukrainian money for dollars or euros, the currency of 17 nations of the European Union. Many fear the currency could face a devaluation after the election.

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