KIEV, March 15 – Popular support for Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s party has fallen sharply in the Ternopil region, once its stronghold, according to preliminary results of a local election Sunday.
Tymoshenko’s loyalists have been vigorously campaigning over the past two weeks seeking to stop the election, but a chain of court rulings, most recently Saturday, had opened the door for the vote.
The election is seen as a test of whether Tymoshenko - once the frontrunner - can survive politically the next 10 months of severe economic crisis and run successfully for the presidency in January 2010.
The preliminary results do not look good for Tymoshenko. Her party received support from just more than 8% of voters in Ternopil region, which had been once overwhelmingly controlled by Tymoshenko, preliminary poll results indicate.
“The collapse of the Tymoshenko group is obvious,” Oleksandr, a Ternopil resident, said after casting his ballot on Sunday. “This is a trend and it shows that the king, or rather the queen, is naked!”
The frontrunner in the Ternopil election appears to be Svoboda, or Freedom, a nationalist party led by Oleh Tiahnybok. Svoboda collected 29.2% of the vote, the preliminary poll data indicate after the committee has counted a half of ballots.
The second most popular group appears to be United Center, a group controlled by Viktor Baloha, the chief of staff at the office of President Viktor Yushchenko. United Center collected 15.3% of the vote, according to data.
The Regions Party, a group that has never fared well in the western regions of Ukraine, especially in Ternopil, appears to have been running the third with 11.8% of the vote, the data show.
Ukrainian People’s Party, or UNP, a conservative group, scored 7.5%, and was followed by Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine (5.3%) and by the centrist group led by Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn (3.64%).
In a bid to prevent fraud, at least two political groups – Svoboda and United Center - have been independently counting the ballots and their data go in line with the results released by the committee.
Tymoshenko has been desperately seeking to cancel or to stop the election in Ternopil.
On March 3, the Tymoshenko group, jointly with the Regions Party, voted to approve resolution canceling the election, but Svoboda appealed that resolution in the Ternopil District Administrative Court, which by its ruling had reinstated the election on March 15.
The Tymoshenko group appealed the ruling in the Lviv Court of Appeals, but its ruling on Saturday had opened the door for the election.
Oleksandr Turchynov, the first deputy prime minister and Tynmoshenko’s closest ally, accused the presidential office of pressure and manipulation to make sure the election takes place.
“The presidential secretariat, led by Mr. Baloha, is taking measures that turn the election into farce.” The office “is using administrative resources to make sure the election takes place.”
After losing the appeal with the Lviv court, the Tymoshenko group had announced it was withdrawing from the election, but the local election committee had found no reason to remove the group from the ballot.
“We call on our supporters, all who cares about the Ternopil region, not to participate in the farce called the Ternopil election,” the Tymoshenko group said in a statement. “In conditions of economic crisis any early election is dangerous, unnecessary and destabilizes the situation.”
But Tymoshenko’s opponents believe the election simply proves that her policy was wrong and voters have been making their decisions based on whether a party can deliver upon earlier election promises.
“After the election, [Tymoshenko] will not be able to boast [strong] support of the people as citizens underscore the lack of confidence in the lying politicians,” Ihor Kril, the leader of United Center, said.
“Now it become clear that Tymoshenko will not be able to honestly win any election,” he said. (tl/ez)