MOSCOW, March 26 (RIA Novosti)--Ukraine goes to the polls Sunday in crucial parliamentary elections that could determine whether the revolutionary fervor that gripped the nation a little over a year ago has fizzled out or is still strong enough to break a parliamentary deadlock that largely paralyzed lawmaking in the last few months.
At the end of a campaign that has had its fair share of scandal - from allegations of lasciviousness in a billboard promotion featuring two insects to claims of a terrifying 25th frame inserted in a television advert - voters will have to choose between 45 blocs and parties on the ballot papers.
As distinct from the previous vote in 2002, when members of the Supreme Rada were elected in a mixed system of single-mandate constituencies and on the basis of party lists, the former institution has now been abolished. Parties will have to negotiate a 3% threshold if they wish to take up seats.
The obvious frontrunners are the orange-clad supporters of President Viktor Yushchenko from Our Ukraine, which is fielding 390 candidates, and the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych, who lost the re-run of the disputed 2004 presidential election that resulted in the "orange revolution" and the incumbent pro-Western authorities' coming to power. Allegations of vote-rigging in favor of Kremlin-backed Yanukovych were then widespread, but senior officials, including the president himself, have gone out of their way to exclude any such possibility on this occasion.
"People need a motive, evidence that election results are flawed to go to Maidan [the capital's main square]," Yushchenko told leading daily Kommersant-Ukraina Thursday. "But I guarantee that they will not have a motive. We have eradicated all opportunities to rig the vote."
Polling in the two weeks prior to voting in the former Soviet republic was banned, though exit polls will be used, but the Party of Regions, whose stronghold is in the Russian-dominated east of the country, is thought to have an advantage over the pro-presidential bloc.
However, a coalition government will likely have be formed in the 450-seat Rada, which could see former fiery Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko making a return to her former post after a falling out with fellow revolutionary Yushchenko last summer. Her eponymous bloc is fielding 389 candidates, according to the Central Election Commission, and the importance of its presence in the legislature cannot be overstated given that parliament received greatly enhanced authority following a constitutional reform that gave it some of the president's former powers.
In January, for example, the chamber voted to fire incumbent Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's government for a contentious deal over natural gas prices with Russia. Yushchenko challenged the move, which led to deadlock that may or may not be broken after the results of today's vote are declared, saying it was the Constitutional Court should rule on the matter. Unfortunately, to date a panel of judges is yet to be formed.
In fact, the president has already threatened to dissolve the chamber if it fails to form a coalition government within 60 days of the election. With hundreds of candidates running from various opposition movements, including even a party in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin's policy, this remains a possibility.
Differences over the 47-million-strong country's future direction, which Yushchenko supporters see in membership of the European Union and NATO as soon as possible, not to mention accession to the World Trade Organization by the end of this year, have led to scandalous moments in the campaign, including accusations of a forbidden 25th frame that revived memories of the 2000 U.S. presidential race. If then Republicans were charged with targeting Al Gore by using a subliminal message, "Rats", then the Party of Regions claimed 12 days before the vote that rivals Our Ukraine had inserted a flash frame of a human skull in an ad that ran under the slogan, "Danger. The frightening truth."
Meanwhile, passions have been raised further south in the country by an advert for the Green Party, which has been urging voters to choose life throughout its campaign, featuring two ladybirds in the act of reproduction. Some people suggested the image was indecent.
In all, 76,000 policemen are due to ensure security during voting in 34,000 electoral districts, while Ukrainians in 78 countries will also have an opportunity to cast their ballots.