Ukrainian polls show presidential race up in the air

By bne IntelliNews January 16, 2014

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A poll in Ukraine by the independent Democratic Initiative Fund (DIF) released at the start of this year found that President Viktor Yanukovych's popularity has actually increased significantly during the EuroMaidan protests.

On December 25 Yanukovych was polling at 20.1%, according to DIF, with jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in second place with 16.6% and Vitali Klitschko in third place with 16.2%. However, by January 9 Yanukovych had increased his lead to 29.8%, followed by Klitschko at 21.8%, who had taken votes from Tymoshenko.

The other two opposition leaders in the troika leading the protests that kicked off in November over Yanukovych's refusal to sign of on an EU trade deal - Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the far-right All-Ukrainian Union "Svoboda" party, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of Tymoshenko's Fatherland party or Batkivshchyna - trail by at least 10% in the poll.

Yanukovych looks very likely to win the first round of the presidential vote scheduled for February 2015, but he's still far from the 50% needed to be re-elected at the first go. Other polls have shown that if the vote goes to a run-off, then the combined protest vote would consolidate around whoever stands as the opposition candidate, giving them victory in a run-off.

Just who the opposition candidate will be remains up in the air. Klitschko has already declared he wants to run for office, but he may not be allowed to. On January 12, Ukraine's supreme court upheld a law passed by the Rada in December that disqualifies anyone who is not a tax resident of Ukraine from running for president. Klitschko has been a long-time resident of Germany and pays his taxes there. Moreover, Yanukovych may follow through on a plan to change to a simple first-pass-the-post system, nixing the 50% threshold requirement.

While the resolve of the protestors to remain on Kyiv's Independence Square, commonly known as the Maidan, appears high, the population remains split over the rights and wrongs of the protests. Only 12% of the population are actively involved in the protests, according to the DIF survey, with 50% supporting it, 42% against and another 7% undecided. The country remains more-or-less evenly divided into the Russophile east supporting Yanukovych and the Ukrainian nationalistic west supporting the opposition.

It looks like there is going to be a very ugly fight for the presidency that will certainly split the country in two. As such, the bulk of the population (71%) believe the situation in the country is becoming worse.

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