Ukrainians gathered to watch the television debate between the two presidential candidates last night, but the head-to-head may have changed little, with most people having already decided how they will vote on Sunday. The re-run was called after mass protests amid claims of widespread fraud in the original second-round ballot: In one Kiev bar, regulars did not seem to mind prime minister Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko replacing sports on the big screen.
One man said: “This Yanukovich guy is a joke. He behaved like a school boy. Yushchenko speaks like a statesman. He is smart and articulate. I support him.” Viktor Yanukovich was declared the winner in November’s election but the Supreme Court ordered a re-run because of voting irregularities.
Yanukovich received the backing of Russian president Vladimir Putin and many Ukrainians favour keeping strong ties with Moscow rather than the European Union. During the live television debate Yanukovich played to his eastern powerbase by speaking in Russian while his opponent spoke Ukrainian.
Yushchenko said: “More than three million votes were kidnapped by the prime minister and his team.” He avoided referring to the fact that his face is disfigured by dioxin poisoning which he blames on Ukraine’s authorities. Yanukovich claimed that outgoing president Leonid Kuchma collaborated with Yushchenko’s supporters, calling the decision to call a re-run “unconstitutional.”