Ukrainians go to the polls tomorrow for the first presidential elections since the Orange Revolution of 2005. But the front runner in the election is Viktor Yanukovich – the same man whose blatant cheating five years ago prompted popular street protests. But there is no sign of protest on Kiev's Independence Square this week.
Mr Yanukovich, whose Party of the Regions is in formal alliance with Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia, is going into the election some 10 percentage points ahead of his nearest rival, the Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.
The two lead a field of 16 other candidates, including incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, who led the Orange Revolution against Mr Yanukovich's fraud in 2005. Mr Yushchenko's approval ratings are in single figures, and he is almost certain to lose his re-election campaign.
The resurgence of Mr Yanukovich speaks volumes about the failures of the Orange alliance that toppled him, rather than a vindication of his own policies. Mr Yushchenko and Mrs Timoshenko were joint leaders of the street protests in 2005, but their euphoria gave way to five years of bitter infighting that has allowed Mr Yanukovich to call their joint rule an "Orange nightmare".
Political infighting has been compounded by economic mismanagement. Ukraine has suffered badly from the economic crisis, and the International Monetary Fund refused to extend the country the latest tranche of a multi-billion dollar loan because parliament and President Yushchenko failed to make the reforms demanded..
Ukraine has had no finance minister since February 2009, when the last one resigned after quarrelling with Mrs Timoshenko over the budget. Since then, she has been directly responsible for the economy, "and more and more people are realising it," said Yevgenny Kiselyov, a Ukrainian TV analyst.
Disillusioned Ukrainian voters have taken to auctioning their votes on the internet, and the trend has become so widespread that buying votes may swing the election, according to one Ukrainian political analyst.
It is impossible to tell how many people are selling their votes, or indeed who is buying them. But prices are rising rapidly. A week ago the asking price was between 300 and 500 Ukrainian hryvnia (up to £40). Now some can be found asking for as much as 5,000 (£370). An internet portal called "sell my vote" has appeared, branding itself as the place "where any citizen of Ukraine may sell his vote in the 2010 presidential elections".
On Wednesday Mrs Timoshenko deliberately evoked the Orange Revolution, accusing Mr Yanukovich of planning a "monstrous" falsification of the vote. Some saw that as a rallying call to her followers to come on to the streets in the event that she is defeated, but she is unlikely to elicit a repeat of the 2004-2005 protests. Even in the Ukrainian-speaking west, where the Orange revolutionaries drew their core support, the prospect of a Yanukovich victory does not provoke great alarm.
"It may sound paradoxical, but the fact that Yanukovich is again running for the residency is testament to the power of the Orange Revolution," said Roman Onishkevich, a Lvov-based political analyst and himself a Yushchenko supporter. "Only in a democratic society could a candidate who had previously lost have mended his ways and come up with new ideas."
It is unclear what a Yanukovich government would be like. if anything he can be expected to represent the interests of Ukraine's coal and steel billionaires, who are his financial backers – but his allies in Moscow are likely to find that uncomfortable.Reuse content