The battle of the Viktors brings on voter fatigue in Ukraine

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Ukrainians went to the polls for the third election in three years yesterday, as voters were confronted with another battle of the Viktors – President Yushchenko and Premier Yanukovych.

The stand-off between the two men has consigned the country to months of political stalemate which has in turn bred apathy among the electorate. Monitoring by Ukraine's electoral commission suggested the millions of voters who enthusiastically took part in the 2004 and 2006 polls preferred to enjoy a gloriously sunny day without a trip to the ballot box for the latest parliamentary elections. Mykola Slonchak, supervising proceedings at a central Kiev polling station, said that turnout was about three-quarters down compared with a year ago.

Political analysts are not expecting a clear winner to emerge and drawn-out coalition talks are likely. The pro-Western President Yushchenko has been grudgingly sharing power with the man he defeated in the 2004 orange revolution, Mr Yanukovych, who bounced back to challenge him as prime minister.

But the president has pledged his Our Ukraine party will form an alliance with Julia Tymoshenko after the results of the parliamentary elections are known. Yet many are sceptical. As Ms Tymoshenko herself put it: "The warranty you get when you buy a toaster in a store is worth much more than a political guarantee in Ukraine."

The president has reneged on similar deals in the past. After parliamentary elections last year, Mr Yushchenko went back on an agreement that should have seen his erstwhile ally in the 2004 orange revolution, the firebrand Tymoshenko, installed as premier after her eponymous party won the largest slice of the Orange vote.

But as the two quarrelled for months, a third member of the Orange coalition defected to Mr Yanukovych and his Party of Regions, tipping the balance of power, and forcing the president to appoint his arch rival as prime minister.

The president yesterday sought to portray the parliamentary elections as the turning of a new page of Ukrainian history. "The choice is between two alternatives: false stability and change," he said as he cast his vote.

Of more than 20 parties contesting yesterday's polls, only five are likely to gain the 3 per cent minimum vote to enter parliament. Most polls predict that Mr Yanukovych's party will get the largest single share of votes with around 34 percent, Ms Tymoshenko's party is expected to get about 24 per cent, and the president's party up to 14 per cent.

The Communists and a party led by the maverick politician Volodymyr Lytvyn could pass the crucial 3 per cent barrier and play a determining role in a hung parliament.

Many predict that political paralysis will continue, with court challenges and boycotts likely after the results are confirmed. As one outgoing member of parliament put it: "There may be fresh elections but, in Ukraine, it doesn't necessarily follow that there will be a new parliament."