Ukraine poll stand-off reflects deep divide

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The Independent Online
KIEV - In an election for the president of Ukraine dominated by divergent views of Russia, the incumbent leader, Leonid Kravchuk, and a former Soviet missile- maker yesterday came out ahead of five other candidates, writes Andrew Higgins. But neither seemed to have secured enough votes to win without a second ballot.

Preliminary results from Sunday's poll reflect a deep polarisation of Ukrainian politics, with nationalist strongholds backing Mr Kravchuk by large margins, sometimes of over 80 per cent, and pro-Moscow enclaves such as Crimea giving the same level of support to his rival, Leonid Kuchma.

Mr Kravchuk, chief of Communist Party ideology until Ukraine left the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, has presided over two and a half years of disastrous economic decline accelerated by policy dithering. But he campaigned successfully on the theme that he alone has the experience needed to save Ukraine from civil conflict. He also benefitted from the absence of competition from more authentic nationalist figures.

The outcome matched expectations but some foreign observers expressed concern about the slowness of the vote count and about polling station irregularities, such as multiple voting.