Ukraine presidential rivals fight for floating votes
Ukrainian presidential rivals, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich and PM Tymoshenko, vied for the support of businessman Tigipko.
Ukrainian presidential rivals, opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, vied on Wednesday for the support of businessman Sergey Tigipko, a candidate in Sunday's first round of voting.
Yanukovich, backed by wealthy industrialists in the Russian-speaking east and south, and Tymoshenko, a populist with a strong support base in the west and centre, will face each other in a runoff on Feb 7.
Tigipko, who relaunched his political career just last year after a four-year break, enjoyed a late surge of support to gain 13 percent of the vote to Yanukovich's 35 percent and Tymoshenko's 25 percent.
The result of the first presidential election since the 2004 "Orange Revolution" will shape how Ukraine, an ex-Soviet state of 46 million people lying between the European Union and Russia, handles relations with its powerful neighbours.
It may also unlock frozen International Monetary Fund cash for the stricken economy. The Fund broke off its $16.4 billion programme after Kiev breached pledges to control the budget.
Tymoshenko, in a televised news conference, announced she had offered him the premiership in return for support.
"I proposed to Sergey Tigipko that we not only unite our programmes, our vision of Ukraine's development, not only to be his reliable partner in difficult but rewarding work. I offered him the position of prime minister," she told journalists.
Since the constitution says that the prime minister is nominated by the parliamentary majority and not the president, Tymoshenko appeared to be directing her words over Tigipko's head to his supporters.
Tigipko, millionaire and former central bank chief, has been painted by media as a kingmaker. He repeated that he would not support either frontrunner, although his spokesman was unable to confirm clearly that he had rejected Tymoshenko's offer.
"I have now taken up a position of neutrality. Let them carry out a political battle between themselves," he told Interfax.
Analysts said Tigipko might feel his new political career could be stopped in its tracks by early association with the strong-willed Tymoshenko who has little tolerance for rivals.
"Tigipko could refuse the offer so as not to spoil his future. It's difficult to be an independent prime minister under Tymoshenko," independent analyst Oleksander Dergachev said.
But Yanukovich, a 59-year ex-mechanic from the Donbass industrial heartland who has bounced back after his disgrace in 2004 when he was linked to a rigged election, claimed that Tigipko's votes would come his way.
"I think that the voters who voted for Tigipko think like we do. And in the second round they will support us," he said on the campaign trail in Kharkiv, according to his press service.
Tymoshenko's aides said they expected to win the backing of supporters of losing candidates such as Tigipko, former Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk and other eliminated candidates who accounted for roughly 30 percent of the vote.
But Yatseniuk, in 4th place with about 7 percent of the vote, said he would support neither side as he has always fought "against this political regime," Interfax quoted him as saying.
Incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko, who ended in fifth place with 5.5 percent, was scathing about both candidates.
Neither of them had "national, European and democratic values", he said. "A hard runoff vote lies ahead ... Ukraine holds free elections but has no genuine choice," Yushchenko said in a statement run live on television.
The two rivals kept up a barrage of attacks on each other.
Tymoshenko said that the election of Yanukovich, tagged a Moscow stooge in the 2004 "Orange Revolution", would mean "that the process of Ukraine losing its independence will begin."
She described him as a "puppet who personifies the interests of oligarch circles".
Yanukovich hit back. "Today she must understand that the more she bad mouths me, the more she humiliates my electors. If she doesn't understand that, it's her problem," he said in Kharkiv.
"People say to me it is useless to quarrel with a woman. But it's not true. Above all, I believe she is the prime minister and she must bear responsibility for her every word. But if she is only a woman, she should go back to the kitchen and show her capriciousness there," his Web Site quoted him as saying.
Reuters Last Mod: 20 Ocak 2010, 20:35