Source AP ©

Parliamentary election campaign kicks off in Ukraine

Ukrainian politicians officially began campaigning Thursday for the upcoming parliamentary election, called to resolve a bitter political struggle between the former Soviet nation's two feuding leaders.

The agreement to hold the early vote Sept. 30 was seen as a compromise between President Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-Western leader whose supporters staged Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, and his nemesis, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, after the president ordered the parliament dissolved in April.

Yushchenko had accused Yanukovych's majority coalition in parliament of trying to usurp power. The president's decision to disband the Verkhovna Rada resulted in weeks of street rallies and political skirmishing that virtually paralyzed the country.

For months, Ukrainian politics have been mired in a power struggle between the president and Yanukovych, considered closer to Russia, Ukraine's larger and more powerful neighbor.

Both men were bitter rivals during the 2004 mass protests, which erupted following a fraudulent presidential contest in which Yanukovych claimed victory. The courts ordered a revote, which Yushchenko won.

But before his election, Yushchenko agreed to a series of measures that watered down presidential powers and increased the clout of parliament. That led to repeated conflicts with legislators, culminating in Yushchenko's decision this year to dissolve parliament and call an early vote.

The election campaign officially kicked off Thursday as political parties held congresses and presented their election programs, a Central Election Commissions spokesman said.

If the election were held last Sunday, Yanukovych's Party of Regions would have won with 30.2 percent of the vote, according to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation.

The Our Ukraine-Our Self-defense bloc, loyal to Yushchenko, would have come in second with 15.5 percent, while the political party led by Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister, would have received 14.3 percent.

The nationwide survey polled 2,000 Ukrainians last month and had the margin of error of 2.2 percentage points.

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