Ukraine’s ‘Mr. and Mrs. Y’ take their election campaign rivalry to the Swiss Alps

By Lynn Berry, AP
Friday, January 29, 2010

Ukrainian rivals campaign in Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland — Ukraine’s two rival presidential candidates made their cases Friday at Davos, but they were upstaged by the two candidates who finished behind them in the first-round vote and whose support may be key to victory in the upcoming runoff.

Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych spoke by video link from separate locations in Ukraine, their long answers occasionally broken off by technical problems.

Both said things the audience at the World Economic Forum wanted to hear, with Tymoshenko promising to move Ukraine closer to Europe and the more Russia-friendly Yanukovych speaking of the need for a strong, democratic state.

Much of their attention and the attention of those at the Davos event, though, was focused on the two candidates who finished third and fourth in the Jan. 17 election: wealthy English-speaking bankers Sergei Tigipko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who both appeared in person.

Tymoshenko appealed to both of them to join her.

“Their desires are my desires,” she said, speaking in Ukrainian through translation. “Once I win I will give every opportunity to them.”

Tigipko, who came in third with 13 percent of the vote to Yanukovych’s 35 percent and Tymoshenko’s 25 percent, is being aggressively courted by both sides. Tymoshenko has publicly offered him the post of prime minister should she win.

Tigipko said Friday he was staying neutral until after the election, but would consider joining whomever wins.

The 35-year-old Yatsenyuk, who came in fourth with 7 percent of the vote, said he would remain in opposition. “Those two are in the past of the country,” he said. “I represent the future.”

Despite Yanukovych’s lead in the first round, some see Tymoshenko as having a better chance of expanding her support base, but most agree that so far the race is too close to call.

Outgoing President Viktor Yushchenko, who finished fifth with 5.5 percent, has refused to support either of them.

He and Tymoshenko were the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, the mass protests against alleged vote fraud that led to a court-ordered rerun of the presidential election. The initial vote count had given Yanukovych the win.

The victory of the Orange forces raised hopes of swift integration into Western Europe, but Yushchenko’s presidency was stymied by political infighting that paralyzed the government and deepened the former Soviet republic’s economic problems.

Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on Friday mourned the “lost opportunity” of the Orange Revolution. “Political stability is task No. 1 for the next president,” he said.

He and Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt praised Ukraine for last month’s election and said they had few doubts the runoff would be equally free and fair.

A short film shown Friday called “Mr. and Mrs. Y” played on the rivalry between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych in a spoof of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” the movie where actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie fell in love while trying to kill each other on camera.

The spoof film ended with a note that the Ukrainian finale has not yet been written.

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