Ukraine presidential campaign undermined by mud-slinging

Ukraine presidential campaign undermined by mud-slinging

HOPES FOR a clean presidential election campaign in Ukraine have been dashed in its opening days, as allies of the two main contenders trade accusations of rape and child abuse.Pro-western prime minister...

HOPES FOR a clean presidential election campaign in Ukraine have been dashed in its opening days, as allies of the two main contenders trade accusations of rape and child abuse.

Pro-western prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her more Russia-friendly rival Viktor Yanukovich are expected to run neck-and-neck in the January 17th ballot, with incumbent head of state Viktor Yushchenko trailing far behind.

Long-time rivals who routinely accuse each other of incompetence and corruption, Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Yanukovich have yet to personally lock horns in this fledgling campaign, but their supporters are already slinging mud of the most acrid kind.

Mr Yanukovich’s allies accused three MPs belonging to Ms Tymoshenko’s party of involvement in a child abuse scandal at the Artek summer camp on the Black Sea, which became famous during the Soviet era as a celebrated retreat for young communists.

The three men are now being investigated, but deny the allegations and say they were named in the case some six months after the adoptive mother of the children first accused her ex-husband of abusing them. Their supporters have called the scandal a smear campaign, noting how the lurid accusations were made at the start of the presidential election race.

As the abuse claims swirled, another member of Ms Tymoshenko’s party urged prosecutors to investigate allegations that Mr Yanukovich was involved in the beating and gang-rape of a woman in his home town of Enakieve in the 1970s.

In his younger days, Mr Yanukovich was jailed twice for theft and assault, but prosecutors say his record has been wiped clean and the relevant files destroyed. His allies, meanwhile, accused his main rival of seeking to sully his reputation.

Ukraine’s last presidential ballot in 2004 culminated in the Orange Revolution, when huge protests forced the annulment of Mr Yanukovich’s rigged “victory” and the re-run swept Mr Yushchenko into power with Ms Tymoshenko as his prime minister.

The former allies’ subsequent feuding has deeply undermined their drive to overhaul Ukraine and lead it towards the EU and Nato.

By DANIEL McLAUGHLIN, Irish Times

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