Independent Ukraine's fifth presidential election got under way on Sunday, with 18 presidential candidates battling for the country's top office.
Polling stations opened at 0800, and will remain open until 2000.
The presidential election campaign officially began on October 19, 2009. Sixty-five people submitted documents to the Central Election Commission to register as presidential candidates, of which the commission registered 18 as candidates.
According to the latest available opinion polls, the front-runners in the election are current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Regions Party leader Viktor Yanukovych, the loser of the last presidential election, in 2004.
Incumbent President Viktor Yuschenko, who is running for a second term, is trailing in the polls.
Among the other top presidential candidates are Front for Change leader and ex-Parliament Speaker Arseniy Yatseniuk and ex-Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine Sergiy Tigipko. Incumbent Parliament Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn is also running for president. The latter three are participating in the election for the first time.
Old faces from previous presidential races include Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (who was second in the presidential election in 1999, and who is also the candidate of the Leftist and Center-Leftist Bloc) and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz (who was third in the first rounds of voting in the 1994 and 1999 presidential elections).
The other new faces in the presidential election race include several well-known politicians – MP and Ukrainian People's Party leader Yuriy Kostenko, MP and Civil Position leader Anatoliy Hrytsenko, MP Inna Bohoslovska, People's Democratic Party leader Liudmyla Suprun, and Svoboda Association leader Oleh Tiahnybok.
The new presidential candidates also include Uzhgorod Mayor Serhiy Ratushniak, ex-MP Mykhailo Brodsky, Kyiv City Council deputy Oleksandr Pabat, and businessman Oleh Bilokon.
The Central Election Commission also registered as a presidential candidate a resident of Ivano-Frankivsk region, Vasyl Protyvsikh (whose surname translates as "Against Everybody"), who changed his surname from Humeniuk in early October 2009.
Under Ukrainian law, the country's president must be a citizen of Ukraine at least 35 years old before election day, who has the right to vote, who has lived in Ukraine for at least ten years before election day and who speaks the state language, Ukrainian. The same person cannot run for president for more than two terms. Ukraine's president is elected for five years.
To win the election, a candidate has to gain over 50% of the vote. If no candidate wins over 50% of the vote in the first round, the two candidates who received the most votes go through to a second round of voting. The second round of voting, if required, is held three weeks after the first round. A probable second round of voting in this year's election could be held on February 7.
According to the Central Election Commission, there are 36,576,763 voters in Ukraine. The Ukraina publishing company has printed 36,916,740 ballot papers for the voting on January 17, a number which includes a reserve of spare ballot papers. A total of 113 polling stations have been set up in 76 countries in a foreign election district. A total of 414,884 ballots were passed to polling stations abroad. In Ukraine, the polling stations have been set up and will be run by 225 district election commissions.
The Central Election Commission has also registered 3,149 official foreign observers.
The commission is planning to announce the preliminary results of voting early on Monday, January 18. The results of a number of nationwide exit polls are expected to be released just after the polling stations close at 2000.
The Central Election Commission is to release the official results of the first round of voting within ten days, i.e. by January 27 inclusive, but no later than the third day after the receipt of all election protocols from district election commissions, and then it is to draft a respective protocol and officially announce the election results.
Any candidate that wins over half of the votes in the first round is considered to have been elected Ukraine's president.
If none of the candidates wins outright in the first round, the Central Election Commission must announce a second round of voting.
The election results should be published in the Holos Ukrainy and Uriadovy Kurier newspapers no later than the third day after a protocol on the results of voting is signed.
The second round is held three weeks later, which this year would be on Feb. 7.
The newly elected president should assume office no later than 30 days after the official publication of the final election results.
According to the State Statistics Committee, 45.999 million people lived in Ukraine as of Nov. 1 (the latest official data).
This is the fifth presidential election in Ukraine since the country gained independence in 1991. The country's presidents were Leonid Kravchuk (one term) Leonid Kuchma (two terms) and Viktor Yuschenko (one term, incumbent).
Ukraine's first presidential election was held on Dec. 1, 1991, simultaneously with a referendum on the declaration of Ukraine's independence. Four candidates ran for president at that time. Verkhovna Rada Chairman Leonid Kravchuk became the first head of state elected by the people. He won in the first round, gaining 61.59% of the vote. Kravchuk's main rival in the election, People's Rukh (Movement) of Ukraine leader Viacheslav Chornovil, received 24% of the vote.
The second, and ahead of schedule presidential election took place in 1994. The presidential and parliamentary elections were set after a wave of strikes by coalminers. The presidential election consisted of two rounds for the first time. There were seven candidates, and in the first round of voting, Kravchuk received 38.36% of the vote, while his main opponent, former Head of the Ukrainian League of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and ex-Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma, got 31.17%. In the second round of voting, Kravchuk got 45.6%, losing to Kuchma, who received 52.15% of the vote. This was the first peaceful, democratic transition of power in a former Soviet republic.
Thirteen candidates ran for president in the third presidential election in 1999. In the first round of voting, incumbent President Leonid Kuchma (36.49%) and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (22.24%) got the most votes. In the second round of voting, Kuchma won 56.25%, while Symonenko won 37.8%.
Twenty-four candidates participated in the fourth presidential election in Ukraine in 2004. The second round of the election was followed by a series of mass protests held on Independence Square in Kyiv, and the Supreme Court ordered a rerun of the second round runoff between Viktor Yuschenko and Viktor Yanukovych due to the rigging of the voting. Yuschenko beat Yanukovych in a repeat of the second round vote on December 26, 2004, when the former received 51.99% of the vote and the latter won 44.2% of the vote.
A voter turnout threshold of 50% was last applied in Ukraine in the presidential election of 1994.
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