President Slumps In Polls

Support for President Viktor Yushchenko has plunged after an acrimonious split in the team that led Ukraine's Orange Revolution last year and allegations of mass graft, opinion polls showed on Wednesday.

The latest survey was published as Yushchenko proceeded with rebuilding his cabinet nearly three weeks after dismissing Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko -- his ally in the mass protests last year that led to his election.

Having won parliament's support for technocrat Yuri Yekhanurov as premier, he named a young central bank specialist to replace an ally of the ousted Tymoshenko as economy minister.

Some members of the outgoing team stayed on. But key appointments were still to be made, including whether to retain Viktor Pynzenyk, another Tymoshenko ally, as finance minister.

The poll by the Democratic Initiatives Fund, conducted this month, showed 61 percent of 1,803 respondents believed Ukraine was moving in the wrong direction. About 41 percent had no trust in the president compared with about 33 percent who trusted him.

Yushchenko took power in January after a re-run of a rigged presidential poll by winning over 52 percent of the vote and pledging to engineer reforms that would enable Ukraine one day to join the European Union.

Ukraine's most popular and trusted politician, he had only eight percent of voters expressing no trust in him in March.


"The situation has changed into the complete opposite. It is worse than during President Leonid Kuchma's term," Iryna Bekeshkina of the Fund told reporters, referring to the 10 years of scandal-plagued administration by Yushchenko's predecessor.

"This is the result of deep disappointment among those who had such high expectations after the Orange Revolution."

Public opinion was jolted by his dismissal of Tymoshenko and her entire cabinet on September 8 after each of the two camps in the government accused the other of involvement in graft.

The ousted prime minister, admired for her rousing speeches, vows to get her job back by beating Yushchenko's allies in an election next March to a parliament with expanded powers.

Many Ukrainians were also upset by a scandal over the extravagant lifestyle of the president's eldest son, a 21-year-old student, and reports that his family owns the copyright on slogans and symbols of the Orange Revolution.

Pollsters said with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko engaged in a war of words, a third force could emerge the winner in March.

"When two lions are fighting, other animals could get the prize," Bekeshkina said.

She singled out the Regions of Ukraine party led by Viktor Yanukovich, the pro-Moscow politician defeated by Yushchenko in the presidential election.

Polls monitoring party support put Regions of Ukraine in the lead with 20.7 percent. Tymoshenko's Fatherland party lay second with 20.5 percent and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine had 13.9 percent.

A failure to win enough seats would put in doubt Yushchenko's plan to move closer to the European mainstream as from the New Year as his powers will be reduced in favour of parliament.

Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich have a record of making sweeping promises to voters based on stronger state interference in the economy. Yanukovich backs closer ties with Russia.


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