Thu, Dec 31, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Ukrainian candidate promises return to ‘rule of law’

AP , KIEV

Ukraine has paid too high a price for the democratic reforms ushered in by the 2004 Orange Revolution, says the pro-Russian front-runner in the country’s presidential race, who pledges to bring back the “rule of law” if elected next month.

Viktor Yanukovych, whose Kremlin-backed election victory in 2004 was overturned by the Supreme Court amid allegations of fraud, says the pro-Western revolution that brought his rivals to power has led to political chaos, corruption and a dismal economy.

“So what did this Orange Revolution give us?” Yanukovych asked in an interview on Monday. “Freedom of speech? That’s very good. But what price did the Ukrainian people pay for this? For the development of this democratic principle in our country, the price was too great.”

Democracy is “above all the rule of law,” which the Orange Revolution has failed to bring, he said.

Since taking power in 2005 on a wave of hope and excitement, the revolution’s leaders have disappointed many Ukrainians, fostering nostalgia among some for the stable, if autocratic, rule of an earlier era.

The Orange Revolution took Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit, as the pro-Western leadership sought membership in the EU and NATO. It also deepened animosity between the pro-Russian east and the west of the country, where Ukrainian nationalism is strong.

Yanukovych said his first priority as president would be to revive the use of the Russian language in schools and in the workplace, a move that would reverse the “forced Ukrainization” of the millions of Russian-speaking Ukrainians who support him.

“This is the main question that we have to solve right now, the one that is very seriously worrying the people,” he said.

With elections less than three weeks away, Yanukovych, 59, is leading in the polls. The former electrician said he would put his weight behind Moscow on issues ranging from trade to security.

He repeated his pledge not to seek membership in NATO, Russia’s Cold War foe. But he said he would give his full support to Russia’s proposal for a joint European security regime, which has gotten an icy reception in most of Europe.

He also promised, if elected, to do everything in his power to speed Russia’s entry into the WTO.

Viktor Yushchenko, the current president and the leader of the Orange Revolution, is going into the vote with approval ratings in the single digits. He has been at loggerheads with his former ally, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, for most of his time in office, causing political gridlock that has deepened the country’s economic collapse and alienated voters.

Yanukovych, a barrel-chested hunting enthusiast, also denies that his 2004 presidential victory was fixed. His campaign has focused on shaming Tymoshenko, his only real competition, for her leadership of the Orange Revolution, which he blames for turning Ukraine’s government into one of the most corrupt in the world and its economy into one of the worst-performing.

“Democracy is above all rule of law ... we have seen how the laws have been systematically broken, how the principles of the law have been replaced by political expediency,” Yanukovych said.

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