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By John Helmer, Moscow

A new Ukrainian opinion poll of voter intentions – measured across the country between January 17 and 26, and just released — explains why the Ukrainian opposition, the US, and the European Union (EU) have dropped their demand for the release from prison of Yulia Tymoshenko. For the background to that story, read yesterday’s report.

Here is the poll in Ukrainian, as published by the Center for Social and Marketing Research in Kiev. Asked whether they want to vote if a new presidential election is called on the demand of the anti-government, anti-Russian demonstrators, the survey shows most Ukrainians are now ready to go to the polls:

TABLE 1: WILLINGNESS TO PARTICIPATE IN A NEW PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION (in percent)

Categorical Yes
49.4
Qualified Yes
26.4
Qualified No
5.4
Categorical No
13.2
Do not know
5.5

Asked which of this list of candidates they would vote for, if the presidential election were called next Sunday, the result is a neck-and-neck race between President Victor Yanukovich and the newest of the opposition leaders, Vitali Klitschko.

TABLE 2: VOTER PREFERENCE FOR UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES – WITHOUT YULIA TYMOSHENKO IN THE RACE (in percent)

Among all respondents Among those who intend to take part in elections and have chosen their candidate
Viktor Yanukovych
19.8
28.9
Vitali Klitschko
19.1
27.8
Petro Poroshenko
10.5
15.4
Arseni Yatseniuk
6.3
9.1
Peter Simonenko
4.5
6.4
Oleg Tyagnibok
3.6
5.4
Viktor Medvedchuk
0.6
0.8
Another candidate
4.2
6.2
Won’t vote
16.4
Don’t know, won’t answer
15.1

But when Yulia Tymoshenko is included in the list of candidates and her organization’s substitute, Arseni Yatseniuk, drops out, there is a dramatic shift in voter sentiment. Yanukovich gains slightly, but Tymoshenko immediately challenges Klitschko for primacy.

TABLE 3: VOTER PREFERENCE WITH TYMOSHENKO IN THE RACE (in percent)

Among all respondents Among those who intend to take part in elections and decided on a candidate
Viktor Yanukovych
20.4
29.5
Vitali Klitschko
14.8
21.6
Yulia Tymoshenko
14.6
20.8
Petro Poroshenko
9.0
13.0
Peter Simonenko
4.0
5.7
Oleg Tyagnibok
3.2
4.7
Viktor Medvedchuk
0.6
0.8
Another candidate
2.8
3.8
Won’t vote
16.2
Don’t know, won’t answer
14.4

Counting voters for the Communist Party’s Peter Simonenko and the undecideds, these poll results suggest that in the polarization of Ukrainian public opinion, Yanukovich’s worst enemy is Klitschko, and Klitschko’s worst enemy is Tymoshenko. From the Russian point of view, either Yanukovich or Tymoshenko is preferable to Klitschko, as President Vladimir Putin explained a week ago. “For us, “ he said, “it isn’t important [who from the opposition wins]— we carried on a very constructive dialogue with the government of Ukraine when this government was headed by Madam Tymoshenko.”

The answers to a further question asked by the SOCIS poll reveal that Yanukovich should calculate that his chance of survival in power would be greater if he calls a referendum on partnership with Brussels or partnership with Moscow, instead of accepting the opposition call for an immediate presidential election.

TABLE 4: UKRAINIAN PREFERENCES IN REFERENDUM ON EUROPE, RUSSIA (in percent)

Among all respondents Among those who intend to participate in the referendum and have already decided
I would vote for accession to the European Union
42.9
57.6
I would vote for accession to the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan
31.6
42.4
Won’t participate in referendum
13.9
Won’t answer
11.5

By contrast, the Kremlin calculation is likely to be that a presidential election, with either Yanukovich or Tymoshenko as winner, would be preferable to losing the referendum.

Yesterday Tymoshenko spelled out her calculations in a letter read by her daughter to a meeting of opposition parliamentarians in Kiev. Tymoshenko called for an immediate halt to the negotiations with Yanukovich, which Klitschko and others have been conducting. She made clear that her priority is not a referendum but a presidential election.

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