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Oligarchs Still Hold Sway In Ukraine Elections


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Voting is underway in Ukraine; a country torn by an ongoing separatist war fueled by its powerful neighbor Russia. And that's only one of the many challenges the new Parliament will face. There's also a financial crisis and a dispute over Russian gas.

In the past, the country's richest businessmen have controlled Ukraine's politics, but this election, which is the first since protesters kicked out the Moscow-backed president, looks like it may bring new faces to power. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: For 24 hours prior to the opening of the polls, no political ads have been allowed in Ukrainian media. But in the days before that, the airways were saturated with ads like these.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: The latest poll showed the blocks supporting Petro Poroshenko, getting as much as 30 percent of the vote. But Poroshenko has plenty of competition from parties such as the People's Front and the Self-Help party and Fatherland.

Political analyst Yuri Yakimenko says all those parties are potential members of a ruling coalition with a comfortable majority in Parliament.

YURI YAKIMENKO: And the main points that unified all those political parties is agreement of association and free trade zone with the EU. So they are pro-Western, Democratic, pro-European parties.

FLINTOFF: Yakimenko is deputy head of the Razumkov Center, a think tank based in Kiev. Despite funding from oligarchs, parties linked to ousted president Viktor Yanukovych aren't expected to do well.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

FLINTOFF: But many of the candidates from those parties are running under different banners. Critics say that Ukraine's election system gives wealthy interests a chance to buy votes and candidates who will do their bidding. This is Roman Nitsovych, an analyst at Dixie Group, an energy think tank in Kiev.

ROMAN NITSOVYCH: It is a major problem of our electoral system now 'cause there are a lot of people who misuse their position and who also use to buy votes.

FLINTOFF: Iryna Herashchenko, a candidate from the People's Front party, says the oligarchies are Ukraine's biggest problem, using government to protect their businesses and create monopolies.

IRYNA HERASHCHENKO: And they try to influence on politics, but I think that in new Parliament, we will have new politicians. These people, they are not connected with these oligarchs. And nobody can push on them.

FLINTOFF: Election observers say that some things about this election are not business as usual. Tamara Olexy is a Ukrainian-American and the president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, which has been sending observer missions to the country's election since independence. She says her organization hasn't seen much of a type of election abuse that used to be common in Ukraine. It's called misuse of administrative resources - that is, incumbent politicians using government events, media and travel to campaign and promote themselves.

TAMARA OLEXY: We have not witnessed it. We have had a long-term observer here on the ground and noticed that the political candidates all have equal access to the mass media. And I think that's extremely helpful for people to make an educated decision on Election Day.

FLINTOFF: Observers say another key factor in today's election will be turnout. A strong voter turnout, and especially participation by younger voters, could bring a lot of new faces to Ukraine's Parliament. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Kiev. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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