Ukraine's Elections: Likely Boost for Yanukovych

Ukraine's Viktor Yanukovych should emerge from Sunday's regional elections with an even firmer grip on power—a result bound to worry many in the West. Since taking office, the president has deftly bent Ukraine's democratic institutions to his will, stretching the Constitution to build a parliamentary coalition, winning the repeal of an amendment limiting presidential power, and tweaking electoral rules to outlaw independent candidates and blocs that could siphon his party's support.

Opposition leaders are warning that Yanukovych could try to influence the upcoming vote with tricks like ballot-stuffing and coercion (in 2004, his presidential bid was annulled after his campaign was found guilty of widespread vote rigging). But Yanukovych may not need the artificial support. His party has been gaining ground since parliamentary elections in 2007, when the crippling ineffectiveness of the Orange coalition began to take its toll at the polls, says Regina Smyth, an Indiana University professor who studies elections in post-communist states. What's more, a recent survey by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems found that while Ukrainians are concerned about Yanukovych's record, a growing number believe the country is headed in the right direction."People see it as a tradeoff," says Smyth. "Do we want democracy, or do we want stability?" The elections will likely answer in Yanukovych's favor.