MOSCOW, Nov. 7 (JTA) — In the runoff for the Ukrainian presidency, most Jewish voters are expected to support the status quo, as they did the first time around.
But some older voters may cast their votes for nostalgia and support the Communist candidate.
In the Nov. 14 voting, the country’s nearly half-million Jews will join the rest of the 38 million voters in the former Soviet republic in choosing between incumbent President Leonid Kuchma, who won 36.5 percent in Oct. 31’s first round and his closest rival, Communist leader Pyotr Simonenko, who came in second with 22.5 percent of the vote.
Despite the substantial gap in the first round, the results of the runoff, Ukraine’s second presidential election since it became independent in 1991, are not easily predictable.
Kuchma, 61, will find it difficult to add substantially to his vote total, while the 47-year-old Simonenko is forming alliances in a bid to become the candidate of a united opposition. Some 13 candidates split the vote in the first round.
Observers say that in the first round a large majority of Jews, who cast their votes in numbers much larger than their proportion of the Ukrainian population, voted for Kuchma. The former head of a rocket plant and cautious politician has maintained good relations with the Jewish community.
Their desire to support Kuchma comes despite accusations that he financed his re-election campaign with state funds and denied other candidates fair access to the media. “The impression was,” said one observer, “that all the media worked for one candidate.”
The allegations involving Kuchma’s campaign bear a striking resemblance to those that surrounded Russian Boris Yeltsin in his 1996 runoff with Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
There is another striking commonality between the two campaigns: Victor Pinchuk, a business and media tycoon is reported to have access to Kuchma through the president’s daughter — in the Russian election, Jewish business and media tycoon Boris Berezovsky reportedly influenced Yeltsin through his daughter, Tatiana.
Simonenko, a former mining engineer and a Communist Party functionary in the strongly pro-Russian Ukrainian East can’t be discounted.
Jews in Ukraine usually associate Communist symbols and ideology with the notorious state anti-Semitism of the Soviet era, but Simonenko has not used any anti-Semitic slogans or anti-Zionist rhetoric.
Therefore, says Arkady Monastirsky, a Ukrainian Jewish leader, “many Jewish voters in the east, in Crimea and in small cities will vote for Simonenko, especially the older generation with its many former party members.”
Many older voters, Jews among them, are attracted to Simonenko and his talk of a “united empire,” which he is feeding by calling for a referendum on whether Ukraine should join Russia and Belarus in a Slavic union.