One third of east Ukraine voters plan to vote

2014-05-15 20:48
(Sergey Gapon, AFP)

(Sergey Gapon, AFP)

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Kiev - Only a third of voters in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine plan to turn out for this month's crunch presidential election, according to an opinion poll published on Thursday.

The survey, conducted nationwide ahead of the 25 May vote, also found that billionaire chocolate tycoon Petro Poroshenko was the clear front-runner for the post.

Eastern Ukraine is in the grip of a separatist rebellion by pro-Russians who have overrun more than a dozen towns and cities in their battle against Kiev rule.

The West considers the vote crucial for the future of Ukraine, which has been in turmoil since the February ouster of the Kremlin-backed government and Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea.

Rebels in two of the main regions in the industrial east, Donetsk and Lugansk, have already declared "sovereignty" after claiming victory in weekend independence referendums branded illegal by Kiev and the West.

"Unfortunately the situation is such that only 36% of voters are ready to cast ballots," said Valeriy Khmelko, director of the Kmis institute which conducted the poll.

Another 32% of the 2 022 people surveyed said they would not take part, and more than 31% said they did not know who to vote for, signalling they would likely boycott the election, Khmelko told AFP.

In the last election in 2010 won by ousted pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych, turnout was over 70% in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions which account for seven million of Ukraine's 46 million people.

The Kmis poll gave the billionaire Poroshenko, who openly supported the pro-EU protests that led to Yanukovych's ouster in February, a comfortable lead overall with close to 34% of the vote.

Trailing behind in second place was former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, with almost six percent and in third was the pro-Russian Sergiy Tigipko with just over four percent

Swathes of the east have been under rebel control for over a month despite a military operation by the Western-backed authorities in Kiev.

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