, KIEV, Jul 30 – Ukraine on Monday kicked off campaigning for October parliamentary polls with the opposition’s list symbolically headed by its leader Yulia Tymoshenko, whose controversial imprisonment bars her from running.
The polls, the first major vote since the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, are expected to be closely followed by the West, where anger is running high over the treatment of Tymoshenko.
The outspoken former prime minister was sentenced last October to seven years in prison for abuse of power while in office, in a case taken up months after she lost a close presidential election to Yanukovych in 2010.
Many believe her imprisonment to be an attempt by the current president to bar a hugely popular rival from running in the legislative elections which are slated for October 28.
In a symbolic move, Ukraine’s opposition coalition that also includes former parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk put Tymoshenko at the top of its list even though the fiery politician is legally barred from running.
Also on the list is Tymoshenko ally and former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko, who was sentenced to four years in prison in late February for abuse of office and embezzlement.
Yanykovych’s ruling Regions Party is expected to announce its list later Monday.
Two big sporting stars, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and footballer Andriy Shevchenko, who announced Saturday he was joining pro-business political party Ukraine Forward!, are also expected to run.
According to opinion polls, Klitschko’s Democratic Alliance for Reform and the Communists will make it to parliament along with frontrunners the Regions Party and the opposition alliance.
Two other parties, nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) and Ukraine Forward!, stand a chance of breaking through the five-percent threshold required to claim seats.
For the first time since 2002, voting will be according to the mixed electoral system, with 225 candidates elected on party lists and another 225 in electoral constituencies.