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That may be true, but Yanukovych, himself a two-time former Prime Minister, was accused by opponents of funneling budget funds and state assets to his backers while in power and he continues to surround himself with Kuchma-era cronies. Tymoshenko claims Yanukovych would be a puppet for the country's powerful oligarchs.
Tymoshenko, meanwhile, has built her campaign around promises of a sharp crackdown on embezzling bureaucrats and the oligarchs who have used their political influence to circumvent the law and take control of much of the economy. She blames Yushchenko's "weakness" for the rampant lawlessness. "He didn't stand the test of power," she told TIME in an interview in December. Tymoshenko says she will display no such timidity. At a campaign stop in southern Ukraine in January, she told supporters, "Sometimes I'm envious of China, where they have just what's needed for punishing corruption they cut off hands and execute people." Her aggressive rhetoric, coupled with recent surveys that show Ukrainians want a strong leader, has raised concerns of a possible return to more authoritarian rule were she to win. But Oleh Rybachuk, a former chief of staff to Yushchenko and a Deputy Prime Minister in Tymoshenko's government says that while Ukrainians may want a strong leader, they won't allow a politician to curtail their freedoms. "Ukraine is not Russia," he says.
Russia has been the regional master for centuries and there are few signs that it is ready to stop interfering. After unsuccessfully backing Yanukovych in the 2004 election, the Kremlin repeatedly slammed Yushchenko for his attempts to join NATO and his support of Georgia during its 2008 war with Russia. Twice Moscow has turned off the gas to Ukraine amid payment disputes, as it repeatedly tried to throw a wrench in Ukraine's Western integration.
Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych have promised to repair relations with Moscow, but that won't necessarily signal a return to the Kremlin's fold. Tymoshenko, whose support base is in the pro-European west, has pledged to steer Ukraine into the European Union within five years, while Yanukovych has recast himself as a moderate who also wants to forge closer ties with the E.U. Tymoshenko has presented a clearer agenda toward a European future and says Yanukovych will take the country back to the "Stone Age," but critics question whether she can push through unpopular but sorely needed reforms.
In the end, the difference between the two lies as much in their style as in substance. Yanukovych comes across as a Soviet-era apparatchik who wears crocodile-skin shoes while talking of protecting society's weakest and poorest. Tymoshenko appears a sharp-tongued social crusader famous for her big promises and designer clothes. Both are widely seen as opportunists and few Ukrainians believe they will bring the kind of changes millions long for. "Ukrainians are ready to be mobilized," says Dmytro Potekhin, a civil-society activist. "There's just no one to mobilize them."
The signal achievement of the orange revolution may be that no one can predict the winner of a campaign fought in the glare of the media, unlike recent one-horse races in neighboring Russia and Belarus. Both claim the other will try to steal victory, but the possibility of another orange revolution is small. "Every politician has nightmares about another revolution," says Rybachuk. "One not chanting a leader's name, but saying, 'To hell with all of you.'"
Profile: A former mechanic, became a regional governor and then was twice named Prime Minister
Quote: "I'm told it's useless and wrong to argue with a woman ... And if she is a woman, she should go to the kitchen" Yanukovych on refusing to debate with his opponent
Profile: Entered politics after making a fortune in the gas industry, serving first as Deputy Prime Minister and then twice as Prime Minister
Quote: "I do not want a common coward to become the next leader of our nation" Tymoshenko after Yanukovych failed to appear for their TV debate