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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma Turns to Youth for Runoff

KIEV -- Reformist President Leonid Kuchma made a final bid for the youth vote Friday as Ukraine's presidential election campaign drew to a close amid widespread nostalgia for the Soviet past after years of failed reforms.

Kuchma, who faces a run-off vote against Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko on Sunday, addressed hundreds of students who gathered outside the presidential administration building to show their support.

"You will have to be responsible for everything in the future. You will have to build a new Ukraine," he told them.

Kuchma was clearly hoping on the last day of campaigning for a vote of confidence from young people, many of whom are just as disillusioned as their elders but have no desire to turn back the clock to Soviet-style communism.

The 61-year-old former missile plant director beat Symonenko handily in the first round on Oct. 31, heading a field of 13 with 36 percent of the votes to Symonenko's 22 percent.

But on Sunday Symonenko may win a good share of the votes cast for other leftist candidates who came third and fourth in the first round.

The result is seen as depending on whether the usually apathetic young turn out to counterbalance the mainly elderly but active and well-disciplined Communist supporters.

Kuchma's powerful campaign machine, backed by the official media, has painted a grim picture of what might happen if Symonenko wins, with frequent warnings of possible Soviet-style political and economic restrictions.

He has voiced sympathy for those who have suffered hardship from the years of failed market reforms but has pledged to stick to his course and said there was no going back to Soviet-style economics or politics.

Classes were cancelled for many students to allow them to attend the last pro-Kuchma rallies, underlining opposition allegations that officialdom has been biased in the campaign for Ukraine's third presidential poll since independence in 1991.

Vera, a 19-year-old who came to greet Kuchma, said: "To vote for Symonenko means to support the past, to elect Kuchma means to choose the future. ... I do not want to go back to Pioneer camps."

Analysts say a higher turnout, especially among young people, would favor Kuchma in the second round.

The Central Election Commission said the campaign for the run-off had been less dirty than for the first round and pledged the vote would be fair. "Some politicians are talking about massive falsification [of first round results], but no one has given any evidence," Commission Chairman Mykhailo Ryabets told a news conference.

"We expect about 60-63 percent of voters to take part in the second round, somewhat less than the 70 percent first round turnout," he added.