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Ukraine: Presidential Candidates Look To Bolster Support For Second Round

  • Askold Krushelnycky --> EU leaders, meeting in Brussels on today, criticized Ukraine for its recent presidential election and urged the government to ensure that the 21 November runoff is free and fair. The EU criticism comes after international observers said the 31 October vote and the election campaign were flawed. There is still no official result from that poll. The Central Election Commission has both leading candidates, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, running neck and neck. The delay in vote counting is happening against a backdrop of claims by the opposition that it is being cheated out of an outright victory. Meanwhile, both leading candidates are holding talks to court support for the decisive second round.

Kyiv, 5 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The latest figures released by Ukraine's Central Election Commission show that with almost 98 percent of the ballots counted, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych received 39.9 percent of the votes, while his main challenger, opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, garnered 39.2 percent.

The commission said the release of the final results from the first-round vote may be delayed until next week. But neither candidate reached the 50 percent threshold needed for victory in the first round.

Opposition deputy Oleh Rybachuk alleged that Central Election Commission Chairman Serhiy Kivalov has not announced a final vote tally because he is being "blackmailed" by the presidential administration.

Kivalov insisted no one is blackmailing or pressuring him. "Nobody is putting pressure on me," he said. "It makes no sense to put pressure on me. I shall do everything according to the law and will act only by the law."
International observers and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the United States, and Canada concluded that the election campaign and the vote itself fell short of accepted standards.

Kivalov says the delay is because tallies of the vote, known as protocols, are missing from many polling stations and that court proceedings must be resolved before final results can be presented. He said the results from some constituencies might be declared invalid.

"About 50 election constituencies did not submit their protocols or the protocols they submitted were not properly executed," Kivalov said. "Courts are now considering violations in some of the constituencies.

International observers and monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the United States, and Canada concluded that the election campaign and the vote itself fell short of accepted standards.

The opposition has accused the government of massive fraud and claims that Yushchenko not only won the first round but that he would have exceeded the 50 percent threshold if the vote had been conducted fairly. The government and Yanukovych's campaign team deny the accusations and accuse the opposition Our Ukraine coalition of stuffing ballot boxes in western Ukraine and of bribing election officials in at least one district.

The election commission has admitted that at least 130,000 more people cast votes than there were legitimate ballot papers.

The head of the nongovernmental organization Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Oleksandr Chernenko, said anyone who voted multiple times should be identified and that those who gave them duplicate ballots should also be arrested with a view to prosecution. "If that happens, then I think that on the eve of the second round, voters will consider whether they should be doing that," he said.

Yesterday, some 10 Yanukovych supporters entered the election commission building in Kyiv and vowed to stay to ensure a fair counting of the votes. Stepan Gavrish, a pro-Yanukovych parliamentarian, said he and the others entered the building after a group of parliamentarians who support Yushchenko tried to seize the commission's computers.

Parliamentarian Andriy Shkil, a Yushchenko supporter, said Gavrish's claim was a "fabricated story tailored to justify the presence of pro-government deputies inside the building."

Our Ukraine says it will present its own tally of the vote on 7 November, using official copies of the balloting from the 33,000 polling stations across Ukraine. The bloc predicts its figures will give Yushchenko a convincing win over Yanukovych.

Most Ukrainian and foreign observers agree that the result of the election will determine whether Ukraine heads politically toward the West or binds itself to Russia. Pro-Western Yushchenko favors European Union and NATO entry for his country, has vowed to fight corruption and wants deeper democratic reforms. Pro-Russian Yanukovych wants to join the Moscow-led Single Economic Space, has promised to introduce Russian as a second state language and favors dual Ukrainian-Russian nationality.

Both Yushchenko and Yanukovych are courting support for the second round from candidates eliminated after the first round, all of whom received far fewer votes than the two front-runners.

Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz received almost 6 percent of the vote, while Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko got 5 percent and Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko garnered just over 1.5 percent.

Moroz said he is willing to support Our Ukraine if it agrees to some of his party's demands. Those include a halt to private land sales, a refusal to grant outgoing President Leonid Kuchma immunity from criminal proceedings, and the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Iraq.

Moroz said he is optimistic about an agreement. "In my opinion, our proposals coincide probably about 95 percent with the position of Viktor Andreevich [Yushchenko], and I would hope that he will reply positively to our proposals," he said.

A spokesman for Our Ukraine, Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, said the bloc hopes to reach an accord with the Socialists tomorrow. "We will do everything to include as much as possible the interests of the Socialist Party after the victory [of Our Ukraine] in the election," he said.

Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko, closely identified with the government, has already announced that her party will support Yanukovych.

Earlier this year, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko broke away from an opposition pact for a united platform against the government and is also expected to support Yanukovych.

[For full coverage of Ukraine's presidential elections, see RFE/RL's Ukraine web page.]