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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: November 5, 2004

5 November 2004, Volume 6, Number 40
WILL BELARUSIANS FIND OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT THE REFERENDUM? Aleh Manayeu, head of the Minsk-based Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), told journalists on 3 November that at present the main task of the Belarusian opposition is to inform society about the true results of the 17 October presidential referendum and parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Manayeu was speaking about an exit poll conducted in Belarus by Gallup/Baltic Surveys, which revealed a large discrepancy between its findings and the officially announced results of the referendum (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 October 2004). NISEPI took part in the exit poll organized by the Vilnius-based polling agency.

Manayeu recalled that Gallup/Baltic Surveys conducted a tracking poll from 1 August to 11 October (among 7,000 respondents), an exit poll during the early voting period on 14,15, and 16 October (among 19,000 respondents), and another exit poll on the voting day of 17 October (among 18,000 respondents). The exit poll on 17 October was held at 120 voting stations in 20 electoral districts (out of a total of 110 single-mandate districts). According to Manayeu, the finding of Gallup/Baltic Surveys that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's proposal to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency in Belarus was backed by 48.7 percent of all eligible voters fully corresponds to how Belarusians voted in the presidential plebiscite. On the other hand, the Central Election Commission reported that Lukashenka's desire to run for a third presidential term was supported by 79.4 percent of all eligible voters.

Manayeu also cast doubt on the commission's report that the 17 October parliamentary elections filled 108 seats in the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives. Manayeu asserted that, according to the exit poll, deputies were actually elected only in nine out of the 20 districts monitored by Gallup/Baltic Surveys (out of these nine seats, three were won by government-supported candidates in the districts where they faced no other rivals). As for the remaining 11 districts, in 10 no candidate obtained more than 50 percent of the vote qualifying for a parliamentary mandate in the first round, while in one district in Minsk an opposition candidate won with 63 percent of the vote, but the election authorities awarded the victory to a pro-government candidate.

"I am absolutely convinced that the further development of the country depends on whether the Belarusian people will find out about the real results of the 17 October polls," Manayeu said. "There are two approximately equal groups of the Belarusian people [who support and oppose Lukashenka's ambition to rule Belarus indefinitely], and they, appropriately, have the equal rights." (Jan Maksymiuk)

ONE VIKTOR FOR TWO UKRAINES. Ukraine's Central Election Commission (TsVK) is still counting ballots from the 31 October presidential vote and stopped publicizing preliminary election results on 2 November. But with 97.67 percent of the ballots counted, the commission said Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych had won 39.88 percent of the vote against his main opposition rival Viktor Yushchenko's 39.22 percent. This statement suggests that, irrespective of what the commission finds on the remaining 2.33 percent of ballots, there will be a runoff between Yanukovych and Yushchenko on 21 November.

On the other hand, an election victory in the first round, even if by a small margin, is an important psychological factor that might boost (or undermine) the morale of runoff contenders. Besides, as long as the TsVK remains silent on the final results, neither Yanukovych nor Yushchenko can officially launch a runoff campaign -- such a situation benefits exclusively Yanukovych, who is incessantly campaigning in his capacity as prime minister. The opposition has also charged that the TsVK is procrastinating with the final results because it is afraid to declare Yanukovych among the losers of the 31 October ballot. Oleksandr Zinchenko, Yushchenko's campaign manager, told a rally of 5,000 pro-Yushchenko students in Kyiv on 2 November that the TsVK has stopped announcing elections returns "since it has realized that no report will be in favor of the authorities."

The TsVK is legally obliged to announce the final results of the first round within 10 days of polling day. TsVK Chairman Serhiy Kivalov blamed the delay in counting the votes on problems among some territorial commissions, including No. 100 in Kirovohrad and No. 200 in Zolotonosha (Cherkasy Oblast), where lawsuits alleging electoral irregularities have been filed. He also suggested that the 31 October voting might be declared invalid in some constituencies. "About 50 [of 225] electoral constituencies did not submit their protocols or the protocols they submitted were not properly executed," ITAR-TASS quoted Kivalov as saying. "Courts are now considering violations in some of the constituencies."

There were also more disturbing reports hinting that the TsVK is planning to verify 30 percent of protocols from 132 of a total of 225 constituencies. Yushchenko's campaigners have charged that the verification is intended to "adjust" the election results and steal what they believe to have been a Yushchenko victory. Yushchenko himself wrote in the "Financial Times" of 3 November that his staff will "challenge" the 31 October poll results. His campaigners pledged to complete a parallel vote count by 7 November.

A parallel vote count is possible if all election protocols -- that is, from some 33,000 polling stations and 225 territorial commissions -- are made public. This is not a realistic option in Belarus, for example, which under President Alyaksandr Lukashenka seems to have creatively developed Josef Stalin's election precept that what really matters is not how people vote but who counts the votes. In Lukashenka's Belarus, what actually matters is neither how people vote nor who counts the votes but who writes the final protocols. One hopes that Ukraine has not reached the Belarusian stage of electoral ingenuity, and there is a chance that Yushchenko might succeed in checking whom his compatriots backed on 31 October.

The International Election Observation Mission, which included some 600 observers from the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, said in a statement on 1 November that the 31 October presidential ballot did not meet a "considerable number" of OSCE, Council of Europe, and other European standards for democratic elections. According to the mission, the presidential election was tainted by bias in the state media, interference by the state administration in favor of Prime Minister Yanukovych, the disruption or obstruction of opposition campaign events by state authorities, and inadequacies in the Central Election Commission's handling of complaints. "This election process constitutes a step backward from the 2002 [parliamentary] elections," said Bruce George, president emeritus of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and special coordinator for the short-term observers.

There reportedly were numerous dirty election tricks during polling on 31 October, although their scale is unclear. According to the Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU), a nongovernmental electoral watchdog, up to 10 percent of voters who came to the polls -- or nearly 3 million people -- could not exercise their right to vote due to various complications, primarily because of misspelled names or incorrect personal information on voter lists. Moreover, many voter lists included "dead souls" -- people who are either deceased or relocated long ago -- or omitted entire buildings' and streets' worth of living voters. Yushchenko estimated that "millions of opposition supporters" were denied the opportunity to vote on 31 October because of such irregularities on voter registers.

Other dirty tactics on 31 October were as frequent as the appearance of erroneous voter lists, although their scale was admittedly somewhat smaller. Some Ukrainian media reported that bands of unidentified thugs were seen in Kyiv and in other Ukrainian cities, intimidating voters and commission members with verbal abuse and telephone calls; organized groups engaged in repeated voting through voter-absentee cards provided by local authorities; opposition representatives were fired from election commissions on the eve of polling day; and blatant ballot stuffing was observed at some polling stations on 31 October.

There are scarcely grounds to expect that voting on 21 November will take place under friendlier circumstances for Yushchenko. On the contrary, some predict that the ruling regime will intensify its "administrative resources" further to ensure Yanukovych's victory in the runoff. There is also no realistic possibility of pro-Yushchenko campaigners counteracting intimidation by organized groups of hooligans or preventing improper absentee voting on a major scale. One practical thing that Yushchenko can do is ask his supporters to check their names on voter registers before 21 November and come to the polls on that day en masse.

As expected, Yanukovych was overwhelmingly supported in eastern Ukrainian regions, while Yushchenko received the most support in western Ukraine. Yushchenko actually defeated Yanukovych in Kyiv and in 16 Ukrainian oblasts, including several in central Ukraine, while Yanukovych received more votes than Yushchenko in eight eastern and southern oblasts and Crimea. Since Ukraine's eastern and southern regions are more populous than the rest of the country, Yanukovych retains a small edge over his rival, according to preliminary and incomplete election results. It is anybody's guess how the leftist electorates of Oleksandr Moroz and Petro Symonenko, two candidates who appear to have placed third and fourth on 31 October and earned a combined 10 percent of the vote, will vote on 21 November, if at all.

The line on a map that usually divides the "pro-Eurasian" and "pro-European" electorates in Ukraine during presidential campaigns appeared further to the east this time, but it is still a line of bitter political and civilizational division. While many Ukrainian voters were attracted by pension hikes or forced by "administrative resource" to vote for Yanukovych, there is also a large segment of voters in eastern Ukraine that would vote for Yanukovych (or against Yushchenko) without such incentives. They can hardly be pleased in the event of a Yushchenko victory. And given the fact that the central and local administration apparatus supports Yanukovych, a Yushchenko win might be fraught with political turmoil.

On the other hand, a Yanukovych victory would signal the preservation of the status quo -- that is, a pervasively corrupt and highly repressive political regime which, however, is able to ensure political stability and economic growth. In this sense, Ukraine under Yanukovych could be very much like Belarus under Lukashenka: a state with stability but without freedom. As for Yushchenko, his main election message is that of change, however vague and ambiguous it sounds. The essential choice for Ukraine on 21 November seems to be not so much between East and West as between permanence and transformation. And, one hopes, between oppression and freedom.