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Ukraine: Election Commission Stops Vote Count As Opposition Protests

Ukraine's Central Election Commission has suspended vote counting from the 31 October presidential election. The opposition says that's because a complete count would reveal that its leader, Viktor Yushchenko, beat Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the first round. The Electoral Commission on today told parliament that it needs more time to complete the count and may not have official results until next week. International observers yesterday accused the government of serious electoral infringements. The Election Commission says nearly 130,000 more votes had been cast than legitimate ballots had been issued.

Kyiv, 2 November 2004 -- Ukraine's Central Election Commission said today it needs more time -- perhaps until next week -- before it can announce the official results of the 31 October presidential election.

The commission suspended the vote count on yesterday with around 94 percent of the ballots tabulated. Those results showed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych with some 40 percent of votes and the main opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, with 39 percent.

But the count had shown Yushchenko narrowing the gap, with the remaining 6 percent of votes coming from areas where he has overwhelming support. But CEC Deputy Chairman Yaroslav Davydovych says the inclusion of the remaining ballots could not give either candidate the 50-percent plus needed to win outright in the first round of election. A runoff is scheduled for 21 November.
"It's with reason that the Central Election Commission stopped announcing results on November 1.... They simply do not have the courage to declare Viktor Yushchenko the winner."

Yushchenko's campaign manager, Oleksandr Zinchenko, says the government does not want to admit that Yushchenko won the first round, a fact that would give him an immense propaganda and psychological boost in the three weeks of campaigning before the runoff: "It's with reason that the Central Election Commission stopped announcing the results from election districts on November 1 and is not announcing the official results of the election. They simply do not have the courage to declare Viktor Yushchenko the winner."

The Ukrainian Parliament was in a boisterous mood today, with deputies from both the government side and the opposition claiming victory. Deputies who are part of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine coalition wore orange bandanas and ribbons in the campaign color of the opposition, while Yanukovych's supporters from his Regions of Ukraine Party wore scarves in his blue and white.

One of the leaders of a party in the Our Ukraine coalition accused the government of cheating and said exit polls show Yushchenko had enough votes in the first round to be declared president: "A complete set of exit polls was compiled, and they show that Yushchenko won in the first round with 53.4 percent of the vote. Yanukovych gained only 27.86 percent. And right now -- the Ukrainian people can't see this -- but the Regions of Ukraine Party is wearing white and blue scarves, and they have brought them to hang themselves with after Yushchenko is declared the winner -- albeit in the second round."

A member of Yanukovych's party, Viktor Kirillov, appealed for calm: "This result should be accepted calmly. Let's prepare for the next round. I believe that our victory, the victory of Viktor Fedorich Yanukovych, will be convincing -- demonstrable and completely legitimate."

Another senior member of the Our Ukraine coalition, Serhiy Holovatiy, a former justice minister, said the Central Election Commission had not given proper reasons for delaying the official results. He said it is part of the government's efforts to rig the election: "There are no explanations. It's beyond sanity and logic or a responsible electoral process. They have no explanations."

He said he doubts the Election Commission will be able to comply with Our Ukraine's demands for a swift tally of the results: "I think Our Ukraine is asking for something that [the Electoral Commission] is incapable of doing and will never do -- and that is to perform their duties at least in accordance with Ukrainian law, which isn't very good law. But they can't even come up to this minimum standard, to say nothing of European standards."

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, a member of Yanukovych's party, believes too much fuss is being made: "And to say more precisely, it's not even necessary to count [the rest]. The victor -- it's not important who got 10 or 15 more votes. The important thing is who goes into the second round, and two representatives have got into the second round."

Yesterday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and several other Western monitoring groups criticized the Ukrainian government for serious breaches of electoral standards before and during the vote. They particularly noted that the opposition's access to the mass media had been blocked, that its campaign events had been disrupted and that there were serious flaws in the compilation of voter lists.

The Central Election Commission said yesterday that 130,000 more votes had been cast than ballots had been issued. The opposition says this is proof of mass ballot stuffing. Former President Kravchuk disagrees: "Nobody in the world has seen elections where there have been no infringements. My conclusion is that the election did take place and was conducted transparently and democratically."

The election results are being seen as a test of whether Ukraine takes a course toward the West and greater democracy or heads down a more authoritarian route. Yushchenko is pro-Western and advocates European Union and NATO membership. Yanukovych says he is not turning his back on the West and the European Union but repeatedly advocates strengthening economic and political ties with Moscow.

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