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Analysis: Battling For Ukraine's Middleground

Ukraine's 31 October presidential election has more in common with the U.S. presidential vote than just taking place around the same time. How central and southern regions voted was of huge importance to both races.

As expected, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych won easily on his home turf in the eastern, industrialized, pro-Russian part of Ukraine. In Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the republic of Crimea, he tallied up more than 69 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results. Similarly, voters in western Ukrainian regions, such as Lviv Oblast, turned out in large numbers to support challenger Viktor Yushchenko, head of the Our Ukraine bloc of parties. Yushchenko dominated in Lviv, Ternopil, Rivne, Volyn, Chernivtsi, and Ivano-Frankivsk oblasts where he got more than 65 percent of the vote. The battlegrounds were the central and southern regions, where Yushchenko won the central part and Yanukovych won the south.

As the candidates prepare for the second round, the regions of Kirovohrad, Poltava, Kherson, and Chernihiv appear to be up for grabs. There, neither Yushchenko nor Yanukovych got more than 45 percent, although in Kirovohrad only 87 percent of the vote was counted as of 2 November. While charges of obstruction of opposition campaign events, polling station irregularities, and the blatant use of administrative resources surfaced across the regions of Ukraine, it is perhaps not unreasonable to suggest that the battleground regions will provide a special target for abuse during the second round on 21 November.

Already Kirovohrad, located in the center of Ukraine, has been the subject of any number of intrigues during the first round. Central Election Commission Chairman Serhiy Kivalov told reporters on 3 November that one reason that the count of the election's final results had slowed down was because of the absence of data from district number 100 in Kirovohrad. The chairman of that district, Volodymyr Babiy, according to Interfax, disappeared along with 25 members of the election commission and an official stamp on election day. On 1 November, Our Ukraine parliamentarian Volodymyr Yavorivskyy told Channel 5 that local skinheads stole "all of the documents from three polling stations" in Kirovohrad.

In addition, the Committee for the Voters of Ukraine (KVU), a nonpartisan NGO, reported that on election day a bus with 20 passengers went from village to village in the Svitlovodskyy Raion of the oblast carrying officials from the raion Pension Fund and Agriculture Department, who were carrying absentee voter certificates with them. Representatives of the oblast headquarters for the Yushchenko campaign also charged that people were voting more than once. A group of 4-15 people visited several polling stations and the area and cast their votes at each one. Once they noticed that they were being followed, they disappeared.

Of course, such tactics would only make a real difference to the final total if they are duplicated on a mass scale. It is the use of so-called administrative resources that likely has the strongest impact on the ballot box. And, as the head of the central government in Kyiv, Prime Minister Yanukovych has an advantage over any opposition. According to the KVU, in Volyn Oblast, the deputy head of the oblast administration Stepan Rodych brought the group of absentee voters with him (about 30 persons) for voting at one polling station. First deputy head of Volyn Oblast state administration Volodymyr Panchyshyn also dropped by the same polling station for a "visit" on election day.

Yushchenko charged that such activities were routine on election day. In an article in the "Financial Times" this week, Yushchenko wrote "in regions where the regime's candidate looked certain to lose, organized groups engaged in multiple voting through voter absentee cards provided by local government officials." He also alleged that local election commission officials were subject to harassment and threatening phone calls, which local police did nothing to check. "Ukrayina moloda" reported on 2 November that according to election observers, the most common violation in rural areas was the presence of other top officials of enterprises and organizations representing the candidate backed by the authorities officially registered as observers near the ballot box. According to the daily, these "observers" would stand near the ballot boxes to "control their workers at the moment they dropped their ballot papers."

Following charges of routine interference by local officials during the first round, Yanukovych told reporters on 3 November that law enforcement bodies will investigate such cases of interference by local authorities. He said that any "breaches" committed in his name were a "conscious provocation" and no exceptions must be made. However, if the KVU is correct in its conclusion that each oblast administration was ordered to produce a certain number of votes for Yanukovych, local administration officials might find themselves in hot water not for interference but for not interfering enough.