Kyiv, 11 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Serhiy Kivalov, the chairman of Ukraine's Central Election Commission (TsVK), yesterday declared the opposition candidate in the Ukrainian presidential election, Viktor Yushchenko, the winner of the first round.
"Viktor Yushchenko received 11,125,395 votes. This is 39.87 percent." He added that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych was close behind. "Viktor Yanukovych received 10,969,579 votes. This is 39.32 percent."
Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz came in third with 5.83 percent, while Communist leader Petro Symonenko trailed in fourth place with 5.03 percent. The TsVK cited technical reasons for not being able to give the final results earlier.
Yushchenko told supporters he is pleased the TsVK finally made a declaration. "There are 155,000 votes more for me above the support for Yanukovych. That's about 0.55 percent more. Well, we know the significance of these thousands of votes and these percentages," he said. "It's obvious even the government couldn't conceal such figures."
Serhiy Tihipko, Yanukovych's campaign chief, told journalists in Kyiv yesterday that his team is disappointed. "We all understand and see what happened with these results. According to all the polls and studies, Yanukovych should have been 3 to 4 percentage points in the lead. But everything was changed by a high turnout of voters in western Ukraine," Tihipko said.
International election monitors and observers blamed the government for many infringements in the run-up to and conduct of the poll. Our Ukraine alleged ballot stuffing, that official tallies had been tampered with, and intimidation used against local election officials. For its part, Yanukovych's team had accused the opposition of bribing some local election officials and of faking more than 1 million votes in western Ukraine in favor of Yushchenko.
Yushchenko said yesterday that the government was denied a first-round victory, despite its underhanded tactics. "But I thank you, friends. I'm thankful that in the first round, despite the government's brutal behavior toward the voters, we have, with your help, together achieved a victory," he said.
A senior member of the Our Ukraine coalition, Yuriy Kostenko, told RFE/RL that the result is a victory for the Ukrainian people over what he called the "totalitarian" methods of the government. "We're pleased with the political consequences of this result that Yushchenko won. This is not the victory of just Yushchenko but of the people over the state machine, which was used not only to support their candidate [Yanukovych] but to falsify the will of Ukrainian citizens," he said, "So, this is a convincing victory of the Ukrainian people over the state machine."
But he said Our Ukraine is unhappy at some of the legal decisions taken by the TsVK, which ruled invalid large numbers of ballots from areas where Yushchenko enjoys broad support. Our Ukraine says it will appeal against the TsVK's decision to invalidate more than 200,000 votes.
"But we are not happy with the legal consequences because the TsVK has not counted the votes in the 100th district of the Kirovohrad region, where that same state machine undermined electoral districts and the police allowed bandits to apply all their bandit methods," Kostenko said.
Kostenko called the TsVK's decision a "dangerous precedent." But he said the first-round victory will be a great psychological boost for Our Ukraine ahead of the final round on 21 November. "It won't just help," he said. "Voters today will be singing with happiness because it's their victory, and they have gained faith in their own strength."
"This is an undeniable demonstration that Ukrainians want democracy."
Yushchenko has secured the endorsement of Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz, and three other minor candidates.
Ivan Lozowy, the head of the Institute for Statehood and Democracy, a Kyiv-based think tank, told RFE/RL: "What this shows firstly is that where people want democracy, it's a much more powerful force than anybody expected. This is an undeniable demonstration that Ukrainians want democracy."
But Lozowy said he fears the result may lull Yushchenko supporters into a false sense of optimism. "I fear that such a win, although very close, may encourage Viktor Yushchenko to prolong the fairly passive type of campaign he has waged," he said.
TsVK member Andriy Mahera said he is confident the commission will work more efficiently in the second round. "I think it would be good at this point to recall an Iranian saying that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness," Mahera said. "I think that right now, the fundamental task of the TsVK is to ensure that the situation which came about [after the first round] should not be repeated on 21 November. I know the attitude of the head of the Central Election Commission, who has approached this problem fairly seriously, and I think the Central Election Commission has taken every necessary measure. And I expect that on 22 November, we will have interim results ready by the morning."
Most Ukrainian and foreign observers believe the result of the election will determine whether Ukraine heads politically toward the West or binds itself to Russia. Pro-Western Yushchenko favors Ukrainian entry into the European Union and NATO and has vowed to fight against corruption and for deeper democratic reforms.
The Pro-Russian Yanukovych wants Ukraine to join the Moscow-led Single Economic Space, has promised to introduce Russian as a second state language and favors dual Ukrainian-Russian nationality.
An opinion poll released yesterday shows that, of those Ukrainians planning to participate in the runoff, 47 percent say they are prepared to support Yushchenko, while 40 percent plan to vote for Yanukovych. The poll of 2,027 citizens was conducted 3-7 November by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center.[For full coverage of Ukraine's presidential elections, see RFE/RL's Ukraine web page.]