Some 500 international election observers and many more from Ukraine itself were watching polls and counting stations during and after balloting in the country's presidential elections on Sunday. Yesterday, they issued their initial findings. RFE/RL's Lily Hyde reports from Kyiv that the observers seem to agree that the vote itself had been fair but that the campaign was flawed.
Kyiv, 2 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Monitoring organizations universally agree that voting in Sunday's Ukrainian presidential election was conducted in a peaceful and orderly fashion. The Committee of Ukrainian Voters, the International Republican Institute, and a joint statement from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) all said their monitors had seen minor infringements of the election law, but not enough to affect the outcome. They agree that most violations seemed to be the result of ignorance or incompetence rather than deliberate fraud.
The Committee of Ukrainian Voters, or CVU, did not gain official accreditation as monitors because the Ukrainian government was only giving credentials to foreign or international groups. The OSCE has called this discrepancy a 'backward step' in the election law. But the CVU managed to send 16,000 people to polling stations accredited as journalists on Sunday.
Igor Popov, head of the CVU, spoke at a press conference yesterday about what they found.
"All 16,000 observers found a large number of violations of the election law...but our general conclusion is that all these violations that took place in the 1999 presidential election have not significantly influenced the results of the election. We want to emphasize that the candidates who will go on to the second round were those really supported by Ukrainian voters."
Popov says the gap between the first and second places taken by incumbent Leonid Kuchma and challenger Petro Symonenko and third place is so large that the 300,000 to 400,000 votes considered questionable by the CVU could not invalidate the results.
The CVU's Yevhen Radchenko divided violations into three types -- agitation on voting day, misconduct in the voting and counting process, and the third and worst: interference by government officials.
"The third group of violations to our minds is the most serious and
dangerous that we detected; these are violations made by officials who are not legally participating in the election process. These officials often directly or indirectly intervened in the election process."
In polling stations across the country, many election committees consisted of employees from the same government institution while committee heads were most often Kuchma appointees. An example could be found in Irpin, a small town just outside Kyiv. In one polling station in a forestry institute over half the committee members worked at the institute and the head of the institute was present all day during polling as an official observer for Kuchma. He told RFE/RL he had told all his staff to vote for Kuchma. But he rejected the idea that his presence during voting was in any way influencing the vote.
All the monitoring groups expressed serious concern at the conduct of the campaign preceding the election. They said it had been characterized by media manipulation, illegal government participation, and even violence. Yesterday's OSCE report was especially damning on government interference prior to voting day. It ascribed political interventions on behalf of incumbent president Kuchma to security forces, the post office, and housing authorities.
Simon Osborne, head of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, spoke at a press conference yesterday in Kyiv:
"The election observation mission received numerous verified reports that public officials in state institutions were campaigning in favor of the incumbent president. For example, observers noted that heads of state administrations in eight oblasts at various levels openly urged voters to vote for the president. Furthermore, the ... election mission received numerous allegations that postal workers were distributing campaign materials for president Kuchma and that [housing authority] employees were canvassing support for the incumbent president in at least four oblasts. In the latter case, the involvement in the election campaign could easily be perceived as intimidation."
The OSCE also heavily criticized the lack of independent coverage in state-run media. The OSCE says this reporting overwhelmingly favored Kuchma.