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Ukraine: Observers Criticize Presidential Election, Campaign

The Sunday runoff vote in Ukraine has resulted in the re-election of President Leonid Kuchma. After the first round two weeks ago, international observers announced some shortcomings in the conduct of the vote but said that they had not changed the outcome. RFE/RL's Lily Hyde reports from Kyiv that observers are offering a more critical appraisal of the second round.

Kyiv, 16 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Domestic and international observers announced yesterday that voting in the second round of the presidential elections had been marred by more violations than in the first round.

The Committee of Ukrainian Voters, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe have issued a joint statement calling attention to several concerns. They include multiple voting, students and soldiers being made to vote according to lists, and an increased number of unauthorized people in polling stations, including representatives from the State security service, the SBU. However, the organizations said the violations were not widespread.

The organizations all saved their main criticisms for the election campaign. They concluded that activities of local administrations in the election process had increased. They also called attention to the so-called "resignation" of several heads of local administrations after the first round in areas where Kuchma's opponents received more votes than the incumbent. An OSCE statement issued yesterday said that these resignations "have particular significance given the observed level of interference in the campaign by the state administration."

Hanne Severinson, a long-term Ukraine rapporteur from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, used strong words in her comment condemning breaches of Ukraine's election laws and international agreements. She spoke to reporters at a news conference in Kyiv held jointly with other observers.

"The conduct of the campaign got worse between the two rounds. Neither an unfair campaign nor attempts at intimidation nor the abuse of state power can detract from the fact that people turned out to vote in impressive numbers. The Ukrainian people have shown their trust in the democratic process. But the non-neutrality of the state in the election process must soon destroy this trust. The voluntariness of the resignation of three regional governors between the first and second round, their regions having returned results unfavorable to the outgoing president, defies belief. So do polling station turnout figures of 99 percent, the figures of 98 percent in support for one or the other candidate."

OSCE observers, and Severinson herself, said they witnessed multiple voting, especially in Western Ukraine, where Kuchma got returns of 96 and 98 percent in some regions. According to Severinson, some polling stations registered voting attendance of over 100 percent. Also in West Ukraine, students in hostels were forced to vote. Kuchma's victory largely relied on the support of young voters and of Western Ukrainians, while Communist Petro Symonenko, led the vote in the Russian-speaking East and in the Crimea.

The OSCE statement referred to documented cases of the militia canvassing door-to-door for Kuchma, and of organized coercion of state employees in education and health institutions. The Committee of Ukrainian Voters concluded that violations by government officials on voting day were the ad-hoc work of a panicked state administration afraid of losing their jobs like the unfortunate governors. But the OSCE produced a Telex from the Interior Ministry to local administrations. The telex required local administrations to report back to the Interior Ministry on meetings and canvassing they had organized on Kuchma's behalf, and to give figures for definite positive votes for Kuchma.

An official with the OSCE mission in Ukraine, Simon Osborn, says the evident disregard for the election law by state organizations, especially the militia who are supposed to uphold the law, is the most alarming aspect of the election violations. He also spoke at the observers' joint news conference.

"One of the concerns that I think we all have is that so many people seem to have been able to abuse the law and seem to get away with it, and I think that is not a helpful development in the move towards democracy in this country."

Observers said the large margin between Kuchma and Symonenko meant the results could not be immediately questioned despite some fraud on election day and an unfair campaign. Both the Council of Europe and the OSCE said they had already made many of their observations known to the authorities, and would continue to arrange meetings to discuss the OSCE report. Osborn praised Ukraine's Central Election Commission for already acting on many OSCE recommendations after the first round. But both OSCE and Council of Europe representatives were openly discouraged by what they viewed as the disregard for international advice shown by the Ukrainian government.

The Council of Europe's John Hartland says that both his organization and the OSCE have observed three elections in Ukraine, and have watched over a worsening in democratic practices.

"For us more important is the fact that some remarks which were made by the Council of Europe and also by the OSCE team before the first round and now, were not taken into consideration in this country, from the administration for instance, and this is a very big problem. Their results will be used I'm very sure also in the Council of Europe next time concerning Ukraine and also concerning other countries. There were delegations from the Council of Europe in the first round and the second round, we're trying to do our best to help, but unfortunately the situation is going to be worse."

Ukraine is not obliged to take any notice of what the OSCE or the Council of Europe says, and has already shown a disregard for the Council's criticisms. The parliamentary assembly has repeatedly threatened to cancel Ukraine's membership for failing to reform laws, repeal the death penalty and protect independent media. But Ukraine has still not complied with the Council of Europe's requirements.