Ukraine's Yushchenko Warns Of Vote Fraud As Winning Margin Ebbs

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko warned against vote fraud as late results from a Sept. 30 parliamentary election showed the winning margin of his Orange coalition disappearing.

Viktor Yushchenko must be having "deja vu" of 2004

The Orange alliance of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko's bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party had 45.33 percent of the vote with 93 percent counted by midnight in Kiev, the Central Election Commission said on its Web site.

All the other parties with a chance of reaching the 3 percent threshold needed to enter parliament had a combined 46.25 percent, giving them an overall majority should they agree to combine forces.

The late swing toward the Party of the Regions of pro- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and his allies contradicted exit polls after voting closed.

The move also reversed a trend earlier yesterday that had the pro-western Orange team, which seeks closer ties with the European Union and NATO, winning.

Yushchenko demanded an investigation into why returns from regions loyal to Yanukovych were coming in late.

``I demand that the Central Election Commission and the Prosecutor General's Office give comprehensive explanations,'' Yushchenko said in a translated speech posted yesterday on his Web site. ``I would like to say clearly to those political forces that hope to get into parliament through manipulations: Words and actions will not be at variance and falsifiers will be punished. Do not challenge the law and your own fate.''

Echo of 2004

Yushchenko's claim echoed the presidential election in 2004, when Yanukovych was declared the winner in a poll, which the Constitutional Court said was rigged after tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets.

Yushchenko was swept to power in the ensuing ``Orange Revolution,'' and the two men have been at odds ever since.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the continent's main human-rights watchdog, said in a statement yesterday that the latest election largely met international standards for a free and fair vote.

The election was ``mostly in line with international commitments and standards for democratic elections'' and confirmed ``an open and competitive environment'' for holding such votes, the statement said. The OSCE deployed about 710 observers to monitor the election.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, wouldn't comment directly on Yushchenko's remarks.

``We will be following the complaints process, but we will not be commenting on every single move,'' she said by telephone from Kiev.

Election Monitors

Evhen Poberezhnyi, deputy director of the Ukrainian Voter's Committee, a non-governmental organization, said election monitors had not operated everywhere.

``There are some polling stations in eastern and southern regions of Ukraine where there are no observers from opposition parties,'' he said in a telephone interview.

Timoshenko, 46, earlier had been confident enough of victory to say she would meet Yushchenko to discuss a new Cabinet, reuniting the victors of the 2004 Orange Revolution. They didn't meet yesterday.

Central Election Commission member Mykhaylo Okhendovskiy said the final vote tallies won't be announced until today and possibly tomorrow, according to television channel TV 5.

Key Figure

Former parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn could emerge as a key figure after the elections, analysts said. At midnight in Kiev, his bloc had 4 percent of the vote.

If he backs Yanukovych, he could put the latter's Party of the Regions, with allies the Communist Party and the Socialist Party of Ukraine, just ahead of the Orange group.

If he backs the Yushchenko- Timoshenko alliance, they should still have a clear majority.

``The Lytvyn bloc could again be the spoiler this year,'' said Taras Kuzio, research associate at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University. Lytvyn ``maintained good relations with Yushchenko and Yanukovych'' and so ``could be courted by both.''

The Socialist Party had 2.96 percent of the vote at midnight, just short of the threshold. With 7 percent of votes uncounted, its total could rise to give it seats in parliament.

Yanukovych, 57, won elections last year and his administration blocked many of the president's policies and stripped him of some powers.

Yanukovych said after polls closed Sept. 30 that his party had been given ``carte blanche'' to form the next government.

``We will ask all parties that entered the parliament to start talks with us,'' he said in a television interview. ``We will unite all pragmatic forces that will be able to unite Ukraine and stimulate economic development.''

Still, the president's party will vote with Timoshenko, said Yuriy Lutsenko, leader of Our Ukraine. ``We reiterate that we are going to team up only with Timoshenko's alliance,'' he said at a televised press conference.

Source: Bloomberg