Yanukovych Says He Won Ukraine’s Presidential Vote

KIEV, Ukraine -- Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian opposition leader whose first presidential election victory was overturned by the courts after the 2004 Orange Revolution, said he won yesterday’s vote on a promise to end years of turmoil.

Viktor Yanukovych

Yanukovych, 59, led with 48.48 percent of the vote versus 45.86 percent for Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, after 84.43 percent of the ballots were counted, according to the Central Electoral Commission’s Web Site. The vote was too close to call, said Timoshenko, 49, while Yanukovych urged her to concede the election and step down as premier.

“I think Timoshenko should start getting ready for her dismissal,” Yanukovych said in a broadcast from his Kiev headquarters. “Timoshenko showed she was a strong opponent and it is very important that she accepts defeat.”

Yanukovych promised to cut taxes to lift the nation out of recession, unfreeze a $16.4 billion bailout loan and improve relations with Russia and the European Union. He would replace Viktor Yushchenko, whose fortunes plunged because of political gridlock.

Uncertainty may be prolonged after Timoshenko accused Yanukovych of fraud and promised to challenge the result. Yanukovych may call early parliamentary elections to unseat her as head of government and form his own coalition with a handpicked premier.

A national exit poll showed Yanukovych may have taken 48.5 percent of the votes against 45.7 percent for Timoshenko, according to a survey of 16,332 voters conducted by three organizations.

Confrontation Ahead

“We are likely to see heavy confrontation from Timoshenko in the courts and probably on the streets,” said Fyodor Bagnenko, the director of equity sales at Dragon Capital, Ukraine’s largest brokerage, in an e-mail to Bloomberg. “She is not going down easy, for sure.”

Turnout was 69 percent, according to the Central Electoral Commission.

Yanukovych’s promise to voters to settle years of political infighting may be foiled by the specter of early parliamentary elections. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions lacks the majority control in the 450-seat Parliament needed to pass his policies.

“My main tactic after the elections is to create a new coalition in the parliament,” said Yanukovych on Jan. 29. “It will be either a new coalition in the current Parliament or a coalition in a new Parliament after general elections.”

Timoshenko urged her supporters to monitor the counting of ballots, adding that her team was doing its own “parallel” count.

Fighting for Votes

“We are fighting for every single vote,” said Timoshenko on state television. “A single vote may determine the future of Ukraine. Any celebrations before the official results is manipulation.”

Yanukovych initially won the 2004 election, but the Supreme Court bowed to the pressure of millions of demonstrators who called for a new vote and threw out the result.

A total of 3,779 observers, including 650 from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, were dispatched to monitor the election.

International observers will rule the vote to be “honest and transparent,” said Tadeusz Iwinski, an observer from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in a talk show, broadcast by Ukrainian TV channel ICTV.

‘Honest’ Election

“We haven’t noticed serious violations,” said Mateusz Piskorski, the head of the Warsaw-based European Center for Geopolitical Analysis in a phone interview in Kiev today. “Exit poll methods are never perfect and there is always a possibility of a different result. In this case, however, the chance of a different result is small.”

A prolonged post-election battle would prevent the country from freeing up a delayed $16.4 billion emergency loan by the International Monetary Fund. The bailout was put on hold indefinitely after the country failed to pass the 2010 state budget and cut spending.

Bagnenko said that it may be difficult for Timoshenko to persuade a court to overturn the result, even with a 3-4 percent margin.

At Independence Square, the central point of the Orange Revolution, people casually strolled past the towering needle and glass dome that houses a shopping center.

The small groups of green-capped soldiers milling about the square were ignored by passers-by who were offered soccer club scarves, refrigerator magnets, CDs and T-shirts of the candidates for 40 hryvnia ($5) apiece. In the center of the square, four Falun Gong followers practiced their meditations while standing in a half-meter high pile of snow.

The polling station at the square had no lines at midday, allowing voters to pop in and out quickly to cast their ballots.

“I voted for Viktor Yanukovych as he is the person who will be able to boost the economy and industrial production,” said Andriy Bezpalyi, a 24-year-old lawyer, after casting his ballot. “I think he will win.”

Still, a growing cynicism among the electorate may keep either politician from claiming a strong mandate. About 5.6 percent of voters cast ballots against both candidates, according to the national exit poll. The electoral commission said 4.5 percent voted against all, according to early returns.

Voter ‘Fatigue’

“The mood in the country toward these two presidential candidates is for the most part one of fatigue and cynicism,” said James Sherr, the head of the Russia and Eurasia program at London-based Chatham House, in a Jan. 29 interview. “They are both seen by a very large proportion of people in relatively negative terms. That doesn’t provide a basis for mobilizing significant numbers of people.”

Yanukovych has also promised to move ahead to meet EU requirements for signing a so-called Association Agreement, including a free-trade package that would help exporters gain more market share in the 27-nation bloc.

Ukraine’s economy plummeted 15 percent in 2009, the steepest decline since 1994, Yushchenko’s office estimated. The hryvnia has lost 42 percent versus the dollar since September 2008. It is the world’s second-worst performer in the period after the Venezuelan bolivar.

The president also will need to appoint a new central bank governor to replace Volodymyr Stelmakh, whose term ended in December and who is staying until after the election. Yanukovych hasn’t said who would take the post.

Yanukovych also has said he wants to review a natural gas supply agreement with Russia that was signed by Timoshenko in January, 2009.

The accord ended a three-week spat between Ukraine and Russia that disrupted supplies to European nations. Ukraine ships 80 percent of the EU’s Russian gas needs.

Source: Bloomberg