Premier claims he's the winner in Ukraine vote
New York Times - 23 November 2004
Ukraine approached a political stalemate on Monday, as vote counts of the presidential runoff election indicated that Prime Minister Viktor F. Yanukovich had won but international observers alleged systemic voting abuses and the opposition candidate refused to accept defeat.
With more than 99 percent of ballots counted, the government tally gave Mr. Yanukovich 49.42 percent of the vote to 46.7 percent for Viktor A. Yushchenko, whose supporters turned out in the tens of thousands in Independence Square here, vowing not to move until results were reversed.
''To victory!'' said Nina Kovalevskaya, 53, who stood in the cold Monday evening air. ''To our victory!''
With the opposition filling the landmark square, an international election observer mission -- from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Parliament, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe -- released a preliminary report that buoyed them, declaring that the election did not meet democratic standards.
The observers' findings were seconded by Senator Richard G. Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who had led an American mission to Ukraine to urge the departing president, Leonid D. Kuchma, to organize fair elections.
''A concerted and forceful program of election-day fraud and abuse was enacted with either the leadership or cooperation of governmental authorities,'' the senator said Monday in Kiev.
At stake is not only the prize of the presidency of a nation of nearly 48 million, but also the direction of the overwhelmingly Slavic country during the next five-year presidential term. The outcome will decide whether Ukraine will draw closer to Russia, its historical and cultural partner, or move toward greater economic and military integration with the West.
Mr. Yanukovich is the personally selected successor of Mr. Kuchma, a former Soviet technocrat who ruled the country in a centralized fashion for 10 years, amid sometimes tense relations with Washington and allegations of corruption and abuse of power.
The prime minister has vowed to continue on Mr. Kuchma's course, and to steer the county closer to Moscow. The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, telephoned Mr. Yanukovich on Monday from an official visit to Brazil to congratulate him, according to Interfax.
Mr. Yushchenko, himself a former prime minister, has described the incumbent bloc of state power as crooked and hidebound, and pledged to maintain ties with Russia while encouraging business and expanding Ukraine's relationship westward into Europe.
His support in the capital, and among young voters, is palpably high. His campaign -- deprived of equal media coverage and pressured by the resources of the Ukrainian state, according to the reports of international observers -- has adopted the tactics of the underdog.
The victory for the prime minister, by a margin of nearly 3 percentage points, that was given in official results diverged sharply from a range of surveys of voters at polling places that gave the opposition as much as an 11-point lead. Opposition organizers pushed for protest and mass action.
Mr. Yushchenko, addressing the public, began a multipronged effort to block Mr. Yanukovich's claim on office. He urged his supporters to remain united and in the streets, and called for an urgent session of Parliament to review extensive allegations of state manipulation of the election, and for the judiciary to investigate documented complaints.
''We express no confidence in the Central Election Commission because of its being a passive, or maybe a too active, participant in falsifications,'' he said.
Yulia Tymoshenko, a member of Parliament and one of Mr. Yushchenko's most visible supporters, called for a general strike.
Still, even while Mr. Yushchenko supporters tried to force a political confrontation, the state maintained a position of official calm. It appeared to have the upper hand through the crucial first day. The prime minister's once-crowded campaign headquarters declared victory and closed down before lunch.
''We won, and we are going to sleep,'' said Gennady P. Korz, a senior campaign spokesman.
And while the demonstration grew, the police presence in the capital remained light. State security agencies did release a joint statement saying they were on high alert.
The findings of the international election mission included abuse of state resources in favor of the prime minister; the addition of about 5 percent of new voters to the rolls on election day; pressure on students to vote for the state's choice; pressure on state workers to turn over absentee ballot forms for presumptive use by someone else; widespread abuse of absentee voters, including some who were bused from region to region; the blocking of poll workers; suspiciously, even fantastically, high turnouts in regions that supported the prime minister; inaccurate voter lists and overt bias of state-financed news media.
Marek Siwiec, head of the delegation from the European Parliament, said certain electoral abuses ''cast a shadow over the genuineness of the election.''
Other prominent Western observers were unsparing in their criticism of the state's conduct of the election.
''Fundamental flaws in Ukraine's presidential election process subverted its legitimacy,'' the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, sponsored by the Democratic Party in the United States, declared in its preliminary report. The institute, which had an observer mission in Ukraine, cited ''systematic intimidation, overt manipulation and blatant fraud'' that were ''designed to achieve a specific outcome irrespective of the will of the people.''
Many of the same criticisms had been levied against that state during the first round of presidential elections three weeks ago. Mr. Yushchenko narrowly won that round among a field of 24, leading to the two-candidate runoff on Sunday. Because the result on Monday conforms to the state's wish, few expected a significant presidential review.
Even stronger criticism came from the Dutch foreign minister, Bernard Bot, whose country holds the European Union presidency. ''We don't accept these results. We think they are fraudulent,'' he said at a news briefing, Reuters reported. Mr. Bot said that each of the union's members would call in the Ukrainian ambassadors to their countries to express concern, and that the election would be discussed at a European Union-Russia summit meeting in The Hague on Thursday.
Dr. Charles Tannock, a British member of the European Parliament, said the conduct of the election was less what he expected from Ukraine than from Turkmenistan, an authoritarian state.
He then worried aloud that what seemed to be the election's illegitimacy might serve to split Ukraine into a north and west supporting Mr. Yushchenko, and a region in the east supporting the prime minister. There were hints of this by nightfall, as Mr. Yushchenko claimed the support of at least four Ukrainian cities, including the city council in Kiev, which rejected the election results.
As the anxious rally continued through Sunday night to Monday morning, then through Monday, at times the crowd chanted, ''Freedom cannot be stopped!''
There were signs of careful planning and organization, which suggested the protesters were prepared for a long standoff. Within minutes of the opposition leaders' speeches in the morning, for example, young men set up rows of new tents in the crowd.
Food quickly appeared, as did blankets, foam mattresses, hats and winter coats. As the work continued, posters were taped to the tents and to some of the protesters' winter coats. They were messages to the police. ''Don't shoot!'' they read.
One detail was meant to lift the protesters' spirits.
Throughout the rally, young men had been waving white-and-red Georgian flags among the sea of orange banners, a not-so-subtle reminder of the so-called rose revolution of a year ago, when Mikhail Saakashvili deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia, another Soviet-era leader, in a bloodless coup.
Mr. Saakashvili was elected to the presidency by a landslide, and has made pushing his country westward and fighting corruption principal elements of his policy. Some in the crowd on Monday spoke openly of the Georgian model of shrugging off a tired state. But they discussed these hopes in a more difficult setting.
Mr. Kuchma and his supporters have pointedly said there will be no revolution here, and some differences were clear. The Ukrainian economy is stronger than Georgia's, as are its security agencies. Moreover, Ukraine is culturally far more closely bound to Moscow than Georgia had been.
Mr. Yanukovich's supporters predicted that they would weather the demonstrations, and said they planned to have an inauguration next month.