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8 Feb, 2010 03:00

Ukrainians decide future of divided country

Tension remains high in Ukraine as counting gets underway after Sunday’s Presidential election run-off. Preliminary results show Victor Yanukovich to be less than 5 percent ahead of rival Yulia Timoshenko.

According to exit polls, Viktor Yanukovich received between 48.7 and 49.8 percent of the vote and Yulia Timoshenko between 45.2 and 45.6 percent. 5.5 percent voted against both.

The media noted that voters have been more active than in the first round of the election and the voter turnout according to preliminary results has showed approximately 69%.

Both presidential candidates have said that they are ready to take people to the streets in case they do not get the majority of votes. So far the situation has been calm, but several incidents have thrown a shadow upon the election.

In Western Ukraine, one of Yulia Timoshenko’s local campaign managers was found dead at a polling station. The cause of death has not been determined. Whether the death is connected with the election is also unclear.

At a polling station in Kiev a group of women have held a protest “against the destruction of the foundation of democracy in Ukraine.”

Stripping themselves to the waist, they shouted “Stop raping the country!” They said they do not support any of the candidates. The women added that they chose that particular polling station because Viktor Yanukovich was going to cast his vote there and that there would be a lot of media exposure.

Police detained the protesters on a public order violation.

Meanwhile both candidates have already voted. When casting her ballot, Yulia Timoshenko stated:

“I have voted for a new Ukraine – a wonderful European country in which people will be living happily. I will serve Ukraine with all my heart,” Interfax reports.

As for her presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovich said he voted for “strong Ukraine”.

Election violations

As of noon local time, there have been 14 registered violations according to the country’s Interior Ministry. These include: illegal campaigning; attempted bribery of voters; and hooliganism.

There were also reports that four polling stations in the Lugansk region in Eastern Ukraine were booby-trapped, but the head of the Central Election Commission has refuted the rumors. Regardless, the polling stations in question were disrupted for a significant amount of time.

Ukrainian voters are receiving phone calls from unknown numbers encouraging them to damage the ballots, that’s according to the opposition Party of Regions’ that filed a complaint to the Ukrainian Security Service.

“The scale of these violations is so vast: Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk, Donetsk,” said an MP and one of the Party of Regions’ leaders Boris Kolesnikov. “But we’ll find out which call centers were used to make those phone calls. All the guilty will be punished, no matter who wins the election.”

According to the Party of Regions’ source, the callers are encouraging Ukrainians to vote for Yanukovich and to cross out Yulia Timoshenko, which, according to Ukrainian legislation, actually spoils the ballot paper.

International observers from the CIS Election Observation Mission have asked Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to consider the fact that Yulia Timoshenko has campaigned for her candidature on election day.

“During the vote in Dnepropetrovsk, Yulia Timoshenko openly urged voting for her. This was broadcast live by the country’s Fifth Channel,” Interfax quotes a statement the observers released.

Head of the mission Aleksey Kochetkov called this “a gross violation of the election process.”

Rainer Rupp from the CIS electoral monitoring commission said: “In the polling stations that we’ve visited in Kiev, there is nothing negative to report. What we’ve seen was very orderly, quite and calm.”

Bitter rivals

Current Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and Party of Regions’ leader Viktor Yanukovich have been positioning themselves as being from completely different worlds, though observers say their platforms have been alike. Indeed, their headquarters are just across the road from each other, and their final rally venues were also a stone’s throw away.

Yet that is where the similarities ended. There was a completely different mood at the aforementioned mass rallies. Timoshenko’s stage played host to a solemn prayer, while Yanukovich’s gathering boasted a glittering concert.

The mood may suggest what is inside the candidates’ heads, but in the unpredictable world of Ukrainian politics, it is too early to uncork the champagne just yet.

And the sensation of Ukraine’s presidential vote occurred when just six months after returning to politics, banker and former economics minister Sergey Tigipko took third place in the first round with 13%. His showing instigated a fight over his voters between the two remaining candidates who qualified for the head-to-head run-off. But he said that sweet offers from both candidates failed to win his support.

“Both Tymoshenko and Yanukovich have been saying populist things, things which are unrealistic,” Sergey Tigipko told RT. “One has to take responsibility in urging his supporters to vote for either of them. I don’t want to take that responsibility. I’ve worked with both of them and they haven’t surprised me with anything new.”

A lot of efforts were made to secure a fair vote. Despite both camps accusing each other of falsifications, both local and international observers deemed the run-off transparent.

“Unlike 2004, now there is a lot of trust toward institutions which provide safe voting – the central election committee, for instance. I think that now the candidates won’t be able to effectively protest the election results and this fact won’t let them use falsifications,” said political analyst Mikhail Pogrebinskiy.

The second part of Ukraine’s election campaign kicked off with a bang, quite literally. Just a week after the first round, a group of unidentified men attacked the factory that prints the election ballots – and what at first seemed to be a purely commercial dispute gained political capital.

Deputies from Yanukovich’s Party of Regions attempted to protect the facility from Yulia Timoshenko’s plans to install a new manager – a move they believed was aimed at falsifying the election.

Timoshenko’s policy is aimed at destabilization of the situation, at election fraud, at election disruption. The raid is confirmation of this fact. These events were triggered the day after the election when Timoshenko gave the instructions,” says Nikolay Azarov, a Ukrainian Deputy from the Party of Regions.

As a result of the failed takeover, the Party of Regions initiated the sacking of their long-time foe, Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko.

Even though he was reinstated by Prime Minister Timoshenko in a rather bizarre manner, analysts noted that this has put the blue and white camp ahead in a tight race in the eyes of the electorate.

The biggest success, however, for presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovich’s faction happened when they pushed through amendments to the country’s electoral law – just several days before the run-off.

The Timoshenko Bloc was, as expected, furious at the development.

“The amendment is jeopardizing the presidential election, making voting unfair and uncontrollable. Yanukovich took these steps because he doesn’t believe in victory and now he hopes to win by falsifying the results,” Yulia Timoshenko said.

Never a dull moment

The three weeks between the rounds have been seen as far more turbulent than the initial campaign.

Mateusz Piskorski from the CIS election monitoring organization says that, although there have been only minor irregularities during the first round of elections, his organization has still faced obstacles.

“Ninety-two members of our mission, who were coming by bus from the Russian Federation, were stopped at the Ukrainian border and kept there for several hours for no reason,” Piskorski said. He sees this as an attempt to hamper and discredit the work of the organizations monitoring the electoral process.