Ukrainian Prime Minister Wins Runoff
By ANNA MELNICHUK
Associated Press Writer
November 22, 2004, 8:11 AM EST
KIEV, Ukraine -- Official results showed Ukraine's
prime minister winning the country's bitterly fought
presidential runoff, but the opposition candidate
declared fraud and called his supporters into the
streets Monday after observers said the vote did not
meet international standards.
Over 10,000 opposition supporters gathered in Kiev's
main Independence Square, where candidate Viktor
Yushchenko urged his backers to demonstrate against
alleged vote rigging.
"We will not leave this place until we win,"
Yushchenko, wearing a scarf in his campaign color,
orange, told the crowd. "The people's will cannot be
broken. People's votes cannot be stolen."
Exit polls showed Yushchenko, a pro-Western reformer,
winning Sunday's vote in contrast to the official
results giving victory to Prime Minister Viktor
Yanukovych -- hiking tensions in a battle for the
presidency that many from the start have feared could
lead to violence.
A prominent group of foreign observers said Monday
that the vote did not meet international democratic
The joint mission -- representing the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of
Europe, the European Parliament and NATO -- said they
observed abuse of state resources in favor of the
prime minister, who has the support of the outgoing
president Leonid Kuchma and the government of Russia,
Ukraine's powerful neighbor.
The observer group, which had denounced abuses in the
election's first round, said authorities had failed to
fix the flaws.
"With an even heavier heart than three weeks ago, I
have to repeat the message from the first round; this
election did not meet a considerable number of
international standards for democratic elections,"
said Bruce George, the team's leader.
"The deficiencies have not been addressed. The abuse
of state resources in favor of the prime minister
continued, as well as an overwhelming media bias in
his favor," he said.
With nearly more than 99 percent of precincts counted,
Prime Minister Yanukovych had 49.42 percent, compared
to Yushchenko's 46.69 percent, the Central Election
But an exit poll, conducted by anonymous
questionnaires under a program funded by several
Western governments, including the United States, gave
Yushchenko 54 percent of the vote, with Yanukovych
trailing with 43 percent. Another poll put Yushchenko
ahead by 49.4 to 45.9 percent, the Interfax news
Yanukovych spokesman Stepan Havrysh criticized the
exit poll results, calling them "incorrect,
unscientific and even comical."
Yushchenko said the opposition will stage a "threefold
offensive" aimed at battling election fraud: demanding
an emergency parliamentary session, setting up a
protest tent camp in central Kiev and challenging
suspected voting violations in the courts.
Many tents were already up in central Kiev, blocking
traffic. The protesters appeared prepared to heed
Yushchenko's call to stay in Independence Square. Many
said they were heading home to get warmer clothes and
Meanwhile, many cars driving by the election
commission's headquarters honked their horns in a sign
of protest. The Central Election Commission office was
heavily guarded by riot police and several armored
Yushchenko's key ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, called on
Ukrainians to begin a general strike. "Stop working,
stop learning, make it all stop," she said. Some 5,000
students gathered in Lviv, an opposition stronghold in
western Ukraine, to support Yushchenko and protest
against election fraud.
The election was seen as determining whether this
ex-Soviet republic of 48 million tilts toward the West
or its traditional patron, Russia. The bitter campaign
also sparked fears that Ukraine could erupt into civil
unrest as distrust in the government's ability to
conduct a credible vote grew.
Yushchenko foes claimed that the opposition gathering
in the square could try to foment civil unrest with
the aim of seizing power.
"Let us negotiate quietly, let's differentiate between
the truth and the dirt,and let's figure out all
Yushchenko's complaints", said Vadym Konovalyuk, a
lawmaker and a Yanukovych supporter.
Both camps have complained of voting problems, and
throughout Sunday there were numerous media reports of
scuffles at polling stations, observers being barred
and journalists being detained. One policeman guarding
a polling station was found dead Sunday after
apparently being hit over the head by intruders, news
Yushchenko and some of his associates went to the
Central Election Commission early Monday, contending
that some precincts showed improbably high turnout
figures of as much as 96 percent. Some 79 percent of
registered voters turned out to vote nationwide.
Yushchenko's campaign complained that Yanukovych
supporters were given absentee ballots and bused out
of their native regions and back again so they could
Yanukovych's side, meanwhile, cited voter list
problems and said some stations were refusing to give
out absentee ballots in violation of Ukrainian law.
Lawmakers had voted to prohibit the use of absentee
ballots amid fears that they could be used to falsify
the results, but Kuchma refused to sign the measure
The election came after months of opposition
allegations of official interference, claims
Yushchenko was poisoned and a cliffhanger first-round
vote riddled with complaints of intimidation.
Yushchenko says he wants to push the country to
greater integration with Western Europe and has
suggested seeking NATO membership.
His critics frequently portray him as an American
puppet who could be unduly influenced by his U.S.-born
wife, and a nationalist who would split Ukraine and
alienate Russia, Ukraine's key trade partner and main
Yanukovych had been strongly praised by Russian
President Vladimir Putin and would be expected to
pursue close ties with Moscow; he has proposed making
Russian a second official language and supports
continuing Ukraine's participation in an embryonic
economic union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Ukraine has a large contingent of soldiers in Iraq,
but both candidates support withdrawing them.