Victor Yanukovych, the man accused of trying to steal Ukraine’s presidency in 2004, is now being roundly recognized as the country’s next president, following his slim victory over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the Feb. 7 runoff. By everyone except Tymoshenko, that is.
Tymoshenko’s team has vowed to continue challenging the vote results, alleging large-scale election fraud and demanding a recount in some districts, in what analysts are interpreting as her attempt to set up a future moral advantage in the next electoral race.
Tymoshenko herself has remained silent in the days following the vote.
“How do you explain this silence?” asked political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko. “It’s not the ‘silence of the lambs,’ but more likely the lioness preparing to pounce, to defend its interests,” Fesenko said, describing Tymoshenko’s moves as “tactical” efforts to save face and preserve herself as the number one opposition leader.
According to the preliminary results published by the Central Electoral Commission, Yanukovych beat his old foe from Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution by only three and a half percentage points.
But Tymoshenko’s camp is questioning the validity of as many as 900,000 ballots – enough to make a difference in the final outcome.
“She really believes that Yanukovych’s team stole 900,000 votes, and most of the party is going along with this thinking out of solidarity,” said Vadym Karasyov, a political adviser to outgoing president Victor Yushchenko.
But, he added, there is little chance that the elections will be overturned. “At best, she will get a recount of some electoral districts,” Karasyov said.
The goal of this tactic, according to the analyst, is to leave voters with a memory of reasonable doubt as to who really won in 2010.
“When, or if [Yanukovych’s] Regions party takes power and starts breaking the law, people will ask us what we did to prevent this and we will have to answer them. This is our civil and political duty,” said Oleksandr Sochka, a lawmaker from Tymoshenko’s BYuT faction in parliament.
“Yanukovych did the same thing after 2004, by never acknowledging accusations that he took part in widespread fraud,” added Karasyov.
This year, however, the Donetsk strongman is demanding that Tymoshenko concede defeat. “The government does not plan to resign voluntarily,” came Tymoshenko’s reply, through First Deputy Prime Minister Oleksander Turchynov.
In the meantime, Tymoshenko’s camp has already filed a lawsuit with the Kyiv Court of Appeals regarding the validity of results from territorial commissions.
Another suit with the High Administrative Court will rule on the final decision of CEC, which is still forthcoming.
“This isn’t about numbers, but about legality. It doesn’t matter by how much we lost. The Ukrainian people have the right to know the truth,” said Sochka.
But as early as the day after the Feb. 7 vote, international observers were already endorsing the fairness of the election, in a 180 degree turn from their position in 2004. The implication was a tacit request for Tymoshenko to acknowledge defeat for sake of stability.
“Yesterday’s vote was an impressive display of democratic elections. For everyone in Ukraine, this election was a victory. It is now time for the country’s political leaders to listen to the people’s verdict and make sure that the transition of power is peaceful and constructive,” Joao Soares, president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and Special Co-ordinator of the OSCE short-term observers, said during a Feb. 8 press conference.
Soares was flanked at the conference by fellow election monitors from other prestigious Western organizations such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO, The European parliament and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). NATO parliamentary assembly representative Assen Agov said the vote was “a perfect conduct of election. By accepting the results, Ukrainian politicians will complete this peaceful and orderly process.”
Oleksandr Chernenko, chairman of the Western-funded Committee of Ukrainian Voters, said violations were present and widespread during the runoff, but one side was as much at fault as the other.
Regarding claims by Tymoshenko’s camp that their candidate had lost almost one million votes due to fraud, he said, “I don’t see any evidence to support that claim.” Compared to 2004, violations were much fewer, but higher than during the 2006 and 2007 parliamentary elections.
Common violations cited by Tymoshenko’s camp included home voting and the busing of citizens to voting stations. Tymoshenko’s camp claims that a suspiciously high number of voters voted from home – more than 1 million – and that much of these individuals did not have proper permission to do so.
Chernenko said home voting was higher in the runoff than in the first round, by one or two percentage points, “which is well within the norm.” But Tymoshenko allies said violations in home voting, alone, could have put Yanukovych on top.
A more objective indicator of the fairness of the poll, according to Chernenko, is the turnout. For example, Chernenko said the turnout in Yanukovych’s home region of Donetsk was 96 percent in the second (infamously fraudulent) round of 2004, 84 percent in third (internationally accepted) round of 2004, but only 76 percent on Feb. 7.
“A common violation observed was the offering of money for votes, which was happening all over,” Chernenko added.
Kyiv Post staff writer John Marone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org